Right to protest?

A black man is shot while assaulting a police officer.  People riot.

“Right to protest” people say.

Another is killed while resisting arrest over a tobacco tax violation.  People start blocking traffic and more riots.

“Right to protest” people say.

A man that many people do not like is elected President.  People riot, block traffic, assault supporters of that President.

“Right to protest” people say.

A gay conservative seeks to speak at a college campus.

More riots getting the college to rescind the invitation to speak.

“Right to protest” people say.

Well, here’s the problem:

There. is. no. right. to. protest.

I know, this is a surprise to many people, but it’s true.  There are a number of rights we have, but none of them are “to protest”.  They can be used for protest but simply “protesting” does not exist as a right separate from these other rights.  The closest to a right to protest is the right to petition government for redress of grievance.  You can tell government what you think it’s doing wrong and ask it to do something to fix the problem.

Instead of a right to protest you have rights to Free Speech, Free Press, and Peaceable Assembly.  You can use these rights to protest.  You can use them to say you think everything is fine. You can use them to say you think Rutabagas are better than Strawberries. (Weird, but “De gustibus non est disputandum.”)

You do not have the right to destroy (let alone steal) private or public property even if you call it protest.

You do not have the right to hinder people going about their lawful business even if you call it protest.

You most certainly do not have the right to assault people even if you call it protest.

“Protest” is not license for criminal behavior, not matter how strongly you feel about the thing your protesting.

Now, some people will bring up the idea of “civil disobedience”, of Gandhi’s “Salt March”, of Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus, of the Boston Tea Party.

But note the important factor in each of those, and other examples.  In each, the law they were breaking was one they themselves considered unjust.  The Sons of Liberty did not go burning their neighbors’ fields because they considered the tea tax, imposed on the colonies without the colonies having any representation in the taxing body (British Parliament) was unfair.  Their disobedience to the law was directed specifically to the taxed tea with an absolute minimum of other damage–indeed when they broke a lock on one of the ships to get access to the tea they later replaced it.

Similar with Gandhi’s Salt March.  It was considered unjust that the Indian people were forbidden from making their own salt, from the ocean waters on their own coast, without having a tax imposed by the British.  So they marched to the sea to make salt.

And Rosa Parks.  The law requiring certain citizens to move to the back of the bus in favor of others was unjust.  So she simply refused to move to the back.

The Boston Tea Partiers did dress up like Native Tribes in their protest but that fooled nobody.   Membership in the Sons of Liberty was pretty much an open secret.  And they were invoking either the British government backing down or retribution on their heads–either of which would underscore the unjustness, as they saw it, of the law they were violating in protest.

Gandhi’s marchers also knew they were subject to that law and that enforcement of it would highlight how unjust, as they saw it, it was.

Rosa Parks knew she was subject to arrest.  And she was arrested.

This is civil disobedience, direct and deliberate violation of unjust laws.  It can be a very courageous act since it invokes punishment for the violation specifically to show how unjust the law is.  And if you’re wrong about people rising in outrage against the law you believed was unjust, you still end up facing the punishment.

See the difference between that and seeking anonymity in a crowd, wearing masks, and breaking laws that have nothing to do with whatever the subject of the protest might be?  Such violation of the law does not show anything to be unjust.  It merely shows that the “protesters” are rabble, seeking only their own gain rather than serving any true cause whatever rhetoric they might spout.

The best such “protesters” can hope for is a general breakdown of rule of law in which chaos a few strong individuals might benefit at the cost of loss and blood for the masses.  At worst you get a government crackdown which does nothing to rally people to your side because your actions demonstrate that you deserve that crackdown.  In between are various levels of misery for various people that do nothing to further your high-sounding ideals.

Perhaps you hope for that breakdown of rule of law and, in the chaos to follow, you will come to the fore and take power.  However, consider, in such cases the people who start that kind of revolution rarely if ever are the ones in charge at the end.  The “idealists” who start the revolution are the first up against the wall, even if their side wins and the people seeking no more than their own personal power and wealth become the ones to rule.

Wither your high-sounding ideals then?



A few old TV shows

Long ago, in the dim recesses of prehistory, there were some of TV shows that I’d seen then that largely vanished but somehow remained stuck in my consciousness.

First, we have The Avengers.  No, not the superheroes but, well, if coolness is a super power…

In the initial episodes, mostly lost, Patrick McNee in the role of John Steed was the assistant to Dr. David Keel played by Ian Hendry but as the series progressed the roll of John Steed took increasing importance.  A strike cut short this first series and when they resumed John Steed took center stage, he was assisted by Dr. Martin King (Jan Rollason) and Nightclub singer Venus Smith (Julie Stevens), but what really changed the dynamic of the show was Dr. Cathy Gale (Honor Blackman).  Gale soon became Steeds regular partner.

Steed himself saw a transformation during this time, changing from a more typical tough guy to a suave, charming British Gentleman, full of sang froid.

In 1965, the show was sold to ABC which provided the budget to start shooting on film rather than tape.  This era also saw the introduction of Diana Rigg as Mrs. Emma Peel.

This is when I started seeing them.  It was only years later that I even knew that there were earlier partners for John Steed.  The “Emma Peel years” pretty much sum up my memories of the series.  As the series progressed episodes featured science fictional themes with villains who were mad scientists and their plots being the problem they had to solve.

Eventually, Rigg left the series to pursue other interests.  I know that’s often a euphemism for “fired”, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

The show was a lot of fun.  And, to my great delight I found that the Emma Peel episodes are collected and available from Amazon:

Another show from my childhood, one of a slightly later vintage, was UFO.  In the first episode Colonel Ed Straker, of the US Air Force is the only survivor of a UFO attack.  We jump forward ten years and he’s the commander of an SHADO–the Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization.

I took this show a lot more seriously as a youth than I can today.  The creators had some strange ideas of how the future would go, from the mesh uniforms worn by their submarine crew (Skydiver) to the tight jumpsuits worn by female personnel in both the Earth headquarters (secretly located under a film studio) and the moonbase. to the purple wigs that were part of female uniforms on that moonbase.  The vehicles show the influence of the producers previous “supermariotmation” programs such as Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds.  Kind of depressing that they thought we would actually have the capability for routine flights to the moon (in at least one episode in addition to SHADO’s moonbase, there was a commercial facility) by 1980.

Still, I very much enjoyed the series, enough that I remembered it years later despite rarely if ever seeing it in syndication.  And on rediscovering it recently, I found that it is still eminently watchable, episodes often having a delightful darkness without going into the outright depressing.  This is a war with casualties, where one is often having to scrape together the best out of a bad situation.

And the series is available on YouTube:

The third I’m going to discuss today is The Champions.

Three agents for an international espionage organization named “Nemesis” crash in the Himalayas.  There, they are rescued in secret by a hidden civilization that heels them and also, unbeknownst to them at first, bestows on them the epitome of human capability, strength, speed, and even limited psychic powers.

The series revolves around them using their abilities to complete their missions for Nemesis while keeping their abilities secret both from the people they oppose and their own bosses.

Look, I grew up on superhero comics so this was more of the same to me.  Why they’re keeping their abilities secret may not make a lot of sense.  Those people in the Himalayas may not want their existence revealed but wouldn’t these people’s first loyalty be to the people they work for?  Still, roll with it.

On discovering the series later, I don’t find it as good as I remember.  It hadn’t aged as well as the others.  Not something I’d “binge watch” these days but I can still spend a pleasant fifty minutes or so on an episode.  And it, too, is available on YouTube:


There you have it, three TV shows from my youth and childhood that stuck through me through the years well enough so that in the modern age of Internet Video I was able to track them down.  The Avengers has aged very well indeed, in my opinion.  UFO, not quite as well.  The Champions, the least of the three but at least retains enough nostalgia value that I still find it watchable.

LibertyCon 30 schedule

I’ll be attending Libertycon 30 in Chattanooga, June 30-July 2

My schedule of events for the con are as follows:

Scheduled Programming Events Featuring David L. Burkhead

Day Time Name of Event
Fri 02:00PM Author’s Alley (Boop, Bragg/Daniel Butler, Burkhead, C. Kennedy, Schroeder)
Fri 05:00PM Opening Ceremonies
Fri 09:00PM Reading: Susan Matthews & David Burkhead
Sat 01:00PM Author’s Alley (Burkhead, D.J. Butler, Carpenter, Cordova, Mandragora)
Sat 02:00PM Autograph Session (Burkhead, Finn, C. Kennedy)
Sat 06:00PM Kolchak, X-Files and the Joys of Cryptozoology
Sat 11:00PM Mad Scientist Roundtable
Sun 10:00AM Kaffeeklatsch
Sun 01:00PM Author’s Alley (Burkhead, D.J. Butler, Gibbons, Plexico, Schantz)

A Fatal Stain: A review

Elise Hyatt’s (Sarah Hoyt) third in the adventures of Dyce Dare (Candyce Chocolata Dare–after much arguing between her father and her then-pregnant mother would name their expected daughter, they reconciled in a candy store and…) is another fun romp.

Dyce is getting married.  Her boyfriend, police detective Cas Wolfe asked and she said yes.  And while taking a break in wedding planning, Dyce turns to her main source of income, refinishing and reselling used furniture.  A table she’s working on puzzles her.  It seems to be made of hardwood but is refinished to look like cheap pine, and badly refinished at that.  So she pulls out the belt sander her fiance had given her as a present and lets it rip, cutting a trench through the surface because she was not expecting how powerful the sander was.

What’s that under the horrid finish?  Oak?  And…are those bloodstains?

And, Dyce being Dyce, she cannot leave it alone.  She’s off to track down the source of the table wondering if maybe the bloodstains mean another murder.

In the meantime, her fiance, Cas Wolfe, is investigating a series of arsons in empty houses and apartments, including one where a body was found.

Her ex-husband’s wife says that her son is ill and asks to keep him after the time demanded by the joint custody agreement only Dyce discovers that her son is in perfect health.

And then her parents keep coming up with more and more outre ideas for Dyce’s wedding.  And strangers start demanding she stop looking into the background of that table and its mysterious stains.

Don’t expect deep philosophy in this book.  Don’t expect angst and hand wringing.  Instead expect a fun romp, enough threats to keep things interesting, and a delightfully involuted mystery.  Recommended.

Pricing ebooks.

Short one today.

In another forum I received a complaint about the pricing of one of my shorts.  Obviously, it was more than that person was willing to pay.  But, here’s the thing.  There are reasons for pricing at certain points.

When publishing an ebook using Kindle Direct Publishing there are two “royalty levels”:  35% and 70%.  In some cases the royalty is determined by things like whether the book is exclusive to Amazon.  However one important factor is the selling price of the book.  To get the 70% royalty the book has to be priced at least $2.99.

So, if I price a book at $2.99, I get a 70% royalty.  That means for each book I sell, I get $2.09.  At $1.99 I only get a 35% royalty and, thus, get $0.70 per book.  I would have to sell three times as many books at the $1.99 price point before I’m making more than I do at the $2.99 price point.

At Amazon’s lowest price (aside from free promotions) each book nets me $0.35 and I would have to sell just under six times as many copies to before I’m making as much money as I am at $2.99.

Generally speaking, I have found that the lower price does not lead enough increase in sales to justify accepting the lower royalty rate.

That said, I do sometimes go with a lower rate.  In particular, when I have a series which includes several shorts I will pick one short to set at $0.99, the lowest price Amazon permits, as a “first taste is cheap”.  This allows readers to check out my writing and the series to see if it might be for them.  They can decide whether another book, even another short, provides as much enjoyment as half a six-pack of really cheap beer (of the “love in a canoe” variety), or maybe one or two better beers.

As examples, here are a couple of my “first taste is really cheap” stories.

From my science fiction FTI Universe:

Emergency Medical services on the Moon present new challenges, not all of which come with the territory. Kristine is an EMT in the Lunar Ambulance Service. Budget cuts and inadequate equipment make it increasingly difficult for her to do her job. William Schneider is finding that some of his subordinates have ideas of their own, ideas contrary to the corporate philosophy he is building, ideas that lead to shortcuts and trading lives for money. They find themselves riding their problems on a collision course to avoid disaster.

From my fantasy series “Knights of Aerioch”

Baroness Talisa leads the last few surviving members of her household through the mountains in the dead of winter, fleeing the changeling hordes that have destroyed the kingdom. In that world of white and gray she stumbles on an oasis of green, a garden, sacred to Treva, goddess of the wild things of the world. There, Talisa encounters the enigmatic guardian of the place who possesses great and mysterious magical power and who claims Talisa’s life as forfeit for trespassing in Treva’s Garden.

Health insurance and pre-existing conditions

There is much talk about “pre-existing conditions” and their effect on health insurance.  One of the reasons that politicians find it so difficult to replace, let alone repeal the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” (and how many untruths are in that title?  Every word, including “and”) is that covering pre-existing conditions is popular.  Very popular.

Here’s the problem.  It doesn’t matter how popular it is.  It doesn’t matter how many people want it.  It doesn’t matter how great the idea sounds.  Requiring insurance to cover pre-existing conditions without allowing that insurance to charge for that coverage commensurate with the extra cost destroys health insurance.

Let me break that down for you.

In statistics there’s a concept called the “expectation value.”  It’s simply the “numeric value multiplied by the probability of it happening.  It’s also the average that would happen over many, many cases.  Like this.

The probability of getting “heads” in a fair coin toss is 0.5 or 50%.  Suppose you got a dime every time the coin came up heads.  The expectation value would be $0.10 * 0.50 or $0.05.  One nickel.  Flip the coin a thousand times and you would expect to get pretty close to $50.00 averaging that $0.05 per flip.

If you have multiple things that could you simply sum up the expectation values of each of the things that can happen to get the total expectation value.  For example, a standard die can give you a number from 1 to 6 with each face having a probability of 1/6.  So for the total its 1*1/6+2*1/6+3*1/6+4*1/6+5*1/6+6*1/6 (please remember your PEMDAS, particularly the MDAS portion). That’s 21/6 or 7/2 or 3.5  Roll the die a million times and expect a total of about 3,500,000.

Well, that’s how insurance works.  Each of the things that insurance has to pay for has a cost–how much insurance will have to pay to treat it.  And each of those things has a probability of happening.  Different people will have different probabilities of various things.  A person who’s young and healthy will have low probabilities of most things.  An older person will have a higher probability of many things than a younger person.  A smoker will have a higher probability on some things than a non-smoker.  A heavily overweight person will have a higher probability of some things than a person of normal weight.  A biological male (worded so to avoid arguments some people will raise) will have a higher probability of certain things than a biological female.  And vice versa, a biological female will have a higher probability of certain things than a biological male.

Insurance, actual insurance, basically pools that.  You, as an individual, might hit the medical “jackpot” where the “prize” is a really expensive medical condition.  You don’t know that in advance.  What insurance does is allows the expectation value of many people to be averaged.  Each person pays for their risk, the insurance company invests the money in the meantime.  And by simple statistics, some people at the end will find that they didn’t have any expensive medical expenses and others will.  Some will get more in benefits than they get in premiums.  Others won’t.  But that’s okay because they were paying for the risk.  They did not know ahead of time which category they would fall into.

I don’t know about you, but so long as the premiums are commensurate with the risk, I hope the insurance company wins that bet and I don’t have any major medical expenses.

That’s actual insurance.  It’s balancing the risk that something might happen against the cost of it happening.

Of course, insurance companies don’t sit down and try to figure out each individual risk factor in each individual and calculate that against all the possible things that might affect them.  They use “actuarial tables” as a shortcut.  A person in this age range, with that weight range, of this sex, and non-smoker will likely cost so much on average.  When I first got private insurance I had to pay a bit more because I was heavier than the insurance company liked.  I was okay with that because my weight made my risk higher.  Fortunately I was always a non-smoker so I had that going for me.

It’s like car insurance for young people costs more because they’re more likely to make expensive claims.  Your particular kids might not (in which case good for you for teaching them well) but in general, that’s how it works.

But now we come to the other aspect that gets rolled into “insurance” when it comes to health.  That’s not “insurance” per se, not risk sharing, but rather analogous to a maintenance contract:  you agree to pay a certain amount and routine stuff is taken care of.  Annual exam.  Glasses.  Birth control if you use it.  Stuff that isn’t so much risk as certainty.  In this case you’re simply arranging payment in advance to cover this stuff, or most of this stuff since there’s almost always a copay (always in my experience, but there might be some plan out there that doesn’t).

There’s no risk sharing here.  The premiums have to cover the cost of these routine items completely over and above the cost of any actual risk sharing coverage.  When everybody has similar costs here, well and good.   Everyone has an annual exam, that sort of thing.

But then there are pre-existing conditions.  A pre-existing condition–something you had before getting insurance–is not a risk, but a certainty.  There are three ways to deal with that.  The first is simply not to cover the pre-existing condition.; you can be insured for other things, but things related to the pre-existing condition are on your own.  You can charge more for coverage of that condition, make it a “maintenance contract” issue, where you have a fixed payment rather than paying for each treatment, specialist, or what have you piecemeal.  Or you can raise everyone’s premium to cover the cost of your pre-existing condition.

That last one is that the PPACA does.  It’s not risk sharing like standard insurance.  It’s wealth transfer taking money from those who got their insurance before they had expensive medical conditions and using it to provide for those who waited.

And that’s the problem right there.  It provides an incentive for people not to get insurance until they have an expensive medical condition.

Consider auto insurance.  Imagine if auto insurance covered “pre-existing conditions”.  A person could eschew insurance, wait until they have an accident.  Then, while waiting for for police and emergency crews to come in, call an insurance company and get the liability insurance since it will cover the “pre-existing condition” of the accident you just had.  Then, later, when you’re ready to get your car fixed (or totaled out) you get the collision coverage and have that pre-existing condition covered.

In such a case, why would anyone do anything else?

So some people start to drop out of insurance figuring it’s cheaper to just wait until they have something that needs coverage to get it.  This just means that the costs of covering folk with pre-existing conditions is split between fewer people.  Meaning that the cost per person goes up.  The increased costs encourage other people to leave, raising the costs still further.  And so on.  And so on.  Until all that is left is people with pre-existing conditions and the premiums are such that there’s no point in having insurance anyway.

In an attempt to mitigate that we have the various mandates.  Employers must provide insurance.  If your employer does not you must have your own coverage.  But that has its own problems including the fact that it simply doesn’t work.  The fines (excuse me, tax) simply are not enough to outweigh the rapidly growing cost of insurance and it’s simply not politically feasible to raise the fines enough to do so.

And so something has to give.  Mandated coverage means that other coverages, those not specifically required, get cut back or dropped, deductibles go up to try to mitigate the cost, premiums go up to try to recover revenue.  Insurance becomes more expensive with less coverage for everyone, not just those with pre-existing conditions.

But, hey, free birth control is worth it, right?