The Battle of Tours: An Annual Tradition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had to protect that loot.

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

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

The Uniparty?

A lot of people, usually those of a more conservative or libertarian bent, claim that the Republican and Democrat parties are really the same. They’re both pretty big on State Control They’re both all “tax and spend.” They both talk about how they oppose things the “other side” has done (Republicans on Obamacare and gun control, Democrats on things like Immigration reform) but when they’re in power to the extent of having the Presidency and both houses of Congress, they don’t do anything about it.

Is there a lot of similarity between the two parties? Of course there is because, get this, they are trying to appeal to a lot of the same voters. Whichever party “loses”, if it wants to win, has to get the votes of people who voted for the other party last time. That’s going to create a lot of similarity. (Example: “coverage for pre-existing conditions”, doesn’t matter how much you explain how economically unviable that is, people want it. They don’t understand, or ignore, the economics, and any politician, “R” or “D” saying “you can’t have it” is going to lose a lot of votes, more than they can afford to lose, for doing so.)

But by focusing on the similarities one blithely ignores the differences. Would Hillary, would _any_ Democrat, have issued an executive order requiring two regulations to be repealed before any new one could be enacted? Would we have 300 new miles of border wall under a Democrat president? Would we have renegotiated NAFTA under a Democrat? Trump may have proposed the tax cuts which boosted the economy, but they had to pass Congress and who voted for them…and who voted against them? And Trump may have negotiated the new trade agreements, but it took “the advice and consent of the Senate” to ratify them. And again, who voted for them, and who voted against them?

At root, however, the problem isn’t the politicians or the parties. They are the symptom. They are doing what is politically profitable for them and most people…well there’s an “Aragorn” meme I created but don’t know how to post easily here. The text is “The day may come when low-information voters do not decide elections; but it is not this day.”

Yes, there are a lot of similarities between the major parties because they are trying to attract a lot of the same voters. But there are also differences because they are also appealing to different segments of the population.

But there’s more. We are winning the cultural war. Why do you think the Dems are full on “all vote fraud, all the time?” Fraud is the only hope they’ve got. What do you think is behind Pelosi’s “establish a commission for 25th Amendment removal of the President”? Seriously, even if she were able to get such a thing passed, by the time it went through both the House and Senate and Trump (for reasons of his own) signed it, or they overrode a veto (yeah, right), It would likely be close to inauguration day and a moot point…unless Trump won. The only reason it can possibly be an issue is that their internal polls are showing that, yeah, Trump’s probably going to win.

They’re losing, and they know it. The culture is shifting. Part of that is freedom-loving people realizing they are not alone. And part of it is that a lot more of us are willing to speak out and what we say (if I may claim some small influence there) is making sense to others. Remember, four million brand new people who have not settled on one position or another enter the arena every year. And we have more ability to reach and influence those people than ever before.

No longer is Walter Cronkite able to put on his fake-sincere “trust me” voice and lie to the American people with impunity, with no-one to call him on it.

We’re winning a battle we were barely in until recently.

A lot of the old guard politicians are still in that “we’re losing so make the best deal we can and hope to at least slow and soften the fall” mode but the key there is “old guard.” They’re being replaced by a generation of Ted Cruzes, Mike Lees and others. Sooner or later the remaining “old guard” will see the tide change or they’ll be swallowed up by it and replaced by folk who will.

On the flip side, the Democrats are going full socialist. Truth to tell, they’ve been that way most of my life, but now the masks are coming off. And they’re doing this because we’re winning. They’ve positioned themselves into a corner. They can’t come out for small government, for lower taxes, for the things that actually do help the economy grow (as opposed to their pseudo-Keynesian magical thinking) because they’re too committed to their “government will take care of you” message. To do so would shred any vestige of credibility among their base, the ones that aren’t the same pool of voters that both Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over for generations. And so they see those voters slipping away and their only response is to get even more extreme in appealing to their socialist base and to double down on enabling fraud.

Because we’re winning.

Drazi Politics: A Blast from the Recent Past (Slightly updated)

With the elections season rolling around this is, once again, relevant.

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An episode of Babylon 5 focused on a cultural practice of the alien species the Drazi.  Every so often they had a big battle between Drazi wearing green scarves and Drazi wearing purple scarves.

There was no philosophical or economic dispute between the two sides.  There was no matter of class or status or race that stood between them.  No, they had a big box of mixed scarves and whoever drew out a purple one was on the purple side, and whoever drew out a green one was on the green side.

American politics has long born entirely too much resemblance to that conflict.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are differences of principle between the major parties, and between various minor ones.  However, those differences in principle get forgotten when it comes to actions by the party representative in office.

Republican implements gun control by executive fiat?  That’s unimportant, his supporters say. “Who cares about…” or worse. “4-D Chess.” Democrat proposes gun control?  High dudgeon from the Republican’s supporters.

Democrat says “we must enforce our immigration laws”? Cheers, or at least silence from Democrat pundits and voters.  Republican says the same thing, and continues policies started under a previous, Democrat, office holder? Screams of “concentration camps”, “never again!” and “war crime” (one wonders with whom we are supposed to be at war).

And the excuses made by Libertarians for “Bake the Cake” Johnson and “Ban the Guns” weld in 2016 and for “BLM (even though explicitly socialist) is Great” Jorgenson in 2020 don’t bear thinking too hard about. You’re likely to be caught into a mobius strip of rationalization that leads to a singularity of logical double think causing one to collapse into a black hole and wink out of anything that resembles rational thought.

For entirely too many people, principle takes a back seat to supporting “their team.” Unlike the Drazi, they may have chosen a side based on principle rather than simply pulling a scarf out of a box but when it comes to actual political action it’s “Green!” “Purple!”

Or “Red!” “Blue!”

The Founding Fathers

People tell us that the Founding Fathers of the United States were horrible, terrible men. And because they were horrible, terrible men we should dismiss everything they said and everything they did because it was all “tainted” with their being horrible, terrible men.

Were they such horrible, terrible men? Well, by modern standards to a large extent, they were. Many of them were slave owners, and if there was a black mark on the history of the United States, slave owning was it. Some of them were culpable in driving natives from their lands and in the near extermination if not outright extermination of some native peoples. Most of the rest were virulently racist and sexist by modern standards.

Of course, they did not live by modern standards. They did not have the advantage of further centuries of development in philosophical thought. They were near the beginning when people were just starting to grope their way into the idea of equal rights that “all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” and that the role of government was to secure and protect those rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

They were making fumbling first steps toward that end and having to deal with a great many folk who did not so believe. And the realities of their situation often provided serious impediments even to those who had managed to crawl a bit further along that road. Patrick Henry could be personally opposed to slavery but also concerned (thanks to his having seen some vicious slave revolts) that wholesale freeing of the slaves would lead to violent reprisals against the white population. Sure, it’s easy from our side of history to say “they would have deserved it for being such horrible people as to every condone slavery”. Well, maybe, but it’s a lot easier to say that when it’s not you and your friends, family, and loved ones that are on the line in a situation that was created before you were even born.

One could argue, with some justice, that even within the constraints that they faced they should have been more aggressive in stamping out slavery, in stamping out racism, in stamping out every other kind of “ism.” And perhaps they should have. But they were flawed, mortal men. And perhaps, deep down, they didn’t want to end those things, whatever their pretty words. Perhaps they really did see themselves as a new aristocracy, a cut above the “common people” and so naturally saw that certain groups were also superior to others. Perhaps “all men are created equal” was nothing more than a phrase to drum up popular support.

And perhaps not. In the end, we cannot know what was in their minds, what was in their hearts. Their surviving letters and their other writings can give us a hint but a hint is all it is. It can be hard to tell when they were lying to others, and nearly impossible to tell when they were lying to themselves.

I, however, am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt not because of what they said and wrote, but because of what they accomplished. And what they accomplished was no less than the greatest birth of Liberty that the world has ever known.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” may have been simple wartime propaganda, but they then backed that concept into the Constitution when they formed their new government. Popular vote for legislators. A House of proportional representation of the people given key powers such as the absolute power of the purse–all bills for raising revenue must start there. They included language to undercut the power of the large, slaveholding states with the Senate, giving each State, big or small, equal power and voice; the Electoral College, ensuring those seeking the Presidency must appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans and not just a few high-population areas; and the oft-maligned 3/5 compromise, which reduced the representation of the big slave-owning states in the House, and thereby their power and influence over the Federal government.

Compromises they needed to get the agreement of those who were not fully on board with “all men are created equal” but the stage was set, a starting point, a seed, if you will from which the concept of equal rights and equal protection under the law could grow.

So these flawed men, for all their flaws, accomplished something amazing, something wonderous, something incredible. Their flaws don’t take away from that. If anything, they make it more remarkable. Even with all those flaws, they were able to accomplish so much of good.

But there are those who want to tear that down, pointing not to the marvelous achievement but to the flaws alone, claiming that the whole structure is tainted because of their flaws. This is like tearing down a sturdy, snug house because the contractor cheated on his wife.

I choose instead to marvel at their creation and hope that something, anything I ever do can be even a tiny fraction of that legacy.

Goth on Ice: Getting Edgy.

As I have mentioned before, ice skate blades have two edges with a hollow between them. In addition, they have a curve, called a rocker, from front to back:

The combination of the rocker and the edge is what allows the blade to take a curved path on the ice. When the skate is leaned to one side, engaging one edge and lifting the other, its path curves in that direction.

These curves are categorized by which foot you’re skating on (right or left), whether you’re going backward or forward, and which edge you’re using (inside or outside of the foot). So, going forward, using your left foot and curving to the left (and thus using the outside edge) would be a “left forward outside edge). Change direction of curve, to the right, while staying on the left foot and so doing an inside edge would be a left forward inside edge. The thing to remember is “left” or “right” refers to the foot being used, not the direction you’re turning.

Early on in training one of the things we did was forward edges on the circle. Basically we’d use one of the big circles printed on the floor under the ice (part of the hockey playing field setup), or if one of the hockey circles isn’t available, the instructor would draw a big circle with a marker on the ice itself. We’d go around the circle in one direction or the other and lift one foot or the other, just to learn how to skate in a curved path and keep a consistent curve. So far, so good.

But it turns out this is very basic indeed. There’s a more formal system of edge exercises that’s a bit more advanced and requires being more comfortable holding the edges for extended times. Coach Julia shows how these are done for forward edges:

And backward:

Well, this is one of the things my instructor has me doing now. He started me with forward outside edges as well as backward outside edges. In addition, he had me doing three-turns:

Those were what I was working on this past weekend. With the backward outside edges, I wasn’t worried about the switch in arm position and head turn ready for the next lobe, just pushing off in the edge and riding it as long as I can. Get comfortable doing one edge, then set up doing the next one.

After this practice session, I had class. My instructor worked with me on these, correcting some errors I was making. In particular, I was doing the arm switch too soon in the forward outside edges, having my weight too far forward on my blades, not keeping my palms facing downward, and tending to let my leading arm droop (which shifts balance making it harder to hold the edge). For the three-turn I was getting my lifted foot too far forward and trying to turn the foot too soon after turning the upper body which throws off my balance. And for the backward crossovers, making sure I have heels in and toes out when I cross and getting more bend in the back leg. The first of those helps prevent one skate catching on the other. The second gives you more power and “flow” in the crossover.

And that was my weekend as a Goth on Ice.

“Not Today”: A Slightly Updated Blast from the Past

Many years ago, in an online discussion, the late Dr. Jerry Pournelle said that the purpose of the military presence in Europe was to get the Warsaw pact leaders (which, in truth meant the Soviet Union leaders) to look across the field at the forces arrayed against them, to look at their own forces, at their maps, then again at the forces on the other side and say “not today” and then repeat that the next day, and the next, in perpetuity (or, as it happened, until the collapse of Soviet Communism).

That also describes the purpose of an armed citizenry.

Some people are dismissive of the idea of an armed citizenry as a weapon against tyranny because “the government has drones, and tanks, and bombers, and nukes, and… You rednecks and your assault rifles can’t possibly stand against that.”

The problem is, as we learned in Vietnam, and seem to keep having to relearn in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, all that military hardware and technology is great when it comes to defeating armies in set-piece battles, even battles of maneuver.  It’s far less useful against an insurgency.  When you have insurgents hiding among the civilian population you need boots on the ground able to go door to door and sort out the insurgents from the civilians.  You need those civilians, at least a significant portion of them, to be willing to point out the actual insurgents to you (and not just use you to take down someone they don’t like, who may or may not be an actual insurgent–“Insurgents?  Yes, my business rival provides support to the rebels.  If you shut him down it will cripple the rebels.”)

What are you going to do with that heavy weaponry?  Roll tanks through Boise because someone’s holding secret meetings plotting the overthrow of the government?  Make an Arclight strike (carpet bombing) against Des Moines because there are weapons caches somewhere in the city? Nuke Indianapolis because insurgents are hiding among the population?

Those kinds of things can’t be solved with the heavy hardware, or not easily (and I’ll get to that in a minute).  They require boots on the ground, investigations and intel, and generally a cooperative population.  The “hearts and minds” component of counter-insurgency operations.  I would recommend Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by General Peter J. Shoomaker for how that worked, or failed to work, in they Malaya and Vietnam. (I will note that I believe General Shoomaker gives insufficient weight to Vietnam being both an insurgency and a “conventional” war being fought in parallel and many of the things he dismissed as being “the wrong approach” were correct for the conventional part of the war.  The problem wasn’t that things appropriate to conventional war were advocated.  The problem was that solutions appropriate to an insurgency were not.  This is a case where we needed to embrace the power of “and”.)

While you can possibly beat even an insurgency with the “heavy hardware”, and indeed, this is another point that General Shoomaker elided over (perhaps because the British in Malaya and the US in Vietnam simply were not willing to be sufficiently ruthless, and that reality colored what he had to say) it usually involves a price that most Western nations simply are unwilling to pay.  It requires utter callousness to collateral damage and positively rejoicing in poor “international opinion”.  It requires viciousness on a level that makes the Mongol hordes look like nice guys.  And even that is no sinecure. After all, the former Soviet Union had no particular qualms against ruthlessness but they still were unable to make much headway in Afghanistan.

And in the end, however ruthless you are, you still have to send troops in on the ground.

Try that on your own people without years, possibly decades, of careful preparation, building a military force that’s both amoral and personally loyal to you.  That means getting rid of all the people who hold to ideals like honor, loyalty, and defending the nation rather than the ruler at its head–and, of course, all those people you’ve gotten rid of, presuming you haven’t tipped your hand with Stalinesque purges and show trials–with all their training and experince will now be in the civilian sector and arrayed against you.

No, the vast power of military hardware would be of little use in an actual insurgency.  And if you get to the point you can use it?  You’ve got a military that will actually obey orders to wage Total War on the American people?

That battle tank?  Where is its fuel coming from?  How is it getting from it’s start as an infusion in rocks deep underground through wells, refineries, pipes, trucks, and storage tanks until if finally ends up in the tank itself?  How many men does it take to guard every step of the way because anything you leave unguarded is an opportunity for insurgents to interrupt the supply–blow up a pipeline, ambush tank trucks, demolish a railroad bridge, and on and on.

Now apply it not just to the tank, but to everything else that goes into the care and feeding of a modern military force.

And those guards?  Spread out.  Distributed.  Vulnerable to being picked off.  So you need more men.  But where are you going to get them except from the American people you’ve just declared total war on?  Much of that and your guards are as likely to be saboteurs as not.

The US had the advantage of a secure source of supply for its troops in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Soviet Union had the same for Afghanistan. And still they faced ongoing challenges from disruptions of that portion of the supply chain that was in hostile territory. How much worse, then, when the entire supply chain is in “hostile territory”?

Now, this is not to say that the insurgents would have it all their own way.  A sufficiently ruthless government, with a sufficiently loyal Praetorian Guard of a military, could end up killing enough to cow enough of the rest to “win” such a war.  And it’s possible with a sufficiently complicit media, and sufficient suppression of “unapproved” sources, that such a government might even keep general support away from the insurgents despite bombing your own cities.

But even if you win, the likelihood is that all you’ll rule is a burnt-out ruin, ripe for some foreign power to come in and pluck it away from you.

And if the insurgents win, the same thing applies–they only win a burned-out ruin, ripe for some foreign power to come in and establish their own overlordship.  (This, incidentally, is why I so strongly argue against armed rebellion against the abuses to the Constitution that are daily occurrences now:  even if successful, it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.  Armed rebellion really is an absolute last-ditch recourse.)

That’s with an armed citizenry, a large pool of armed people who could be insurgents, even if most of them are not.  Eliminate that, and it becomes much easier.  If all the insurgents can do is throw rocks at you, it’s much easier to cow them.  Even if they’ve got improvised weapons, the issue is dramatically simplified for the would be tyrant.

So, the purpose of an armed citizenry is less to win a conflict against the United States military.  It’s to make the would-be tyrants in power look at the citizenry, look at the forces they have, look at the vulnerability of their supply lines where everything is “enemy territory”–and if they don’t understand or believe the situation themselves, those would have to carry out orders to establish their tyrannical rule will–and size up the chances and what they’d likely “win” even if successful…

…and say “Not today.”

Another Gun Control Post

So there was a post on the Book of Faces asking why gun owners aren’t willing to accept any “lesser” gun control. After all, if we’re not willing to “contribute to the conversation” then we have only ourselves to blame if others make the decisions for us.

I pointed out that we were contributing. He just didn’t like the answers. I then followed up with the following:

No gun laws actually accomplish the stated goals. They do not make people safer. They do not stop criminals. What purpose does a “small” (call it “reasonable” or “common sense” however much you want) regulation serve if it doesn’t stop criminals from getting and using guns if they want them? How can anything other than an absolute, total prohibition on firearms even make a dent in criminal use of guns? NBC (I believe it was) in the late 80’s did a “special” where they traced a single gun through its use in various crimes before it was finally recovered by police. This one gun was used in dozens of crimes. Now, NBC’s purpose in that was to imply how dangerous guns were if even one could lead to so much crime. What they actually showed, however, was how few guns are able to serve criminal uses. If one gun can be used in a dozen different crimes, then take that number of crimes and divide by a dozen to see how many guns are necessary to supply that.

If only 0.01% of guns end up in criminal hands, that’s sufficient to supply all the criminal uses everywhere. Get rid of 90% of the guns and you’re still talking 0.1% necessary to provide for all criminal uses.

I have my doubts whether even complete prohibition could realistically make a dent in criminal uses of guns. Guns can be stolen from police. Corrupt cops–and there are always some in the most honest of departments–can “lose” guns from evidence (it already happens with drugs…and guns). Guns are simply too easy to make, or to smuggle. Hell, we can’t make a dent in the illegal drug trade and those are complex biochemicals that can be sniffed out and distinguished from other things. Guns are metal and plastic, indistinguishable from other metal and plastic except for the shape of the pieces. You can’t “sniff them out” you’d have to physically inspect everything which might contain guns or gun parts (and, again, that does nothing to stop homemade guns.

So, even a complete prohibition is unlikely to stop the illegal uses of guns, therefore it’s certain that anything less will not.

And if you can’t stop, or even significantly slow, the illegal uses of guns with these “reasonable gun control” measures then what’s the point? Why waste the resources making and enforcing gun laws when those resources can instead be used on things that might actually affect crime?

That’s leaving aside that the biggest killer of people is not criminals but governments. It would take about 6000 years of criminal murders–using the highest ever year total in the US–to equal the number of people killed by their own governments in the 20th century. I’m not talking about people killed by foreign powers in war. People. Killed. By. Their. Own. Governments.

It has been said that with private gun ownership you will have tragedies. Without it, you will have genocides.

You might claim that we’re past that. Maybe. But on what do you truly base that? History doesn’t support such a claim. The twentieth century, after all, wasn’t that long ago. Would you claim that democracy and popular will render such things impossible? Have you even opened a history book? The pogroms and expulsions against Jews all through Europe were popular with the majority non-Jewish population. The Armenian genocide was popular among the Turkish majority. The Holodomor was popular among the non kulaks. The Trail of Tears was popular among the white majority (why, no, I don’t exempt my own country from being susceptible to abuse–neither did the folk who founded it; thus the 2nd Amendment). “Democracy” without restrictions is simply everyone picking on the weird kid–and I’ve always been “the weird kid” so I tend to take that kind of personally.

So, these lesser gun controls, these “reasonable gun controls” simply will not accomplish their stated goals. They cannot accomplish those goals. And when they fail, what then? Have proponents of “reasonable gun control” ever admitted “this isn’t working. We need to step back and try something else?” Even once.

Don’t bother answering. That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is “no, never.” Instead, what they do is double down. Their “reasonable gun control” failed to achieve its objective so, instead of rolling it back and trying something else to deal with the problem, they insist that the “answer” is yet more gun control. Another “reasonable” (or so they claim) restriction using the previous one as a stepping stone. And when that one fails, as it must, they put forward another. And another. And another. There is no stopping point short of complete prohibition. And, indeed, if you catch big proponents of “reasonable gun control” in an unguarded moment they’ll admit it, that prohibition of privately owned firearms is the goal.

So, no, there is no level of gun control that is acceptable because it doesn’t work for the stated goal and the unstated goal is reprehensible.

My Life, Part Twelve: Claysville (Part 1)

During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my family moved out of the house next to Uncle Denny’s to a small property near Claysville, Ohio. I can’t say for sure if the house is still there as Google Street View doesn’t extend to that area and the satellite image is inconclusive. I’m not even entirely sure that I have the correct area in the above picture because things have changed so much. The area is more built up than it was when I lived there (as are many places, of course). Still, with everything I’m able to piece together, I’m pretty sure the property is visible in the above, but the house has either been replaced or substantially renovated (the brown roofed building near the center of the image).

Fifth Grade, 1972. I was 11. The family across the street had an older boy, a daughter perhaps a bit older than I was, a boy about my age with some form of speech impediment, and a younger daughter, perhaps my sister’s age or a little younger, with some more severe impediments (to the extent of being completely non-verbal). Farther up the street there was a family with, again, a boy about my age.

The folk across the street had chickens, lots and lots of chickens, a hog, a pony, and a few ducks. The ones up the street had two horses, a Pinto and a dappled gray. I don’t know what breeds.

We were…friends, of sorts.

In the picture behind what I think was my house, there’s a lot of open field. When I lived there the open field ended at our property line with a large tree just on the inside of the fence that marked the boundary. There was also an apple tree on the north side of our property about midway back toward the property line. Back behind the property line was woods. The property to our south was alfalfa fields. The immediate property to our north was empty field, just tall grass. A little beyond it a new house was building.

Not far behind the house across the street was more woods. And the house up the street, to the north and on the opposite side of the street from our house, there was pasture where the horses were kept, then more woods before getting too far back from the street.

Woods, woods everywhere.

This was before cable was much of a thing, let alone home satellite receivers. Bruce set up a mast extending up from our back patio with a big directional yagi antenna whose rotation we could control by a box on top of our TV set. Even so, reception was spotty at best.

The house had a garage, which Bruce immediately took over as his ham radio station. His and mother’s cars both sat out in the driveway when they were home.

When we first arrived at the house, the yard, all 1 1/4 acres of it, had been tilled and seeded with grass but the grass had not yet come in. That gave the place a raw, unfinished look. The woods all around kind of intimidated me, at least at first.

Fifth grade was in this small school maybe half a mile from the house. My sister and I took the bus which picked us up in front of the house. This was my second experience with school buses and one that cemented my utter detestation of buses ever since.

As, perhaps, I should have been used to I was not popular at school. “Not popular”? Such an amazing understatement. Smaller than most of my peers and weaker. Didn’t know much about the stuff they thought was important, and, to be honest does have considerable importance. A lot of “city folk” have an unfortunate tendency to look down on the folk who provide the food that they eat every day. But it wasn’t my thing and, so, I was very much an odd duck in that group. And while we had a fairly nice house, if a bit on the small side compared to a lot of the older properties around us, well, little of that “niceness” trickled down to us. Our neighbors had horses and ponies and motorbikes. I had shank’s mare (for those who aren’t familiar with that term, it means “walking”). Neighbor kids, all the neighbor kids, had wheeled carts that they could do “street sledding” with. They weren’t motorized but there were enough hills to make for some exciting downhill races.

I did, at least, get a new bicycle to replace the stolen Huffy, a 26″ “middleweight”. Single speed where the others in the neighborhood had three speeds.

It was in fifth grade where I cemented my love for Science Fiction. One of the first books to do that was in the class (as opposed to school) library. It was a spy-thriller-science-fiction book aimed at kids called “The Space Eagle: Operation Doomsday.”

Oh, I loved that book. Looking back, it strikes me as silly fun but just what I needed at eleven. But what really did it for me was another book I found in that fifth grade school library by this author, perhaps you’ve heard of him, Robert A. Heinlein:

(Sigh, the link was supposed to be to the edition with the cover I remembered back then, but Amazon and WordPress clearly had other ideas.) Rocket Ship Galileo, about a group of kids big into rocketry, making rockets hoping to win “Junior prizes” for rocketry who go on to do…

I wanted to be those kids. From that moment, whenever I went to a new place, with a new library, I sought out Heinlein’s work.

Unfortunately, with the good, there were…other things. As I said, I was not popular. The truth is, I was bullied. Nobody liked the new kid. What made it particularly worse was that my sister did seem to be popular. People liked her and hated me. I had a couple of “friends” which meant that we would sometimes play together during recess, but that was about it. All of this combined, probably with a natural tendency, to bring about what I now recognize was full-blown depression.

As a result of all this, I tended to retreat more and more into books and comic books. I read incessantly. I read encyclopedia articles. I read comics. I read science fiction (anything I could get).

It was also about this time that I started to develop an interest in girls as girls. I had previously had girls as friends when we shared an interest in something together (Lisa, from second grade being an example). I never went through a “girls are icky” phase. But girls as girls was new to me. Not to put too fine a point on it, I became interested in sex, or at least some of the preliminaries (you know, the hand holding, the kissing, that kind of stuff). Mind you, that interest was purely theoretical. I might have been interested but nobody, absolutely nobody, returned that interest. There was nobody I dared approach about the idea.

So, once again, I retreated into books.

I mentioned that at first all the woods around the house intimidated me. Well, that soon passed. Soon, I would step over a low spot in the fence that marked our rear property line and go wandering and exploring.

I’ll pick up there next time.

Goth on Ice: Weekend Practice and “Little Things.”

I’m still having some…challenges…in my video editing. Having issues with the “rotate and scale” when the videos come out of my phone rotated, issues with getting the text nice and neat on the screen, and the big issue I just noticed on this one is that instead of the clip of backward crossovers I put in the “three turns” clip twice! Yipes. I’ll have to see about re-editing the video and re-uploading.

This first part of this clip shows not me, but by daughter. She’d been dealing with some stuff, both health and personal issues that have kept her off the ice since near the beginning of the year. This was her first time back on the ice since then. As you can see in the video, she fell and, with the history of her issues, I was about to drop the phone and head over to check on her when she started doing the “snow angels” thing and I knew she was okay.

I was also making an attempt at forward outside three-turns. This is a fairly early practice of that for me and is one of the techniques I have to learn to complete “Adult Five” in the Learn to Skate USA curriculum. My instructors hadn’t actually covered it yet but I figured it was like a two-foot-turn only done on one foot. And it is, mostly, but, well, there are some differences that I didn’t get. Here’s an instructional video on them from the wonderful Coach Julia:

When I did have the instruction in Sunday’s class (after all my video for the weekend was captured, of course) he did a couple of things differently. One was he had me start with the push with my arms reversed compared to what Coach Julia is doing in the video. When going to the left, I’m gliding on the left foot and have the left arm forward and the right arm back and to the outside of the circle. After I push, he has me bring the pushing (right in this case) foot back to just behind the other foot, forming a “t” as though I were going to make another push only with the blade slightly lifted off the ice (by raising the right hip). I then switch the arms by bringing them down, close to the hips then extending with left arm back and inside and right arm forward. “Check” that movement of the upper body and then rotate hip, leg and foot. And, where Coach Julia turns her head as she makes the turn, my coach has me keep it still, continuing to look in the direction of travel.

It worked better than in my own fumbling attempts above. I’ll try to get video this weekend to see how that works.

Over the course of the past year and a half of ice skating there have been a number of “little things” that have affected my skating.

One of the first is that there is actually a pretty big difference between rental skates and ones own skates, especially if you’re going to do anything more than just simple roundy-rounds. The first thing is fit. Most people, when they get rental skates, get them too large. The skate boot has to fit very close to the foot in order to keep control of the skate. When the blade leans one way or the other, the skate will tend to turn in that direction or will scrape across the ice. This, in fact, is how we control what we’re doing on the ice. When the boots are loose, the skate will flop around, which can cause the skate direction to turn in directions you don’t intend and aren’t ready for and can pull your feet right out from under you. The problem with rentals is that they aren’t shaped to your feet. That means you have to have them very tight and generally laced painfully tight to get proper control. Your own properly fitted skates, once broken in, will be shaped to your foot and only need to be snug to give good control. And while really cheap skates such as you might find from online vendors aren’t much better than rentals (never mind if you’ll actually get proper sized skates–they will be uncomfortably, even painfully, tight until properly broken in). Decent recreational or “instructional” skates can be had for $2-3 hundred. Rentals, at the rink I go to, are $3 per session. For me, going 3-4 times a week, that would be $9-12 per week or between $468-624 per year. Now, I went a step above to the Motion boots with the “Cosmos” blade. The men’s version is not available on Amazon (and, I’ll be honest–go to a skate shop and get fitted for skates. You’ll almost certainly guess wrong trying to size them without professional help) but you can see the same basic boot here:

They were not cheap. However, looking back, because I do go to the rink and skate a lot, in the time since I got them I’ve saved more in skate rentals than I paid for the skates.

Having my own skates, in addition to saving me money in the long run, also made for more comfortable skating. But first, I had to learn some more “little things.” I have arch problems. I wear custom prescription orthotics in my regular shoes. So, when I skated, my feet hurt. I tried putting the orthotics in my skates and they did not help. Eventually I figured out (and wanted to hit myself over the head for being an idiot) that the orthotics did not match the shape of the insole. and since the skate’s soles are attacked to a bar of steel, they can’t exactly flex to accomodate. The result was the edge of the orthotic was lifted up and pressing right behind the ball of my foot, creating an extremely painful pressure point. I removed the custom orthotics and put a gel arch support insole (bought at the “shoe area” of the local supermarket) and things got much better.

Even after resolving the arch support problem and after the skates were well broken in, I continued to have pain in my left foot after any kind of extended skating. The odd part was that I would get off the ice (like between the Sunday public skate session and my classes) the pain would actually get worse while I was sitting down. I also had problems of stability on my right side. When doing a one foot glide on the right foot, I’d lose control and have to set the left foot down fairly quickly compared to when doing the left side. Now, previously, I’d taken a bad fall and sprained my right ankle so I thought this was an instability problem in the joint and I would just need to coninue the exercises to strengthen it but time continued to pass and it continued to not improve.

It took me entirely too long to figure out that both of these were flip sides of the same problem: I was tightening the left boot too tight, and not tightening the right boot enough. There’s a certain “sweet spot” of how much tug to give the laces at each eyelet or hook as you work your way up the boot tightening them that gets them properly snugged down without overtighening. Yes, they’ll be overtightened and painful during the break-in process, but once broken in they should be comfortable to wear. I’ll still have pain in my feet that builds over the first ten minutes or so and then declines over the next ten as my feet “stretch out” and I warm up. Then the rest of the session is fine.

Another “little thing” lesson is trying to draw a balance in working tired. Continuing to work when you’re tired helps build condition of course, but it can also help improve your technique. To a certain extent you can make particularly good progress working when you’re already tired. When you’re tired you have to have your form right. You can’t rely on muscle to power through sloppiness. You make a mistake and set a blade down at a wrong angle and tired muscles just won’t be able to compensate and you’ll get immediate feedback that you made a mistake.

An example here, for me, is the backward crossover. When I’m fresh, if I’m a bit off balance when I shift weight from back to front foot and pick up the rear foot to “uncross”, I can quickly whip the back foot around and “catch” myself before I fall. And while I’m trying to coordinate all the various elements of the technique, I might not even notice that fault in balance. And, indeed, it seems that was happening with the backward crossovers that I was so proud of a couple of weeks ago. When I’m tired, however, fatigue slows that motion and if I’m off balance, I fall. Or if I don’t fall, I overcompensate and get on the toe picks, or I land really wobbly, or what have you making it clear indeed that my weight shift from foot to foot needs work.

The problem with working tired is the form that “feedback” can take is you falling, or veering out of control, or running into the wall (or another skater). So one needs to know when to draw the line between getting benefit from the extra practice and, well, becoming a hazard to self and others. The other problem is that some techniques require a certain amount of muscle to do right in the first place. Working tired on those can lead to bad habits. So there’s a balancing point. How far can you push it before the “practice” becomes counterproductive, either because you’re too tired to do the technique correctly or because you’re risking injury (or worse, hurting someone else) which can set you back far more than any small gains you get from working just a bit harder.

The Handmaid’s Tale: A Blast from the Past

With the recent Supreme Court Nomination people are bringing out that “We’re heading for the Handmaid’s Tale” BS again so this “Blast from the Past”


It’s apparently a thing where people are panicking over The Handmaid’s Tale and saying how “relevant” it is and “we’re living it now.”

What an utter piece of crap.

The whole thing is based on two, and exactly two points:

  • Some folk think abortion is morally wrong and should, at best, only be allowed in extreme circumstances (with considerable disagreement on what extreme circumstances would qualify)
  • People should not be forced to pay for other people’s birth control.

Really.  That’s it.

Nobody is suggesting that women should not be allowed to work.  Nobody is suggesting that women should not be allowed to own property.  Nobody is suggesting that women should not be allowed to read (a feature of The Handmaid’s Tale).

You might find a few fanatics who would want to actually prohibit birth control or criminalize sex outside of very narrow bounds (and, again, quite a bit of variation where those bounds are, usually “within marriage” but sometimes with further strictures within).  You’ll find more people who think those things are wrong but few of those people actually want to criminalize them.  I know.  I know.  It’s a strange idea to disagree with something, to think it’s morally wrong, and yet be willing to let other people do it anyway if that’s their choice.

It’s called “Freedom”.  It’s a provocative concept, I know.

But there’s a flip side.  It’s called “Responsibility.” It’s up to you to take care of your own wishes in that side.  If you want to have sex without risking pregnancy, then it’s up to you to provide your own birth control.  It’s up to you to ensure that you’re not bringing children into the world that you cannot provide for.  It’s not like birth control is expensive.  Even the expensive birth control pills are on the order of two McDonald’s meals per week in price or less than one daily Cafe Latte (Tall) at Starbucks.  The cheap ones are like one McDonald’s meal a month.  Then there are plenty of places that hand out free condoms. (Hint:  unless you’re in a committed monogamous relationship and can trust that your partner is also monogamous, then use a condom.  It’s safer that way.) And they do it with private money.

You’re not going to lose your birth control.  You may have to make some choices if you want it, but you’re not going to lose it.  Those choices?  That’s part of that “responsibility” thing.

But if you must worry about something, consider the following scenario:

  • All women must have a male guardian and they need the guardian’s permission for
    • Marriage and divorce
    • Travel (if under 45)
    • Education
    • Employment
    • Opening a bank account
    • Elective surgery
  • Special police to ensure that women are properly covered (everything except hands and eyes)
  • Women forbidden to drive cars
  • Women must have a man to swear for them in a court of law
  • Must have guardian’s explicit permission to work outside the home.

Sound like what you think Conservatives want for women in the US?  Well, actually, it’s what women face today in Saudi Arabia. And yet, the UN just elected Saudi Arabia to the Women’s Rights Council.

If you’re worried about The Handmaid’s Tale becoming reality, then rather than building illusionary fantasies about the Republican Party, you might want to take a look there.  It would seem a more productive approach.