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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, January 30, 2009

CALVIN'S SNOWMEN

While this year is the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, there is another Calvin that most people are more familiar with: the one that had a pet tiger and a wonderful imagination. Over the years, Calvin crafted a wide variety of tableaus involving snowmen and recently my aunt emailed me a compilation of them.

For those of you who got this in the mail, you can skip it if you want, but here's the fifteen snowman scenes from Calvin and Hobbes:
















Snow can be fun, just ask these kids from Denver (well they're all old folks now). I along with millions of others miss new Calvin and Hobbes strips every day.

SNOWBERRY'S VEIL

Well, I wrote a book. No, its not the Nazi/werewolf one I serialized on here, that one is still unfinished; I figure I have about half a book written on that one. I sat down and started typing at the beginning of the month and just kept at it, about a chapter a day. The chapters in this book are longer than the Novel Writing Month story I wrote, mostly because I wasn't on a deadline and could write lying down in bed so I didn't get as tired out.

What I set out to do was a fantasy adventure set in my Jolrhos fantasy universe I use for role playing gaming. Instead of some vast, world-changing epic, I wanted to write a smaller story, one that didn't save the universe, one more like a Louis L'Amour story. To prepare I ripped through most of the Sackett series just to get a feel for L'Amour's storytelling style and the way he structured a story (and although it is not obvious, they all have a very specific structure, with a new challenge every regular interval for the hero, a sweetheart that finally is won, and the way nothing ever works out exactly as planned. I also noticed that however differently L'Amour starts out a book, the voice and tone and pacing always end up the same by the end.

The result is Snowberry's Veil, a 120-page story about Erkenbrand, a King's Ranger trying to escort settlers into the wilderness and the troubles he and the settlers meet along the way. I went onto Lulu and published a hardcover version, and I'll get a softcover up as well but for now that is enough. The only thing I'm not real satisfied with is the title and I don't have original cover art done, but that will have to wait. I think I kind of overextended myself writing this already.

Here's an excerpt of the book for you to get a flavor of what I've written, and I'll have an ad for it on the sidebar of my blog as well.

The leaves were wet and dragged on my skin like cold hands trying to slow me as I ran. The chill was so bad my feet were like blocks of wood, I couldn’t feel them at all which was good because without any covering they were torn and bruised and bloody. The only clothing I had left was a nearly shredded pair of breeches that barely covered me, tattered and bloody from the scratches and bites on my legs. I ran as best I could through the forest, through a land unknown to me at the base of huge mountains.

Behind me I could hear the baying of the beasts, and distant shouts. How much of a lead I had, I could not guess, I only knew I needed speed and to stay away from their tearing jaws and spears. There were at least five different voices, with a number of those great wolves that I could not count. My mind was focused on the pathway ahead of me, trying to follow an animal trail through the woods as the underbrush lashed and pulled and slapped at me. The cold was all through me like I could never again be warm, and I knew each step I took marked my path like a fire for the wolves to follow.

From what I knew of their kind, the Beastmen were able to track by scent nearly as well as the wolves with them, but they preferred to use their companions. There had been no shaman in the tribe that I saw which was at least some small comfort. I had been separated from a caravan headed to the wilderness to settle, drawing off attention so that they could pass unmolested. I could only hope that my efforts had succeeded, that this pain and cold and fear was not a complete waste. In my mind’s eye I could see my bones lying on this forest floor, scattered and gnawed by the jaws of the wolves, but I had to try my best to survive and return to the caravan, to see if they were safe.

I had been scouting ahead of the caravan, a few hundred strides ahead of the main body when I smelled smoke mixed in the usual scents of forest and earth and mountain. Dismounting from my gray mare I slipped through the forest with the skill years of training and experience lent me, and closed on the fire downwind. My senses are not keen as an elf’s nor yet a wolf, but I could smell their dog smell even before I reached the rocky outcropping above the meadow where their fire was lit. Around it sat half a dozen Beastmen: rough tribal creatures, part man, part animal.

These were wolf-like, with a wolf’s head but man’s keen eyes. Their hands were almost like a dog’s paws, but with longer, more agile fingers. Their legs were bent like a hound’s as well, with bare paws, and from under leathern kilts made from multiple layers of uncured hide a tail jutted. They were adorned with feathers and strips of leather, leaves, and white chalk in patterns on the short fur that covered their bodies. Standing upright like men, they held spears and they had fire.

With them were an equal number of huge wolves, bigger than I’d seen before. They were not Wargs, lacking the malevolence and exaggerated features, but they seemed larger and fiercer than ordinary wolves. Feral Wolves, perhaps, enchanted to give strength and cunning beyond their ordinary kin. The Beastmen seemed unaware of the caravan and certainly myself. I saw no ranged weapons unless the spears were thrown: each had three spears with razor sharp stone heads in addition to what looked to be stone daggers. They were roasting some small creature over the fire and speaking in a tongue I did not know when a seventh arrived from the forest, so stealthy I had not seen him until he stepped into the clearing.

He spoke and pointed out of the clearing, toward where I knew the caravan was passing. The others seemed excited, and the fire was rapidly put out. Weapons were readied, and I knew: the scout had spotted the caravan just as I’d spotted their fire. They would attack soon, and in the caravan there were hardly four men who could fight, the others ill or injured from a previous attack by Goblins. I thought of the women, especially Thealea, and knew what I must do.

There was a stack of rocks, each as big as my head on the edge of the short cliff above the meadow, and I pushed against it, grunting as it rattled and collapsed, raining the stones down in to the clearing in a roar. I stood up as the Beastmen scattered unharmed, and saw the wolves already spreading out like water to find a way up the cliff and to my flesh. I slung my cloak back and tucked it behind my quiver to give easy access and prevent it from snagging and ran. Would the others follow, or would they leave me to the wolves? I heard voices behind me: at least some were following, and some would be enough for the caravan to fight off the ones who stayed behind.

I slipped through the forest with practiced ease. I knew not this exact land, but I knew forests like this and the patterns were burned in my brain like my very name: Erkenbrand, the King’s Ranger Erkenbrand. I served my king scouting and mapping and cataloging. I did it well. I studied the animals, the plants, the races, the monsters, and the natural resources, mapping and keeping notes so that others would know what I’d seen and found. When travelers, huntsmen, woodsmen and others needed aid, I was there to lend what I could. Yet this trip I was merely helping a friend, yes and helping the daughter of one of the carabineers, lovely Thealea with the red hair and smart mouth. She’d had little good to say of me yet with that full lipped mouth, but her bright gray eyes told another story when no one else was looking.

The Feral Wolves and Beastmen followed me and I led them on a merry chase, fast and light on my feet. It would be simple, I thought, to lead them away like a mother quail then lose them – wolves and all – in the forest and rejoin the caravan while they searched hopelessly for me. Such is the arrogance of man.

I was doing well, just slow enough to keep them sighting me on occasion and to keep the wolves on my path, but fast enough to stay away when I ran into a second group of them. They were decorated the same way, wolf-clan Beastmen with the same patterns of chalk and the same kind of equipment. They were ready for me, of course, with all the clamor the hunt was raising, but they were not sure exactly what was being chased. So when I ran between two large rocky sections like a low ridge broken in half, I nearly ran into their spears and both of us were caught by surprise. This group had no wolves, but they were in front of me and their allies behind, and I was caught with the stone gap behind me tall as a castle wall and only one path through that led straight to the rest of their tribe.

I froze, and the Beastmen laughed, their spears pointed at my chest. I was not wearing my armor today, only the outdoor clothing I favored and my fenen cloak. The bow at my back was no use, nor the long knives I wore at either side, for they would run me through with those wicked looking stone spear points if I reached for obvious weapons. Their equipment was crude and simple, but clearly serviceable and one can die from a flint spearpoint just as well as a mithril one.

I raised my hands to shoulder level and behind me I could hear the wolves drawing very close, almost to the gap in the ridge. I took in the surroundings, the ridge dropped off rapidly to the right, into a very deep valley with what looked like a lake at the bottom hundreds of feet beneath us. The Beastmen ahead of me had been following a trail that led between the sections of ridge, a trail that rose almost steep as a cliff on one side and dropped rapidly on the other. I had but one chance or die to these creatures, and likely a hard death as well – I knew many of the Beastmen clans preferred torture before they feasted, and these looked merciless.

Around my neck I wore a little pouch, like some shaman I’d seen among the Beastmen and Goblins. Yet mine was no spirit pouch, it was a strange enchanted item I’d found in my travels. Within it was a magical surprise, once a day. I reached carefully to the pouch and pulled the top open. The Beastmen looked suspicious and pushed their spears against my chest painfully. Make no sudden moves I understood that action to be saying. With two fingers I reached into the pouch, trying to look innocent and harmless and pulled out a little ball of fluff the size of a dandelion’s head. The Beastmen relaxed some, not seeing some terrible spell or weapon. I dropped the ball, as if accidentally, and the magic ran its course.

As the little ball fell, it began to change. The pouch was unpredictable; I never knew what would come out of it. Once per day I could try to pull something out, and it could be anything from a butterfly to some monstrosity I’d never seen before. The fluff darkened and split and multiplied, shredding into a cloud of small flying objects. It became a swarm of bees. Thanking whoever made the item, I commanded the bees to attack everyone but me, and made a break for it as their spear points tore my shirt and cut my chest. The Beastmen pulled back, dismayed at the sudden appearance of an angry hive. They were brave enough, yet even the bravest can be daunted by thousands of tiny stingers.

The wolves behind me were not so concerned. They leaped at me, slamming into my body and tearing at my legs. They shredded the legs of my breeches, tearing through the soft leather and biting painfully into my flesh. They clawed at me with short, hard nails and I could smell the fetid breath of rotted meat on their jaws.
I fled, diving to the side. I had planned to roll and get cover, commanding the bees for the short time I could and using arrows to cause mayhem, perhaps take a few of the creatures out. Yet the land betrayed me. What looked like solid ground was instead a fallen tree’s ancient roots, rotted and supporting moss, leaves, and shrubs on a thin crust of crumbling earth. It caved away as I landed, and the slope to the lake was much, much steeper than I’d thought. Two wolves went with me, slewing to the sides as I fell.

Down I went, uncontrolled, rolling and crashing through underbrush and against trees, painfully slamming into unyielding wood as I rolled. I lost my quiver, my bow, my knives. I lost my fine fenen cloak, the pouch around my neck. A hard rock gouged into my back, knocking the wind from me and preventing me from grabbing anything to slow the descent. I lost my boots and the dagger tucked into one, I lost my backup knives from behind my neck. I lost the pouch at my side with some food and fire starting equipment. I lost my cap, and my gloves, and my shirt was in tatters when finally I rolled to a stop in a creek. Above me the two wolves who’d joined my fall had stopped halfway down the ravine’s slope, thanks to four legs and a better sense of balance.

I lay stunned a moment, sputtering in the cold water and trying to gather my senses. Above me I could hear the wolves and the Beastmen, crying out and working their way down the steep slope. Stripping off the wet rags that remained of my shirt, I had to flee nearly naked and without weapons. I tied the rags of the shirt around my waist and ran.

Now at the bottom of the valley following the base of it, I’d run around the lake I’d seen and into a fan of smaller valleys, picking one at random and following it. I kept to a small animal trail, knowing that the creatures that made it used it so often that it formed a visible trail did so because it was a good path to follow, leading somewhere useful. Leaving the pathway might be a good way to travel, and it might not: there was usually a reason that animals kept to the trails they did. A likely enough looking way might lead straight to a cliff. And there were worse things than terrain in the wilderness.

It was late afternoon and I knew I needed to find shelter soon. This part of the wood did not look like it was traveled much by anything but smaller game, and I was hoping the Beastmen on my trail would not follow me too deeply into unknown territory. A single target might not be attractive enough to follow, but then I’d made them angry with the bees from my little pouch now lost on the mountainside. I would have cursed but I needed to save my strength and my breath.
I kept a steady pace up, long used to running to travel, trying to ignore the pain in my legs and in my back. I tried to ignore the numbness of my feet and nose and fingers. The little trail led along a ridge and my eyes caught a hint of a path, a ghost of a trail leading up the side of the ridge. What was more important is a plant I saw by that path. It was a small shrub that I’d been looking for, with waxy blue leaves and yellow stems, each stem ending in sets of six willow-long leaves. The plant never flowered, but did produce string-like sticky appendages that attracted bees and other pollen-carrying creatures. But it wasn’t the leaves or the sticky growths I was after. It was the root.

I had bare seconds to spare, yet if I could get at the roots, I could perhaps save my life and shake the Feral Wolves off my trail; and if I was clever, the Beastmen as well. Digging furiously with my hands I revealed a thick, yellowish root and picking up a sharp looking stone I hacked at it viciously. The root finally gave way, and I could hear my pursuers growing closer. They were not cautious, so perhaps this area was known better to them than I’d hoped. With the root in hand, I crushed the end using the stone again and rubbed it on my feet. I shuddered looking at the torn flesh and battered soles of my feet, the root coming away smeared with blood. Through the numbness somewhere deep in my feet I felt stabbing pain as I jammed the root mercilessly against them. The thick, wet sap coated my feet from the root and swiftly dried, leaving a glossy surface.

That surface would protect my feet slightly, but what’s more it would staunch the bleeding and most importantly the mild enchantment of the Eads herb would negate the ability of the wolves to track me. I left no scent, no track at all, for an hour or so until the sap wore off. I threw dirt over the roots and carried the piece with me. It would serve me again for a few days, so I tucked it into my waistband and continued running, this time up the faint trail rising along the ridge. I kept low, moving slower now, trying to make as little noise as possible. Moving carefully, I avoided stepping on anything that would break or rattle, avoided brushing up against any plants now. Speed was less important than being undiscovered at this point.
Below me I could hear the wolves and Beastmen reach the point I left the animal track. The Feral Wolves growled and whined, sounding frustrated, confused, and less confident in a new meal. I heard the Beastmen discussing the matter in their language, and continued moving as swiftly as I could without revealing myself. They could still smell me on the air if the wind shifted; at present it was blowing up the valley toward me, but it might swirl or back and the lack of a trail would become meaningless as they would follow the scent of my body. Despite my care to not exert myself too much I had sweated some and the blood of my feet and body was still on me.

I climbed the ridge, higher and higher, until it became rough and rocky, with few trees. Among the boulders there were shrubs and small plants, but the trees could not find a foothold in this rough terrain. The ground was smoother on the rocks, but between them it was treacherous footing of sharp and broken stones. I tried to move carefully, not letting any rocks move against each other, yet sometimes a few pebbles rattled, sounding like thunder in my ears. I hoped I was high enough now that they would not hear, but was not confident. Those peaked canine ears on both Beastman and Feral Wolf looked to be very keen and sound traveled well in these mountains.

Finally I crouched behind a large boulder and hazarded a look around the stones, covered by a sparse dry shrub with wicked looking spines on it that I’d not seen before. My Ranger’s subconscious cataloged the type of bush, its pattern of growth, where I found it, what kind of leaves it seemed to have in life, and so on. But my conscious mind was hyper aware, staring down the mountainside at the forest, trying to pick out any slightest movement. I heard the sound of the wolves growling and whining, complaining at the loss of a trail, and I heard the Beastmen talking. It sounded like they were arguing, or at least upset. Perhaps some wanted to go back, but by now the caravan would be miles away and we were even further from the roadway, such as it was.

The caravan had set out from Essex along the south road four days, heading to the wilderness to settle in new lands. Originally there were six wagons, each one representing a family and their hopes, containing the goods they thought they’d need and supplies to begin a settlement. There were some small villages started in the south as the King began to grant land to worthy people and sell land cheap to others. Expand into the unsettled areas and you can have your own territory, what riches may you earn? Free from the city life and control of barons and dukes, the frontier would one day be under the same system of hierarchy and government but for now it was free and open.

One of the wagons broke down and the rest kept going, no one knew what happened to that one. One of the wagons was destroyed in a raid by Goblins almost two days ago, killing two men and a child, leaving the grieving widow to return home with a rider who decided he didn’t really want to explore all that much. The last four wagons kept going down the trail and to the east, skirting around Wrenland to the rich frontier lands further inland from the ocean. This area was little known, and all that was there to follow was a pair of ruts that previous wagons and riders had left. No patrols watched this land, no soldiers kept the monsters back. The road had the stink of man on it enough to keep many creatures away, but was so remote it was prey to groups like the Goblins, and these Beastmen, at least to the unwary.
The settlers didn’t know exactly where they wanted to go, only that they were going to the frontier, to the new lands. There was word of a keep that had been built in the frontier, an attempt to provide some security and regular trade as an outpost in the wilderness. Some wanted to find land near there, to cluster near the remnants of civilization. Others, including the wagon with Thealea, wanted to go deeper to untamed lands to test their mettle.

Leading the caravan was a man I did not care for, but I could not give a reason other than that he was richer, more handsome and powerful than I, and interested in Thealea. He was a lord, and to me seemed untrustworthy, as if he had some other reason for taking this trip in his fine clothes and on his fine horse, but I could not explain why I thought so.

Long ago the elves had these areas patrolled and well known, there were ruins yet of old roads, markers, towers, strange statues and structures as if in the middle of the forest, they thought even greater beauty was needed. Other, stranger structures were sometimes found. Some were the ruins of a forgotten human kingdom from centuries past, some were the work of other creatures and races. Dwarves had colonies in the mountains no one knew about but their own kind, and they were not keen on visitors. Yet to man, it was wilderness, untracked, unknown.

By now the caravan should be far enough on the road that they would be safe from these creatures, and I would need to rejoin the when I could. They had fighting men, but few, and none with my experience and woodcraft. Yet I could not reach them this day, I had to find shelter, food, and water. Everywhere man goes he is in need of these things. The thin boundaries of civilization are around him like paper walls, keeping these needs at bay with ready homes, food, and drink. It takes only a disaster, a sudden catastrophe to reveal the basic need we all still share. And I’d had my disaster.

The sounds of the wolves became quieter and the men stopped arguing, but I could sense they were not heading up my trail. They had turned back for now at least as I confirmed by a glimpse of them moving away through the trees. I breathed easier now, and closed my eyes a moment to try to calm my nerves. I could not rest, not yet. But at least I could move without open pursuit.

Shelter was the first need; I could go a few days without water and a week or more without food, but shelter… I’d die overnight naked in the mountains. Fire and something to keep the elements off me, that was what I needed most to begin with. The ridge top I was near looked too exposed and the stones too unstable. They were heavy and seemed solid right now, but if one were to start moving no force I could bring to bear would stop one from its course.

I knew a few minor magics, elemental tricks to make life easier, but I was no mage. I’d seen them summon entire keeps out of nothing to stay in comfort. I couldn’t even summon a bedroll. I knew this was going to be one uncomfortable night, but there was no way to avoid it. I tore off part of my tattered tunic and tied the remnants around my poor battered and bloody feet to provide some semblance of covering for them. Somewhere along the way I’d lost my Eads root, but there was more about. In fact, I’d spotted several other useful herbs that I could take advantage of, if I could only find some shelter.

I looked around at the dying afternoon day and saw the mountains about me. Huge snow-capped peaks lay to the west, in the distance: the Dawnspires. To the north the mountains I was in fell to rolling hills repeating into the gray distance. Around me were ridges like roots of a tree, tangled and long with valleys between them. Tall firs, pines, and a few mixed ash and aspen covered these ridges and valleys in a green coat of varied shades. The sound of the wind in the trees filled me with pleasure, again, like it always did. Except for that forest sigh and my own breathing, it was silent now. Overhead the sky was a deep blue with massive clouds drifting in some distant wind. I felt the awesome aloneness of being in the wilds, and reveled in it.

In truth, although Thealea was beautiful and fascinating, and seemed bright and exciting, I knew deep down I could have no woman for the wilderness would not share. The wilds were an exacting wife already, jealous of any other love. I could not leave a beloved behind for weeks, even months at a time as I cataloged and mapped and explored. That she might come with me seemed absurd as well; how could I move and work with someone else, someone I had to care for even if somehow I could find a woman who would do so? I knew a few female Rangers were active, but they were rare and a special, strange breed. Yet I felt attracted and pulled to Thealea at the same time, in an irrational pull that I could not deny.

I moved along the ridge, looking for a useful place. My needs were simple: some coverage with a fairly open front that would allow me to see anything drawing close. Even a few fallen trees or a rock formation would work, although a cave or pocket in the stone would be better. The longer I went, the less picky I became. Night fell fast in the mountains and by sunbloom I’d be chilled to an eternal sleep if I didn’t find shelter soon. I had maybe three hours by this point before it became too dark – and too cold – to properly prepare and bed down. Yet even in this dire predicament I found my self the smell of the forest was rich and comforting, like an old home remembered and loved. Wild scents of pine sap and earth, flowers and leaves, musk from animals and the smell of the clean, crisp air were perfume to me.

I found a huge fallen tree, roots forming a barrier of earth and torn up rocks against a stone formation rising up the side of the ridge. This vee shape gave me shelter from the wind and sight except from directly above or ahead. Some of the branches of the tree were still in place, forming the beginning of a roof, and I worked quickly to clean out beneath them. Breaking branches off nearby firs, I built a rough thatch over the vee in the back, weaving through and using the same foliage of the original tree and nearby bushes. From a distance it would look normal and natural, yet it would keep all but the most driving rain out when combined with the canopy further overhead. I gathered wood, piling dry branches and old sticks near the back of the vee out of sight. When I thought I’d gotten enough, I went and gathered more, then did it again. Wood had a strange way of being used up faster than expected, and there was a plentiful supply.

The light was fading already when I had the shelter in rough form and I went out one more time to gather bark and soft boughs. Once I’d collected a pile of leaves, bark, and boughs, I dug out a trench using stones and branches, then laid a bed of the softest stuff I could manage. With clumsy, numb hands I used boughs to for a blanket of sorts that would lie over me, then set about to make a fire. By now my mind was wandering, I had to force myself by willpower to stay on a task. I was so cold I’d stopped shivering; my whole body felt oddly numb and disconnected, like it wasn’t really me.

Often I did without a fire, my gear was warm and I would have enough shelter in this weather to make due. The fenen cloak I’d left behind on that slope was enchanted, it would ordinarily keep me comfortable down to freezing temperatures if I wrapped in it. Unfortunately it was at least a mile away and I wanted the Beastmen far away before I headed back. I was sure they’d found and kept everything for themselves by this point, but soon as I could I planned to go back and search for myself. I’d lack their keen senses to find man smell and items, but I could at least try. That bow was of elfin make and I was very loath to lose it. Those supplies had gotten me through many years of wilderness travel and Ranger work.

Now, however, I needed a fire. This was not a terrible challenge, as I had learned long ago how to make a fire without any flint or steel. There were several mechanical methods that could be used, each tedious and frustrating. I could use one or another herb to heat and begin a fire. Yet it was one of the little spells I’d learned that was most useful here, and I hoped I wasn’t so far gone that I was unable to work this simple magic. I piled the tinder together in a pit, lined with stones, and set a large slab of bark from the fallen tree propped up with dirt behind it to act as a reflector, pushing more of the heat back to me and again off the stone wall beside my bed. Piling larger sticks over the tinder in a pyramid, I then sat by it carefully. I wasn’t very good at this, and it took concentration to work any magic. Over time, apparently study and technique made it a lot easier, but I didn’t have the time or inclination to learn that well. I concentrated, eyes closed, focusing on the training I had.

Then I jerked myself awake, somehow. It was dark now, pitch black and at some point I had drifted to sleep in the cold without even realizing it. Another little nap and I would not wake up again. I had to make a fire now or die.

Concentrating as hard as I could, talking to myself with each step, I thought of the words and the movements then made them real with voice and hands, the power flowing through me and from me tracing bluish white strips of light in the air from my fingertips that faded rapdily, then I forced the elemental energy to focus on the tinder, and a flame lit up, rapidly growing and finally a fire was started. I took a deep breath and stacked the fire into a larger blaze, big enough to stay warm and burning into the night. The spell was minor, yet after the day’s exertions and pains, it was wearying. Now I must sleep, for sleep would bring healing and it was later than I cared for already. This would be enough heat to bring some warmth back into my poor abused body and with the bark and the stone to reflect the heat I should be able to survive the night. The air was beginning to be quite chilled, but the fire pushed the cold back as it hungrily devoured the wood I fed it, casting light in my rough shelter and heat over my chilled, aching body. Pulling the boughs and leaves over me in a cold, scratchy blanket, I settled in to sleep.

Somewhere, a wolf howled.
That's chapter one. Those of you with sharp eyes or a good memory will notice that Erkenbrand was one of the Rohirrim in The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien. This isn't the same Erkenbrand, but I liked the name quite a bit (I've used it in MMOGs before) and wanted a memorable, interesting name for my main character.

Now all I need is a cold call from an agent, a $40,000 contract, and the ability to change my book in the middle. Then the big bucks and an Oprah Winfrey endorsement is sure to follow.

HUNGRY, HUNGRY GOVERNMENT

"when you spread the wealth around it's good for everybody"
-President Obama

Hungry Hippo
The Soviet Union and its satellite states were meant to be Communist nations. The founder of Soviet Communism, Vladimir Lenin, adapted Karl Marx' theories and tried to apply them to Russia in a form known as Leninism. However, before true Communism could take place, there was a transition period that Marx wrote about.

Karl Marx stated that a nation could not immediately become communist because the people had to be re-educated to break them away from the bourgeois mindset they had been living under, particularly those who were in power before the revolution. In order to accomplish this, the government had to be absolute so that it had the power to destroy the old system and build the new one. For the first stage of this transformation, the people had to be ordered around and the new society built from the top down, including many taken to special camps to teach them the new society, or in the case of some, simply killing them because they could not be taught.

The second stage is more pure socialism. While the society adapts to the new plan and is educated (particularly the youth) the government has to control the economy, restructuring things to the point where Communism naturally takes over with ever man doing his part for his fellow man and no one in charge. This intermediary stage is best described as Socialism.

I want to be clear here, few Socialists actually are aiming at creating a classless, Marxist society, they merely want to borrow portions of what they like and adapt it to fit their country. Most Socialists would reject pure Communism, although many admire it in theory. However, pure Communism uses Socialism as a transition stage.

Ideally when the Socialist stage is complete, the nation becomes purely Communist, with the ruling body merely made up of representatives of the people, everyone owning all things in common and sharing what they produce freely, and no one in charge or ordering anything as all work in a mutually beneficial and productive economy. In practice, no Communist nation ever gets to this stage. In fact, most of them eventually head into Capitalism in varying degrees rather than Communism such as Vietnam, China, and Russia.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it still was a Socialist totalitarian nation, with the government in absolute control and the economy totally controlled from that central all powerful government. In Hungary, for example, the state accounted for 60% of the nation's economy: more than half of the economy was actually government activity. This was considered a total socialist nation with a small black market and small local markets selling food and goods.

By comparison, in the United States government accounts for 28% of the national economy (in 2007 at least), but subjects of the crown in Great Britain might be dismayed to learn some of the numbers in a recent article by Abul Taher at the London Times:
In the northeast of England the state is expected to be responsible for 66.4% of the economy this year, up from 58.7% when a similar study was carried out four years ago. When Labour came to power, the figure was 53.8%.

The CEBR reached its estimates for 2008-9 by applying the 6.68% state spending increase announced in November’s prebudget report evenly across the country, although in practice some regions will receive more than others.

Across the whole of the UK, 49% of the economy will consist of state spending, while in Wales, the figure will be 71.6% – up from 59% in 2004-5. Nowhere in mainland Britain, however, comes close to Northern Ireland, where the state is responsible for 77.6% of spending, despite the supposed resurgence of the economy after the end of the Troubles.

Even in southern England, the government’s share of spending is growing relentlessly. In the southeast, it has gone up from 33% to 36% of the economy in four years.
As the ravenous federal governments of various western countries take over industry after industry, such as Iceland's banking department. As the government takes over more of the private sector, they pass through Soviet territory, into realms of socialism even the communists never achieved.

As the economic bad times deepen, countries decide that bigger, more invasive, and more expansive government must be the answer. So a greater chunk of the economy is seized for the good of all and never before has this been so true as this last year. Whether driven by panic, opportunism, or confusion, socialist spending and government takeover of the economies of the west is on the rise. Given the successes of such governments in the past, one has to sit back and wonder how anyone could possibly think this is a good idea.

Yet the culture of the west practically demands it. In years past, a recession was met with frustration, fear, and perhaps anger, but also determination. They come and go, this one will pass as well. The depression was met with a drive to get through it and fend for one's self. Hardships were seen as challenges and an inevitable part of life.

Modern western culture rejects hardships, considers challenges offensive, and extols personal comfort and happiness far above personal responsibility, fortitude, and the honor of facing difficulty with virtue and integrity. In short: economic hard times are something the west flees from and tries to ignore, crying for big government to fix everything so we can just get back to the good times again. So big government responds and we see the kind of explosive, unprecedented spending that has happened in the last year, with far, far more planned.

We'll get through this all regardless of how badly well-meaning socialists mess with the economy, but it might take a while. The last time we had people in government doing this kind of thing, the entire world plunged into a depression that lasted more than a decade.

Quote of the Day

"When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set."
— Lin Yutang

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Second Quote of the Day

“The national budget must be balanced. The public debt must be reduced; the arrogance of the authorities must be moderated and controlled. Payments to foreign governments must be reduced, if Rome doesn’t want to become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance.”
-Cicero

AMBUSH PHOTOGRAPHY

"The exhibitionist loves to flirt with shame"
-Mason Cooley

Just about every family has at least one cell phone in America now, and every cell phone has a camera in it. You can take pictures or short videos and send them to family and friends. Or you can take pictures of people who don't know what's happening or see you do it and post it on the internet. Sometimes this is good, or perhaps interesting; as soon as you heard of flight 1549 crashed in the Hudson River you knew that at least one person got a picture or even video footage of the crash.

Sometimes these pictures are a bit less welcome. There is a whole industry of "upskirt" pictures where people slip a camera under a dress and get a shot of what's underneath like a giggling junior high kid. The way some women dress, you wouldn't expect them to be upset by this (particularly the ones that forgot their underwear that morning) but there is some outcry against it. Others use the cameras in dressing rooms or other areas to get a picture of someone unaware.

The problem, according to Representative Pete King (R-NY), is that these cameras don't make an audible click like the old ones used to. I personally prefer a sound when a picture is taken, so you have some clue it has happened, but apparently there isn't much consumer outcry for such a feature in cell phone cameras or even many digital cameras.

Pete King's answer is a new law, a regulation requiring all cameras to make an audible click sound when a picture is taken. Kent German at CNET has the story:
The Camera Phone Predator Alert Act (H.R. 414) would "require any mobile phone containing a digital camera to sound a tone whenever a photograph is taken." What's more, the bill would prohibit such handsets from being equipped with a means of disabling or silencing the tone. Enforcement would be through the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The text of the bill is short, and King's office has not released any public statements. Yet, the reasoning behind the legislation is clear. The text states that "Congress finds that children and adolescents have been exploited by photographs taken in dressing rooms and public places with the use of a camera phone."
Apparently adults being exploited in this manner isn't a concern. The bill so far has no cosponsors and is unlikely to get out of committee, but it is typical of congress to figure that the answer to any problem is another law. Granted, they're lawmakers so that's what they are there for, but a clicking camera isn't likely to stop this behavior.

Like New York City Mayor Bloomberg's desire to cut salt in foods by half (he won't stop until all food is bland and without savor!), this is a rejection of personal responsibility and an embrace of centralized government force making people do what someone believes is right. In the place of a culture where people are taught right and wrong, pressured by societal shame to avoid the wrong and are encouraged and praised for personal responsibility, we have today's society: you are praised for being a rebel and avoiding the rules, taught to reject authority, and then the government passes laws to try to limit the chaos.

Laws cannot make people do what is right, they can only punish what you have decided is wrong. And at some point the people of a free country have to draw the line and say "you cannot pass laws beyond this point." Yet with the continuous pressure of things going wrong combined with a deep seated desire to avoid any possible training on what to do right, anyone who comes along and offers well-meaning answers from on high that don't require any responsibility by individuals all too often is successful.

Trans fats are bad for you, according to some studies.

Well then I guess I won't eat as much of that, or be willing to pay the price for doing so.

No, that's not good enough, we have to keep people from hurting themselves.

Everyone has a right to be stupid.

Your stupidity costs me money in the health care system

Only because you insist on making everyone else pay for my bills.

We need a law to stop smoking and eating trans fatty acids!

And so it goes.

It seems to me that enough negative reinforcement might cut back on the misuse of cameras, such as this woman's approach:
Went for a movie with Perl yesterday at Tiong Bahru Plaza. Just as we arrive and took the escalator up to the ground floor, I kinda felt someone being a tad too close to me at the back..

Turned back to take a look and caught this old man using his handphone camera to take an upskirting photo of me. My immediate reflex action: I wacked the guy real real real hard in his stomach
Enough of that and the frequency might drop, after all, these guys are taking the pictures in public with many people around them. Defend the girl's honor, even if she's not really dressed in an honorable way. Maybe people will get the message after a while, at least some of them.

PORK PROTEST

The "stimulus" debt spending passed the House of Representatives, although it did so without a single Republican vote. Eleven Democrats stood up and said "enough" as well:
Allen Boyd, D-Fla., Bobby Bright, D-Ala., Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., Parker Griffith, D-Ala., Paul Kanjorski, D-Penn., Frank M. Kratovil, D-Md., Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, John E. Peterson, D-Penn., Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Gene Taylor, D-Miss.
The tally was finally 244-188. The party lines were pretty stark here, and I wonder why. Republicans aren't shy about spending normally (at least, the non-conservative ones), and the last "stimulus" packages got plenty of GOP votes.

Was it simply a partisan foot stamp, an impotent protest against the Democratic Party majority? Eleven Democrats joined the vote, what were they protesting? Was it actually a voice of rejection of the spending, people finally saying "well we voted for this crap before but this is too much in the wrong areas?"

With the economy as bad as it is and Democrats winning so big in the last two elections, one would expect the GOP to meekly go along for fear of greater opposition from voters. For them to make this kind of political statement is unusual for Republicans and seems to say that they are so sure this is a bad idea they're willing to make sure that Democrats and Obama alone are to blame for what comes to pass. I don't know, it could all just be a political stunt, Democrats were pretty good at standing as one to vote against something when Bush and the Republicans were in power.

In any case it moves on to the senate now. This debt spending package is being stacked on top of economic difficulty that deepens every week, it is horrible pork spending that will not help and will likely cause things to be far worse. I'm glad to see at least some legislators rejecting it.

Quote of the Day

"We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our selection between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessities and comforts, in our labors and in our amusements, for our callings and our creeds... We have not time to think, no means of calling the mis-managers to account, but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow suffers."
-Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

OH CRAP

In world news, Zimbabwe has just printed a fifty billion dollar note. This was necessary because as of the tenth of this month, a loaf of bread cost a billion dollars in that nation. That's just difficult to conceive of: a billion dollars a loaf. Good thing we have better government here, avoiding those socialist solutions that led to Zimbabwe's economy collapsing, right?

OK I'm going to show you something here that if you understand economics at all will cause your stomach to turn into a compressed ball of ice. It's a chart about the federal reserve. It shows the periods of recession in the past (a useful historical document to see how often they occur and the trends over the years) as gray bars. It shows the monetary supply as a blue line.


As long as the blue line goes up gradually over time, that just means growth. Now, take a look at the present recession, that's the last gray bar. The blue line doesn't raise, it is a straight line going upward by more than the total amount the monetary supply has raised in the last hundred years. It goes straight up.

Remember all those funny stories about wheelbarrows full of cash to buy food under Mugabe and how the deutschmark was basically worthless before Hitler took over? Thousands of marks to buy a loaf of bread? How they just printed a fifty billion dollar note in Zimbabwe? Yeah. Not so funny now.

All economic disagreements aside, all partisan arguments aside... I think the federal government has done enough already. Maybe this isn't the ideal time to spend a trillion dollars more that you don't have, guys. Wait. No maybe. This is not the time. You've done enough damage already.

This chart is courtesy Ace of Spades who saw it at The NRO corner. Peter Robinson says this about the information:
Note, incidentally, the tiny little wiggle at the year 2000. That represents the Y2K monetary expansion, judged huge at the time. There are plenty of people who would argue that the Fed's efforts to shrink the money supply afterwards—that is, Greenspan's mopping up operation—burst the high-tech bubble, causing the last downturn. How will the Fed mop up after this expansion?
This is not going to be pretty.

*UPDATE commenter mark at the Ace of Spades HQ links an animated chart of federal borrowing through the years. Looks pretty bad... until you see the recent borrowing. Watch the chart flatten out through the century as the last year's borrowing spikes to unthinkable levels.

Real Men Cook X: QUICK CHILI

My father said that I should learn to make a chili pot
But then I burned the house down the chili was too hot
-Peggy Lee, Mañana

Tomatoes and Chili
For real chili connoisseurs, the words "quick chili" are an oxymoron, two words that instantly conflict like "painless castration" and "tiny giant." Chili by definition must take hours, even days to get right, slowly cooking the beans, adding ingredients in a specific order and simmering until everything blends together in a rapturous whole.

Well sometimes you don't have that kind of time, and as it turns out, you don't need it. This chili won't win any blue ribbons at a fair, but it will win over everyone who eats it, even the chili snobs. One of the most interesting parts of the show Ham on the Street was when he showed how canned beans were very nearly as good and flavorful as beans cooked at home. While canned beans cost more, they also take about a thousanth as long to prepare. I encourage people to cook their own beans (there's a secret to getting less gassy beans I'll write about some time) but this is about speed.

Now, technically "chili" is just the sauce, the red stuff. That's where all the flavor is, and you can use it on most things as a condiment of sorts. But for most of us in the US, chili includes beans and meat (technically con carne y frijoles) so that's what I'll be calling this mixture to save space and time.

OK here's the recipe:
1 can of Diced Tomatoes and Green Chiles (14.5 oz)
2 cans of Pinto Beans (15 oz each)
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
one pound of hamburger
chili powder for flavor, you choose
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup diced onions.

Blend up the Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilis until they make a sauce. Open up both cans of beans and toss them into a saucepan, dump in the chili sauce, add garlic salt, and put it on simmer or low. I recommend putting some water in each can and swishing it around to make sure you got the full contents. Brown the pound of hamburger and drain off the grease. Pour the drained hamburger into the saucepan and stir. Heat to nearly boiling and serve.

That's it. The cheese, chili powder, and onions are on the side for adding to the chili if wanted. The whole ordeal takes about fifteen minutes, tops. Make a salad and some cornbread for a full meal, I suggest the Jiffy cornbread mix which is another fifteen minute special. You can have a whole meal whipped up in half a sitcom, in fact you can make it during the commercial breaks if you time it right. You can use the heat of tomatoes and chilis you prefer, I like my chili very hot but you can get pretty mild stuff.
Sure, it's not authentic chili, but it is surprisingly tasty and is both fast and easy to make. The dishes you use are minimal and this will feed three guys (or two really hungry ones) with the cornbread and salad. Hint: put some blended jalepenos in ranch dressing for the salad for an extra zing.

Incidentally, if you put chocolate or spaghetti in chili, you are a heretic and should be burned. Mole is one thing, but chocolate bars in chili is a sign of the apocalypse.

ODIOUS

"Barack Obama isn't really one of us. Not in the normal way, anyway."

Glowing Obama
One of the weirdest, most depressing things that happened during the Bush administration was watching how some on the left (and a few on the right) sunk into frothing, enraged hatred of President Bush. The term Bush Derangement Syndrome was coined to describe how otherwise rational people would become virtually insane at the mention or thought of President Bush. It was not common, but it was very disturbing and loud when it occurred. Naturally, the term was used to describe more than simply those who were truly deranged, it was often used as a club to hit anyone who was critical or just opposed to the president and his policies, but there was a real BDS out there - and still is.

Well, with the election of President Obama, there is also Obama Derangement Syndrome out there. From people who claim Obama isn't a citizen and thus isn't qualified to be president, that his birth certificate is false, to people who claim his citizens brigade to help in emergencies is the equivalent to the SA (brownshirts before the SS was formed in Nazi Germany), there are those on the right who are acting insane regarding President Obama.

In a certain sense, this is inevitable with any new president: some people are just going to hate the guy. President Clinton had those who said he killed Vince Foster over Whitewater and flew drugs into a private airstrip he built as the governor. Reagan, Carter, pretty much every president has had those who showed lunatic rage when their name was mentioned. The big difference with President Bush is that so many for so little reason went nuts, as if the very idea of a Republican being president was enough to make people become frothing loonies.

Yet there is another kind of Obama Derangement Syndrome out there. One example comes from Joy Behar during an interview with Larry King (courtesy Gay Patriot):
KING: OK, is this administration going to be hard for the comics to have fun with?

BEHAR: Yes. And all I can say is thank you for Joe Biden, because he is going to always give us some laughs. He’ll say something crazy and out there, and it will be fun. And Sarah Palin, you know, we can always rely on her to come back and give us some material. But it is really not easy to make fun of the Obamas, because they’re really — they’re kind of really perfect, aren’t they?
I'm reminded of Eli Saslow's creepy body worship in his description of President Obama on vacation:
The sun glinted off his chiseled pectorals sculpted during four weightlifting sessions each week, and a body toned by regular treadmill runs and basketball games.
That kind of writing is usually reserved for cheesy bodice-ripper novels, not political reporting. This isn't very isolated; The New Republic described a pedestrian inaugural speech as "poetic," book stores have shrines to Obama, and we all know of Chris Matthews' embarrassing "thrill up my leg" comment.

There's more, of course. From the early campaign photography deliberately staged to make Obama appear Christ-like, complete with repeated halos around his head and a studied gaze into the future to actual christ-representative sculptures of Obama, to wince-inducing pictures of Obama riding on a unicorn to save us all, the gushing religious fervor was unnerving. Susan Sarandon compared Obama to Christ, Alan Cumming called him Gandhi, and columnists without a hint of irony or satire call him a "lightworker," a spiritually enlightened being.

It goes on and on, and I can only think of how this would easily morph into a religion in a few decades. Usually it takes 60-100 years for a myth to start forming, for President Obama it took fewer than 4. Those of us on the right who watch wonder how anyone can stomach the adoration and zealotry, wonder how long the public will put up with this kind of fawning by the press and the entertainment community. I suspect most regular Obama supporters and Americans think that's really creepy and over the top, but are willing to give the guy a chance and like him so far. But when will they get sick of it all and point out the emperor's new clothes?

Another thing those of us on the right wondered is what would happen to the BDS sufferers, those whose entire life seemed to be consumed by hatred and efforts to not just remove Bush from office, but demonize and attack him and anyone who dared support or even be neutral about him in every conceivable forum. Most Bush opponents weren't like that, most were just the usual disgruntled political voices or people who politely disagreed. But some were wracked with that feverish, shivering madness. That significant a portion of one's psyche can't be left empty, the void had to be filled.

About halfway through the campaign season last year, I figured it out: they were merely shifting that passion, that all consuming madness from hate for Bush to love for Obama. The same insanity and monomania was there, but it shifted focus and passion from hate to rapture. The energy is the same, the irrationality is unchanged, the imperviousness to facts has remained. It is truly disturbing to watch.

And the most ironic thing is that these are the people who, heads tilted furiously, insist its time for unity and healing, that the nation finally is one, and we are as a country "growing up" as Alfre Woodard put it. We're growing into a nation divided between religious zealots who are blind to their own worship and those who want politics to have as little impact on their life as possible.

By the way, the movie Jesus Camp infamously had a portion where children were told to pray for President Bush, prominently showing a cutout of the man which was portrayed in a way that made it seem almost like a shrine. While I am deeply skeptical of the movie, given its producers' blatant intent and ideological purpose for the film, I wouldn't doubt that some treated Bush with greater reverence and fervor than any man deserves. The difference, again, is numbers, prominence, and media coverage of these people. The folks in Jesus Camp were mocked and the movie is being treated as some sort of documentary on those crazy Jesus-loving Americans. ODS zealots are treated as ordinary, nay, enlightened people by the press and entertainment culture.

TAXPAYERS FOR TAXES

"The more laws are enacted and taxes assessed, the greater the number of lawbreakers and tax evaders"
-Lao Tzu"

NACo LOGo
The National Association of Counties (NACo) is an organization founded in the thirties to provide national representation of county governments. Their website describes NACo this way:
NACo advances issues with a unified voice before the federal government, improves the public's understanding of county government, assists counties in finding and sharing innovative solutions through education and research, and provides value-added services to save counties and taxpayers money.
Paid for by tax funds, this organization represents about 80 percent of the nation's 3,066 counties by publishing a newsletter, working as a liason with state and federal governments, and "special projects that deal with such issues as homeland security, drug abuse and broader access to health care."

They also advertise on Idealist.org and Craig's List for a Public Affairs Special Projects Coordinator. Here's how the ad reads:
A national association representing county governments is seeking a Public Affairs Special Projects Coordinator to work on two projects. One project seeks to reestablish a partnership between the federal government and America’s counties. The second will focus on developing a national strategy for combating anti-government/anti-tax efforts. The ideal candidate should have knowledge of county, state and federal governmental structure and interrelationships; experience at the federal or congressional level; experience running issue or public service campaigns; and excellent oral and written communication skills.
This is a pretty standard hiring ad, and using Craig's List saves taxpayer dollars, so far so good. The problem is what the job entails and what they are trying to accomplish.

They're advertising for someone who will help fight against attempts to cut taxes and shrink government. In other words, they want to fight against libertarianism and conservatism and for leftist big government tax and spend ideology. While the ad is free, the job would be paid for by taxpayer dollars: you'd be paying someone to specifically attempt to block any reduction in bloated government spending and excessive taxation.

For example, on the front page of the NACo website is an article with the headline Much for counties to like in stimulus package. It goes on to tell counties how great the trillion dollar spending bundle is and why counties will benefit. Given that counties make up states and cities lie within counties, when cities and states get the money counties benefit.

The article touts the spending that will go to rural broadband access, mass transit, Amtrak, extending unemployment benefits, "green" industries, paying for peoples' mortgages, and so on. None of this will be stimulus in any way, but the name sounds so good, it just rolls off your tongue. Stimulus.

Included in this article is the praise of "$275 billion in tax relief." Given the NACo attempt to hire someone specifically to fight against tax relief, that seems odd, until you understand the plan. First of all much of the "tax relief" will actually go to people who pay no taxes in the form of Earned Income Tax Credits. The plan will reduce taxes to some people who pay taxes, but it also will "eliminate taxes for about 10 million low-income workers and offer relief to those who pay no taxes at all" according to CBS.

Second, a Democrat proposed it, so it's good tax cutting. See, the GOP plan would knock 5% off all tax brackets (reducing 15% to 10, and 10% to 5) which would benefit all taxpayers and even corporations. The Democratic plan primarily lowers the taxes on people who are the poorest: reducing some to no tax payment and others simply giving more money for being poor.

The biggest problem I see with this plan is that already nearly half of American people pay no taxes at all. Now, while I suppose we'd all rather pay no taxes (especially Democratic politicians), the fewer people who actually pay taxes means fewer people who have an interest in tax policy or how bad taxes get. If only those people richer than I pay taxes, I'm less concerned about how bad that gets no matter how damaging it is to the economy. If the majority of the country is in this situation, that is great for the left, but bad for tax policy and the nation as a whole.

Which is, I suppose, why the NACo is trying to hire someone to fight against tax cuts and shrinking the size of government, but is in support of these tax cuts (called "tax relief"). Because this tax relief moves the mood of the nation left and helps tax policy be set by people who don't even pay any. And they want you, who do pay taxes, to fund this effort.

Quote of the Day

"Pictures are for entertainment, messages should be delivered by Western Union."
-Samuel Goldwyn

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BENECIO DEL CHE

"At the smallest of doubt we must execute."
-Ernesto "Che" Guevarra

Benicio Del Toro as Che
Hollywood film maker Steven Soderberg, famous for the overrated Sex, Lies, and Videotape made a movie recently about Che Guevarra. The film treats Che as a cowboy, a revolutionary who is likable, decent, and just a little wild, but overall a heroic figure. Cuba's government loved the film.

Recently, actor Benicio Del Toro (who played the title character) was confronted about the fact that Che was, in fact, a brutal murdering thug, and didn't care for it. "I'm getting uncomfortable, I'm done. I'm done, I hope you write whatever you want. I don't give a damn," Del Toro said, as he walked out. What happened? Well, inconsistencies of the story were pointed out, missing significant facts were noted, and blatant falsehoods were brought to light. Several men who actually suffered under Che's brutality and the communist Cuban government were there and they confronted Benicio Del Toro about the movie.

Del Toro said he didn't know much about Ernesto "Che" Guevarra, so he read Guevarra's writings and liked what he read. The men who suffered told a different tale, which made Del Toro very uncomfortable. Steven Soderberg claimed he was just telling a story:
"I've had people ask me: 'How can you make a movie about a murderer? A terrorist?'" he said. "What they don't understand is that I'm in support of everyone who appears on screen. I have to be. I take the position of everyone who's on screen. I'm not judging them one way or another."

In this image released by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, Benicio Del Toro stars as Ernesto "Che" Guevara in the film, "Che". (AP Photo/Film Society of Lincoln Center, Wild Bunch) ** NO SALES **

At the same time, Mr. Soderbergh seems to harbor few illusions about just who Guevara was.

"I don't know that there's any place for a person like me in the society that he was trying to make," the director said. "I'm the poster child for a lot of the [stuff] that he was trying to eradicate."
Yet the movie is very kind to Che, even supportive of his actions. Specifically left out were the trial-less executions, the work camps (concentration camps) for people who were insufficiently revolutionary, and the man's desire to speed up the process by killing anyone about whom there was any doubt.

Benicio Del Toro is a fine actor whom I like to watch. For all that, he's just an actor, not a scholar. He didn't know much about Che beyond cool pictures and how hip leftists seemed to like him, and he learned more by reading the man's own version of events which left out any bad stuff that might offend. So when he's confronted by people who suffered under the brutality and death of the Cuban government directly because of Che Guevarra, he was unready and it made him uncomfortable.

Well, perhaps you might want to learn a bit more before doing a movie like that. Soderberg's "I just make movies" defense is a bit weak considering how nicely he treats Che. Would he make a movie about Stalin or even President Bush that was so approving and positive? Are there any people who are considered monsters by his victims that he wouldn't make a nice, supportive movie about, glossing over the bad parts and ignoring others? Che is a hero to the left, so he's treated better. Augusto Pinochet was considered a horrible thug to the left, so he was always treated poorly.

It is this rewriting of history that is disturbing, and Soderberg did it on purpose - with Del Toro and Laura Bickford helping produce - to make Che seem less awful than he was. The problem is, like with other 20th century thugs and monsters, there are still too many living victims of these tyrants to stand up and complain. Del Toro should have known better, and hopefully now he does. The problem is he has to choose between the uncomfortable truth that he did something at best unwise or the more comfortable fantasy that the movie portrays, that soothes his conscience, and that appeals to his Hollywood leftist friends.

It takes a lot of courage, honor, and integrity to pick the former. It is far too easy to pick the latter.

ROUND UP THE WEMMINFOLK!

Everyone tends to look the same all covered with soot anyway.

Woman firefighter
The Los Angeles Fire Department graduated another class of firemenfighters, and I wish them all the best and God's blessing. However, some are upset by what the graduating party looks like. There are 42 graduates, and all of them are men. Christine Pelisek reports in the LA News:
Three women were supposed to graduate. One was a 48-year-old grandmother — an emergency medical technician and former airport baggage handler who failed key physical tests just weeks into the fire-academy training. Another, a young former soccer player for Notre Dame, nearly made it through, but failed on drills to raise heavy wooden ladders against a building — as firefighters must do during a fire. The third was a tough former Air Force intelligence officer, terminated from the academy because she couldn't maintain the grueling pace.
This is despite a long effort to get more female firefighters into the mix. Well meaning people looked around at other jobs, and decided that since women were increasing in numbers there, why they should be in the fire department as well. After all, there are more female cops, right? So the governments of various towns went to work to make this happen:
To prove its point, Los Angeles City Hall — just like Seattle, Miami, San Francisco, San Diego and other major cities, together with state governments — spent millions to recruit, train and house women. Los Angeles outfitted most of its 106 fire stations with costly women's lockers and women's showers, while politicians as well as fire chiefs Donald Manning and William Bamattre engaged in years of lip service, conjuring up an image of a new, professional class of woman firefighters.

Women came to figure prominently in the praise party on the LAFD's Web site, www.LAFD.org, where the Hero of the Month, for six months running — in a department of mostly men — has been Tamara Chick, a woman so key to the department's goals that she is now in charge of female recruitment.
Out of 3,940 members, 27 of them are female. Apparently this Tamara Chick is just phenomenal to beat out all those men. She must be Wonder Woman. Or something.

Let me give you the American Standard Firefighter Physical Test, called the CPAT. You have to pass this to make it as a fireman:
Graded Step Mill
For this event, the candidate dons two 12.5-pound shoulder-weights to simulate the a high-rise pack, in addition to the 50 pound vest required in all other events. Prior to the timed CPAT, there is a 20-second warm-up at a set stepping rate of 50 steps per minute. During this warm-up period, you're permitted to dismount, grasp the rail, or hold the wall to establish balance.

If you fall or dismount during the 20-second warm up period, you must remount and restart the entire 20-second warm-up period. You are allowed to restart the warm-up period twice. The timing of the test begins at the end of this warm-up period when the proctor calls gives the command, start. For the actual test, you must step at a rate of 60 steps per minute for 3 minutes. After the event, the two 12.5 pound weights are removed. Walk 85 feet (20 seconds) to the next event.

Failures
If you fall or come off the Step Mill three times during the warm-up period, you fail the test. If you fall, grasp any of the test equipment or step off the Step Mill after the CPAT begins, the test is concluded and you fail the test.

Sound pretty rough? Just wait, there's more. All of these tests are completed in a row, in sequence with a short rest period.

Hose Drag
For this event, you must grasp a hose with nozzle of a 200 foot hoseline of 1-3/4 inch hose. Place the hoseline over your shoulder or across your chest, not exceeding the 8-foot mark. You are allowed to run during the hose drag (only time during the entire CPAT).Drag the hose 75 feet to a pre-positioned drum, make a 90 degree turn around the drum, and continue an additional 25 feet.

Stop within the marked 5-foot x 7-foot box, drop to one knee and pull the hoseline until the 50-foot mark crosses the line. During the hose pull, you must keep at least one knee in contact with the ground and your knee(s) must remain within the marked boundary lines. This concludes the event. Walk 85 feet to the next event.

Failures
During the hose drag, if you fail to go around the drum or go outside of the marked path (cones), the test time is concluded and you fail the test. During the hose pull, you are warned if at least one knee is not kept in contact with the ground.

Equipment Carry
The candidated removes the two saws from the tool cabinet, one at a time, and places them on the ground. They then pick up both saws (one in each hand) and carry them 75 feet around the drum, then back to the starting point (total 150 feet). It's okay to place the saw(s) on the ground and adjust grip. Upon return to the tool cabinet, place the saws on the ground, pick up one saw at a time and replace the saw in the designated space in the cabinet. This concludes the event. Walk 85 feet to the next event.

Failures
If you drop either saw during the carry, the test time is concluded and you fail the test. You receive one warning for running. The second infraction constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test.

Ladder Raise
For this event, you must walk to the tip of the 24-foot aluminum extension ladder, lift the unhinged end from the ground, and walk it up until it is stationary against the wall. This must be done in a hand over hand fashion, using each rung until the ladder is positioned against the wall.

You cannot use the ladder rails to raise the ladder. Immediately proceed to the pre-positioned and secured 24-foot aluminum extension ladder, stand with both feet within the marked box of 36 inches square, and extend the fly section until it hits the stop. Then, lower in a controlled fashion to the starting position. This concludes the event. Walk 85 feet to the next event.

Failures
If you miss any rung during the raise, a single warning is given. The second infraction constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test. If you allow the ladder to fall to the ground or the safety lanyard is activated because you released your grip on the ladder, the test time is concluded and you fail the test. If during the ladder extension, your feet do not remain within the marked boundary lines, one warning is given, and the second infraction constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test. If you do not remain in control of the ladder or let the rope lanyard slip in an uncontrolled manner, your test time is concluded and you fail the test.

Forcible Entry
For this event, you must use a 10-pound maul or sledgehammer to strike a hydraulic measuring device in the target area until the buzzer is activated. During this event, you must keep your feet outside the toe-box at all times. After the buzzer is activated, place the sledgehammer on the ground. This concludes the event. Walk 85 feet to the next event.

Failures
If you do not maintain control of the sledgehammer and release it from both hands while swinging, it constitutes a failure. If you step outside the toe-box, a single warning is given and the second infraction constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test.

Search
For this event, you must crawl through a tunnel maze that is approximately 3 feet high, 4 feet wide and 64 feet in length. At a number of locations in the tunnel, you must navigate around, over and under obstacles. In addition, at two locations, you must crawl through a narrowed space where the dimensions of the tunnel are reduced.

Your movement is monitored through the maze. If for any reason, you choose to end the event, call out or rap sharply on the wall or ceiling and you will be assisted out of the maze. Upon exit from the maze, the event is concluded. Walk 85 feet within the established walkway to the next event.

Failures
A request for assistance that requires the opening of the escape hatch or opening of the entrance/exit covers constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test.

Rescue
For this event, you must grasp a 165 pound) mannequin by the handle(s) on the shoulder(s) of the harness (either one or both handles are permitted), drag it 35 feet to a pre-positioned drum, make a 180 degree turn around the drum, and continue and additional 35 feet to the finish line. You are not permitted to grasp or rest on the drum. You are permitted to drop and release the mannequin and adjust your grip. The entire mannequin must be dragged until it crosses the finish line. This concludes the event. Walk 85 feet within the established walkway to the next event.

Failures
If you grasp or rest on the drum, one warning is given. The second infraction constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test.

Ceiling Breach and Pull
For this event, you must remove the pike pole from the bracket, stand within the boundary established by the equipment frame, and place the tip of the pole on the painted area of the hinged door in the ceiling. Fully push up the 60 pound hinged door in the ceiling with the pike pole three times. Then, hook the pike pole to the 80-pound ceiling device and pull the pole down five times. Each set consists of three pushes and five pulls.

Repeat the set four times. You are permitted to stop and, if needed, adjust your grip. Releasing your grip or allowing the pike pole handle to slip, without the pike pole falling to the ground, does not result in a warning or constitute a failure. You are permitted to re-establish your grip and resume the event. If you do not successfully complete a repetition, the proctor calls out "MISS" and you must push or pull the apparatus again to complete the repetition. This event and the total test time end when you complete the final stroke repetition as indicated by a proctor who calls out "TIME."

Failures
One warning is given if you drop the pike pole to the ground. If you drop the pike pole, you must pick it up without proctor assistance and resume the event. The second infraction constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test. If your feet do not remain within the marked boundary lines, one warning is given. The second infraction constitutes a failure, the test time is concluded and you fail the test
In no conceivable way could I ever pass this test. There's a reason why every firefighter you see is enormous: you simply have to be in order to do the job.

This test is harder than the requirements for the military, than for the police (yes, they have physical requirements, and they are really strict - to get in, at least). This is one of the hardest jobs in the world to do, physically. The fact is it is rare to find a man that can do this job, it is even more rare to find a woman who can do so. All the equal opportunity advertising, all the recruiting and new facilities in the world will never change that.

Granted, Mayor Bloomberg in New York City (known for its incredibly fine fire department, made famous in 9/11) decided to lower the physical requirements for probationary firemen (the guys in training). There just weren't enough women and minorities in the job, and ability to do the job matters less than what the fire fighters look like while they do it. More diversity, less skill, that's the goal in New York City.

So if you're trapped in a room in New York City with flames all around you, huddling behind a mattress with your child in your arms and the firefighter can't carry the hose up the stairs and kick your door down, just be happy the department managed to hire more minorities and women.

ILLEGAL CRITICISM

"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
-Winston Churchill

Yesterday the quote of the day was this line from Mark Steyn: "The state's response to explicit Islamic intimidation is to punish those foolish enough to point out that intimidation." I was primarily thinking of the arrest of Geert Wilders for daring to speak his opinion about Muslims, backed with evidence in the form of a movie when I posted that. Yet later that day a news story was posted on Protein Wisdom by Dan Collins which illustrated the point even more. The tale is from Austria, and involves another politician and an insult to Buddhists. No wait, I mean Rastafarians. Perhaps it was Mormons. Well, some religion or another:
Austrian far-right parliamentarian Susanne Winter was convicted Thursday of incitement because of her anti-Muslim statements, including the claim that Islam's prophet Mohammed was a paedophile. A court in Winter's home town of Graz also found the 51-year-old politician guilty of humiliating a religion. She was sentenced to a fine of 24,000 euros (31,000 dollars) euros and a suspended prison term of three months.
She said that Mohammed was a pedophile - which he was, according to the Hadith (his young bride Aisha was 6 years old when he married her, and 9 when he consummated the relationship). This accurate, factual statement is considered so heinous that she is being fined and given jail time (which was suspended). I agree this information is humiliating, but the typical standards for slander and libel are that the truth is the ultimate defense. Apparently the Austrian judicial system doesn't see it that way, nor does the writer of this article, who says her remarks were "anti-Islam" in nature.

The presumption that freedom of religion means freedom from criticism is absurd and a violation of the entire concept of liberty. Freedom of speech and religion are intimately intertwined because they are both matters of conscience, which is critical for true liberty. To think, believe, and act upon those things is the heart of liberty, and neither can be limited in any way unless they cause greater limitation of liberty on others. Telling someone their freedom of speech is restricted by any offense they might cause someone in a specific religion (you'll note Muslims are free to criticize other religions without response) is tyranny.

And this tyranny doesn't come from the government wanting greater power, it comes from a government fearing losing its power to an angry religious minority. So they feed others to the crocodile, hoping they'll be last down its gullet.

Quote of the Day

"Congress and the new administration are all too eager to abandon restraint so that we can overcome the consequences of excess."
-Stephen Chapman

Monday, January 26, 2009

BIPARTISAN SUGGESTION

Rush Limbaugh this morning had an idea, one that he thinks is a bipartisan plan to stimulate the economy. He suggests it breaks down like the election: 46% for someone other than Obama, and 52% for Obama.

So if congress wants to spend $1,000,000,000,000 (that's a trillion dollars) on stimulus, he proposes a breakdown that works in this way:
As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009, $540 billion of the one trillion will be spent on infrastructure as defined by President Obama and the Democrats. The remaining $460 billion, or 46% that voted for Senator McCain, will be directed towards tax cuts, as determined by me.
He primarily proposes business-friendly tax cuts (capital gains and corporate, but also personal income) to stimulate the economy, and suggests we sit back and see which does the best job, what works, and what works fastest.

Now, we saw in the last 8 years how quickly and effectively the Bush tax cuts turned recession around, so we know how well that works. Putting money in peoples' pockets and giving them the finances they need to expand, hire, and invest drives the economy better than taking it away and spending a smaller portion of it on various projects such as family planning services and money sent to the notoriously corrupt and fraudulent ACORN.

But this really is bipartisan. The Democrats won, so they get the greater share. The Republicans lost so they get a lesser share. To make it a true compromise and bipartisan, both get a share. It will never happen, of course. But I'd love to see that kind of effort on the part of a government that claimed to be about healing, unity, reaching out, and bipartisanship.

I know which plan I'd bet on.