Wednesday, July 1, 2015

A double score on guns and ammo

I had good luck today with firearms and ammunition.  I came across an advertisement from a local resident who was selling two Ruger 22/45 pistols, the older Mk II version rather than the current-production Mark III (which I don't like because it's burdened with a magazine safety, a loaded chamber indicator and other legally-mandated excrescences).  The price was reasonable, so I bought them both.  Miss D. and I now have matching his-and-hers 22/45's, identical to the picture in the first link above.

On the way home, I dropped in at our local firearms dealer to see what they had in the way of .22LR ammunition.  They seem to have access to regular supplies of CCI Mini-Mags, which are my preferred brand for all-round use.  Today they had something I hadn't seen before.

There's apparently a TV program about alligator hunting called "Swamp People" or "Choot 'Em" or something like that (I've never seen it, but then I don't watch TV).  CCI is one of its sponsors, and they've produced this show-branded 300-round pack of their Mini-Mag 36gr. hollowpoint rounds.  The shop had recently received a case of it, and had already sold three out of the ten boxes.  I relieved them of the remaining seven, also at a reasonable price (more than I would have paid a couple of years ago, but very good by today's standards for high-quality ammo like CCI - it came to about 11c per round).  That gives Miss D. and I plenty of ammo to break in our new pistols.  (No, I didn't deprive anyone else by buying it all - the shop will have more in stock within a few days.  That's why I keep going back there.  They seem to have better sources for rimfire ammo than most places.)

Now I have to learn the intricacies of disassembling, cleaning and reassembling the Ruger Mark II pistol.  It has a terrible reputation for being very tricky to put back together.  I guess I've got a steep learning curve in front of me.  If anyone can suggest useful online resources or video clips to make it easier, please let me know about them in Comments.  Also, I may want to mount a scope rail on one of the pistols.  Can anyone recommend a good product for the purpose, or perhaps a good gunsmith to do the installation if necessary?

Thanks in advance for your help.


Which genius thought up this technique?

If time is short, jump to about 1m. 50sec. for the fun bit.

Verily, the mind doth boggle . . .


The state of the Tor boycott (and SJW's)

I guess it's time to post an update on what's been happening with regard to the Tor boycott.

I had the opportunity to discuss the situation at considerable length with a large number of people at LibertyCon over the weekend.  (I was humbled by the number who thanked me for speaking up about the situation at Tor.  It's nice to know I'm far from alone in my anger.)  It seems there's very positive support for the boycott from the majority of those with whom I spoke.  I'd say it's certain that we're on track to cost Tor a six-figure sum this year, and probably that will continue for the foreseeable future.  That may not seem like a lot to some;  but six figures a year taken off Tor's turnover, merely because they would not apologize for actions taken in their name by their personnel using company time and computer facilities, seems like a fitting punishment.  I wonder whether the company will still be as sanguine about it when the loss of turnover reaches seven figures?

SJW's continue to be as fanatical as ever in trying to brand various Puppy factions as racist, extremist, and any other -ist they can think of.  They're still trying to identify 'leaders' of the Sad Puppy faction and draw them out, so that they can demonize them as individuals.  Unfortunately for them, there are no particular SP leaders behind the boycott.  It's a genuine mass movement.  (A few of them have tried to demonize me in that way, but it hasn't worked, for two reasons.  One is that they've already dismissed me - rudely - as a nobody, not worthy of their attention . . . which makes it difficult for them to build me up into some kind of a bogeyman.  The other is that I truly am small fry, as I've pointed out before.  I'm merely an individual who, because of my personal background and history, was more offended than many others by Irene Gallo's intemperate and untrue remarks;  and I therefore spoke out, loudly, about the situation.  Others have chosen to pick up that ball and run with it.)

The SJW's also appear to be trying to conflate the Tor boycott with the Hugo Awards controversy.  Please recall that I didn't call for a boycott of Tor because of anything to do with the Hugo Awards.  I did so because of the lies and unconscionable actions of a number of senior Tor staff.  It looks to me as if the loony left is grasping at straws here.  Vox Day, who as organizer of the Rabid Puppies is the SJW's favorite demon, has done a great job cataloging their manic efforts to further polarize and inflame the situation.  I know that some people regard him as all sorts of nasty things because of various incidents in the past, but I don't know anything about those.  I've only had dealings with him since this situation blew up.  In that context, I have nothing but praise for his openness, honesty and willingness to co-operate.

Just this morning Vox pointed out how SJW hysteria has reached a crescendo.  Go read his article for yourself.  You'll find it illuminating.  He also references Daniel Greenfield's latest article, which is most certainly applicable to a great many SJW's.  Read that too.

The very fact that the Puppies factions don't see any need to go on and on and on about the Hugos or the Tor boycott, whereas the SJW's seem unwilling or unable to talk about much else, is (IMHO) the clearest possible sign of who's currently winning this fight.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Confederate battle flag and racism

Let me begin by saying I'm an immigrant.  I have no axe to grind in this fight;  I'm an interested observer.

I've been surprised, in reading comments left by readers of my first two articles about the Confederate battle flag controversy, to find that many of those defending it as a cultural symbol have denied, in so many words, that its racist connotations either matter, or are valid at all.  Even as an immigrant, studying the history of the symbol at a distance, so to speak, I know that's not correct.

I think the best summary of the problem is given by The Week in this article.  Here's a brief excerpt.

In 1948, Strom Thurmond's States' Rights Party adopted the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia as a symbol of defiance against the federal government. What precisely required such defiance? The president's powers to enforce civil rights laws in the South, as represented by the Democratic Party's somewhat progressive platform on civil rights.

Georgia adopted its version of the flag design in 1956 to protest the Supreme Court's ruling against segregated schools, in Brown v. Board of Education.

The flag first flew over the state capitol in South Carolina in 1962, a year after George Wallace raised it over the grounds of the legislature in Alabama, quite specifically to link more aggressive efforts to integrate the South with the trigger of secession 100 years before — namely, the storming of occupied Fort Sumter by federal troops. Fort Sumter, you might recall, is located at the mouth of Charleston Harbor.

Opposition to civil rights legislation, to integration, to miscegenation, to social equality for black people — these are the major plot points that make up the flag's recent history. Not Vietnam. Not opposition to Northern culture or values. Not tourism. Not ObamaCare. Not anything else.

There's more at the link.  I highly recommend reading the article in full.  It seems reasonably balanced to me.

I think it's undeniable that there is a racist connotation to the Confederate battle flag in modern times, despite the fact that there was no such connotation when it was designed and originally used.  Therefore, much as I sympathize with those who see opposition to it as symbolizing opposition to their cultural values or their personal freedoms, I can also see the other side's arguments.  I think there are valid reasons to at least restrict the display of the battle flag.  However, I agree that those reasons don't amount to sufficient justification to ban its display entirely.

Remember, I'm talking as an outsider looking in, trying to see beyond the passions to the reality of the situation.  Is there any hope that such realities might prevail?  Not, I submit, as long as both sides refuse to acknowledge that the other does have at least some justification for its position.


The living definition of an obliviot?

Courtesy of a link at Daily Timewaster, we meet a Miami driver who clearly wasn't looking out of his window.

Looks like the living definition of an obliviot to me . . .


He might want to rethink this idea . . .

I note with interest that the Sergeant-Major of the Army (the most senior NCO in the US Army) is considering letting soldiers offer suggestions concerning a point of some . . . sensitivity.

When the Army reversed its much-hated tattoo policy, many cheered Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, who was a driving force behind the decision.

"Soldiers show me their new tattoos now," Dailey told Army Times.

But Dailey, who became the Army's top senior enlisted soldier on Jan. 30, doesn't have any ink of his own — for now.

Your SMA has recently given some serious thought about getting a tattoo, and he had an inspired idea:

What if he asked soldiers to pick some ideas for a tattoo, and then put the best up for an Army-wide vote?

"I'm a big morale guy. I'm a positive person," Dailey said. "We're always trying to raise morale, so I said one day, 'let's set up a website and the soldiers get to pick my tattoo, they vote on it.' Could you imagine?"

There's more at the link.

Er . . . I was in the Army (not the US Army, but soldiers are much the same the world over).  I know the sense of humor that appears to be almost universal among military men.  It's raunchy, raucous, ribald and uninhibited.  I don't even want to guess at the suggestions currently being debated in barracks around the country!


A different perspective on the Confederate battle flag

I shared my thoughts concerning the Confederate battle flag a few days ago.  They didn't sit well with all of my readers (not surprisingly, given the controversial nature of the topic at present).  One reader, Sandy, sent me the link to an interesting article in the American Spectator.  Here's an excerpt.

I submit that for many today, the Confederate flag is a statement of regional defiance, not against the abolitionist movement, but against what we might call Northernism, as manifested among cultural elites in the Northeast Corridor, the Beltway, Chicago, and the Left Coast. Though Southerners hear that they aren’t much unless they have an Ivy League degree, many are quite happy with a B.A. from North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. And though Mayor Rahm Emanuel may declare Chick-fil-A unfit for morally advanced Chicago, Bible Belters are pleased to march right past the demonstrators on Same-Sex-Kiss Day to buy their grilled nuggets. Though national rankings for “livability” put pot-smoking Boulder, Colorado, miles above Arkadelphia, Arkansas, most of these Arkansans wouldn’t think of trading places to raise their kids.

If you think that the glorification or reinstatement of slavery is the subtext when Lynyrd Skynyrd and Alabama feature the Stars and Bars on an album cover or when Charlie Daniels sings “The South’s Gonna Do It Again,” you’re deficient at cultural hermeneutics. Yes, Halloween has pagan roots, but if the governor wants to drop bite-sized Snickers into the bag of a trick-or-treater dressed like Chewbacca, we don’t have to consign him to the occult, even if he announced that the goodies would be forthcoming on Thursday, a day named in honor of Thor. And Halloween Samhain ceremonies by a few nutcase Wiccans doesn’t change that.

There's more at the link.

I'm still not convinced that the author's perspective can outweigh the genuine outrage in some quarters over the use of a symbol that was used by defenders of slavery.  As an immigrant, of course, I don't have a dog in that particular fight.  My ancestors were several thousand miles away at the time.  Nevertheless, I think he makes a valid point.

What say you, readers?


Monday, June 29, 2015

Doofus Of The Day #840

A tip o' the hat to Australian reader Snoggeramus for forwarding the link to today's winner - a (presumably) successful businessman and (clearly less successful) gardener in New Zealand.

Businessman Paul Currie was in a hurry.

He was at his holiday home in Rata St, Wanaka, about to head home to Christchurch.

The new lawn was looking great, he thought.

Just those broadleafs.

Perhaps he should give them a quick spray before he left.

That was a month ago.

Then the phone calls started - from neighbours who wondered if the brown marks appearing in his green lawn might have been caused by vandals.

That got Paul thinking.

He had bought four new sprays for various purposes and had reached into the cupboard for the one recommended for broadleaf weeds.

But then, he remembered, he had not actually been wearing his glasses at the time.

The penny dropped.

Instead of using a herbicide for broadleaf only, he had accidentally used a broad-spectrum herbicide containing glyphosate - good for any grass that needs to be turned from green and healthy to brown and dead.

There's more at the link, including a photograph of a once-beautiful lawn that looks as if it had been tagged by a prolific but particularly inept graffiti artist.  I'm sure it'll take Mr. Currie a long time to live down that mistake!


Brad Torgersen nails the gay marriage issue

Author Brad Torgersen absolutely nails the gay marriage issue in his latest blog post.  Here's an excerpt.

If the base fear of religious conservatives is that gays and lesbians are “destroying” marriage, how can gays and lesbians destroy a thing which America’s straight couples have been actively destroying for a century?

Think about it. And let’s be brutally honest.

Rampant divorce.
Rampant infidelity.
Rampant abuse of spouses and children.

I don’t think those are the legacy of a people who collectively believe marriage to be sacred.

If I feel anything on the issue of marriage, I feel that marriage (by Americans) has been thrown into the mud and trampled upon. We did that. All of us. And now that gays and lesbians have picked it up out of the mud and said, “We would like to have this wonderful thing,” religious conservatives want to snatch it away and yell, “You can’t have that, it’s our most favorite thing ever!”

Oh really? Then why have we been treating marriage like garbage for so many decades? Because we have. As a society. With our collective actions, we decided marriage wasn’t important anymore. Long, long before the issue of gay marriage got to the Supreme Court.

And now that marriage is important to somebody — gays and lesbians — we try to keep it away from them?

I can’t wrap my brain around that. Too much cognitive dissonance.

. . .

As I have loved you, love one another. That’s the Christ-like ideal. I think we express it best by tending to the gardens in our own back yards. And I don’t mean literal gardens. I mean spiritual and emotional gardens. Many of which are neglected and overgrown with the weeds of bitterness, rancor, resentment, and worse. I’ve got a garden like that. And I suspect, so do many of the people reading this. We all have to be responsible for our own gardens. And I don’t say that because I think my garden is perfect. Nope. I go to church every Sunday — yes, even when I am thousands of miles away from home — to be reminded of the fact that my garden is choked with weeds. And that weeding is a never-ending chore that I can’t escape. At least not if I want to be serious about my beliefs as a Christian.

. . .

Go back to gardening in your own back yard — daily — and you get the good stuff. It might not seem like it has a macro impact. But if everybody is a back-yard gardener, and everybody works at it, there will be a macro effect. That’s something I’ve always taken away from my scripture reading and other spiritual pondering. The idea that each of us individually doing small works of kindness, love, and forgiveness, can add up to a huge net dividend for the society as a whole.

This includes marriage. Do we want to put our money where our mouths are? How much time and energy are we devoting to our families and our homes? Shouting about marriage in the macro sense, while neglecting or abusing marriage on a personal level, is pointless. We prove we care about marriage when we put our wives and our husbands and our children first. Not last. First. And again, it doesn’t matter what the government does (or doesn’t do) about it. This is between us, and the Lord. He will judge us. Not the government. Not society. Not activists. God. How willing would any of us be to go before God right this minute, and give an account of our stewardship of our relationships with our spouses and our families? How much gardening have we done in that respect? Are we prepared to get called on the carpet? Do our choices and our actions live up to our rhetoric, as “defenders” of the “sacred institution” of marriage? Have we made it sacred every day? Do we show our wives and our husbands and our families forgiveness, compassion, love, and support?

Because that’s where my mind goes. And I think I am way too occupied trying to tend to my own garden — Weeds! Damned weeds, everywhere! — to get overly concerned with peering over the fence at somebody else’s.

There's much more at the link.  It's not often I do this, but I have to endorse every word.  Go read the whole thing.  It's worth your time.

Thanks, Brad.


Is a financial crisis about to erupt worldwide?

I've said before that the next major financial crisis may arise when any one of a number of factors - or a combination of them - suddenly erupts.  Right now there are several such factors that are poised on a knife-edge.  If two or more of them blow up . . . I think the next worldwide financial crisis will be upon us.

Greece is poised to default on its debts and (probably) exit the Eurozone.  This crisis has been brewing for years, but is now near boiling point.  It's fundamentally about much more than just Greece.  As the Telegraph comments:

As an institution, the EU promises security, stability and prosperity to member states in exchange for pooling their sovereignty. Yet for Greece, it has provided the opposite. Everyone knows the country should never have joined the eurozone in the first place and having done so, should not have compounded that mistake by going on a borrowing binge.

But the humiliation now being heaped upon a proud and ancient country is a salutary lesson to all member states – that without the power to make their own decisions they are always at the mercy of the unelected bureaucrats and financiers who run the institutions.

The democracy that was born in Greece more than two millennia ago no longer applies when control over the currency and economic policy is handed to a supranational body. The question of whether the price is any longer worth paying is not one for the Greeks alone to answer.

There's more at the link.

Nor is Greece the only European nation in danger of default (although it's certainly the most at risk right now).  "Altogether there are six European nations whose debts are larger than their economic output, and 16 that have debts larger than the 60%-of-GDP limit set out in the Maastricht Treaty."

If Greece defaults and gets away with repudiating its debts, at least in the short term, I fully expect one or more of the other most-debt-burdened nations in the EU to follow suit.  After all, if creditors have to deal with more than one massive default, their options become more and more limited.  As J. Paul Getty famously said, "If you owe the bank $100 that's your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that's the bank's problem."

Central banks and major commercial lenders in other parts of the world are waking up to that reality as well.  China's premier stock exchange is crashing, and Morgan Stanley warns that no improvement is in sight - rather the opposite.

China's stock market got wrecked on Friday with the Shanghai Composite index crashing by 7.4%.

The red-hot market is now down 19% from its high, which it set on June 12.

Some folks may see this as a buying opportunity, but not the analysts at Morgan Stanley.

. . .

Garner warns that the Shanghai Composite, which closed at on Friday, could have much farther to fall.

"We set a new 12-month Target Price range for Shanghai Composite of 3,250-4,600," he said. "This range is ~30% to -2% below the current level of the index."

Garner's not kidding when he warns of the 30% downside. While a crashing stock market could be bad enough to trigger some social instability, it's not without precedent to see regulators allow the market to just collapse.

Again, more at the link.

The USA is at serious risk of further Detroit-style defaults, not just at city level but involving states too.  Consider:

Put all these current and near-current events together, and you have a very dangerous picture indeed.  I can only compare it to the well-known simulation of a nuclear reaction using mousetraps and ping-pong balls.

All it takes to start the reaction is one ball . . . or, in terms of a financial crisis, one major collapse or other economic event.  There are so many of them out there that contagion is inevitable.  If any one of the world's current fiscal crises goes out of control, the odds of another crisis doing the same increase exponentially.

I think we're living in very dangerous times, economically speaking.  The Bank for International Settlements (an association of central banks) has warned that "The world will be unable to fight the next global financial crash as central banks have used up their ammunition trying to tackle the last crises".

I'm currently making sure I have two months' expenditure available in cash, tucked away in a safe location.  If we're forced to endure a compulsory 'bank holiday' as Greece is now enduring, I want to make sure I can buy what I need.  Other than that, there's not much I can do.  I'm not wealthy enough to have high-value assets like gold or silver in quantities sufficient to preserve wealth in times of crisis.  Like almost all of us, I'll just have to ride it out as best I can.


Chillin' out?

I've never seen ice cream served like this before . . .

Oh, well . . . someone has to say it.  "Cool!"


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Safely home

Miss D. and I arrived home safely this evening, worn out but very glad to have been at LibertyCon.  We met lots of interesting people, made useful new contacts, and probably set up several months worth of work to improve my books and marketing techniques.  All in all, a very successful weekend.

Now it's back to the usual daily round and common task.  In the light of input from professional artists at the Con, one thing I'm going to do right away is start talking to a couple of graphic artists about commissioning covers for my next books.  Two European artists (both of whose work I've used before) appear to offer very good prices for custom cover art (oddly, much better than US artists - don't ask me why).  I think I'm going to order half a dozen to a dozen images and 'bank' them for future use.  I already know several of the plots I'm going to use, so I can tailor the cover pictures to what goes on inside.  That'll be fun.

It's been a very long, often sleep-deprived few days.  Time to hit the sack.  Regular posting will resume in the morning.

Sleep well, y'all.


Immigrants, jobs - and machines

In the light of my previous article about automation threatening many current jobs, I was both heartened and provoked to thought by this report from the BBC.

On the flat plains of the Po Valley is the small town of Novellara, in the province of Reggio Emilia. It's not far from the city of Parma - and from Parma and Reggio Emilia comes the name of one of the world's most famous cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano... in English, Parmesan. Under EU rules, it has to be made exclusively from milk produced and transformed into cheese in this area of northern Italy.

The large number of Sikhs who have settled here were not attracted by the territory's famous product but rather by the territory itself, explains Novellara's mayor, Elena Carletti: "They say, 'We live here and we feel like we're still in Punjab because it's flat, there are no mountains, it's hot, it's humid, and the kind of agriculture is more or less the same.'" According to the mayor, Sikhs feel comfortable in their Italian home from home.

"Punjab, which means 'the land of five rivers', is an agricultural land," confirms Amritpal Singh, whose family moved to Italy when he was five years old. "At home we have fields and cows, and our relationship with the land and animals is very particular. So, when we came here and didn't know the language, this was something in our favour."

With the first major wave of immigration in the 1980s some went to work in factories, some even went to work in the circus, but the majority chose dairy farming. Aside from not needing to speak Italian to milk and take care of cows, Amritpal says they were not afraid of hard work or the unsociable hours. "We wake up very early to pray so that's why it works for us," he says.

A typical day involves two shifts - approximately 4am-8am then 2.30pm to 6.30pm. It's common for people to work seven days a week with no holidays, as cows need to be milked every day. Local dairy farmers were impressed by the respect and skill with which the Indians handled their animals. The immigrant workers were impressed by the handsome wages and free housing their employers offered. The economy was booming back then and many Italians were turning their backs on what was considered menial, unskilled work.

There's more at the link.  Bold underlined text is my emphasis.

I'm really glad that Parmesan cheese continues to be produced in such quantities, thanks to the hard work of Sikh immigrants.  However, the fact that local workers wanted better, less menial work is something to think about - particularly because in March 2015 Italy had an overall unemployment rate of 13% and a youth unemployment rate of a staggering 43%.  If those people can't find work anywhere else and Italy's economic support for the unemployed becomes overloaded, some of them may want to return to the farms from which they came;  and if the Sikhs have taken their jobs there, they're going to resent that and start to fan the flames of anti-immigrant bias and bigotry.

We're seeing the same conundrum here in the USA.  The progressive, pro-immigration lobby claims that immigrants are only doing the jobs that Americans won't do.  Anti-immigration forces deny this vehemently, pointing to companies hiring skilled technical staff to replace US workers at half the salary level (Disney being the latest example of the trend).  In more menial occupations, companies can't afford to pay a living wage to lower-level workers because their customers won't pay the prices necessary to support higher pay.  I've seen a lot of bitching about how mean Walmart is to compensate its hourly-paid employees so poorly;  but if it paid them more, it'd have to raise its prices to levels which its customers wouldn't pay - and that means its employees would soon be unemployed.  It's a conundrum to which there's no easy answer.  Locations such as Seattle, WA that have passed local ordinances to increase the minimum wage are already seeing small businesses close their doors, because they simply can't afford the higher remuneration levels.

One answer already being applied by companies is to increase their levels of automation, as noted in my previous article.  Automation may not only decrease labor costs;  it may also sidestep or short-circuit arguments concerning immigrant versus local workers.  A machine is neither, so companies using them are suddenly freed from controversy around the latter issues.  That's yet another reason why automation is becoming a more and more attractive and cost-effective option in the business world.


Yet another occupation about to fall to machines?

I've written often enough about the dangers posed to our current jobs by a tsunami of automation, robotics and sophisticated machines.  The latest example comes from Australia.

An Australian engineer has built a robot that can build houses in two hours, and could work every day to build houses for people.

Human housebuilders have to work for four to six weeks to put a house together, and have to take weekends and holidays. The robot can work much more quickly and doesn’t need to take breaks.

Hadrian could take the jobs of human bricklayers. But its creator, Mark Pivac, told PerthNow that it was a response to the lack of available workers — the average age of the industry is getting much higher, and the robot might be able to fill some of that gap.

. . .

Hadrian works by laying 1000 bricks an hour, letting it put up 150 houses a year.

It takes a design of the house and then works out where all of the bricks need to go, before cutting and laying each of them. It has a 28-foot arm, which is used to set and mortar the brick, and means that it doesn’t need to move during the laying.

Pivac will now work to commercialise the robot, first in West Australia but eventually globally.

There's more at the link.

Houses in the USA are mostly not built of brick, so this invention isn't likely to have a huge impact here;  but it will in the rest of the world if it can be commercialized.  It's yet another example of automation in the construction industry.  I've already seen US paving contractors using bricklaying machines such as this one from a Dutch company.

It's yet another example of how the ever-increasing wave of automation is going to crush many of the jobs on which a lot of people rely to earn a living.  It's simply cheaper overall for companies to pay the high capital and maintenance costs of such a machine, compared to the burden of providing a job for human beings.  Machines don't need vacations or sick leave, don't take time off because they have a headache or need to deal with domestic emergencies, and don't incur huge overhead costs in terms of health care, workers compensation and other expenses.  Furthermore, when politically correct administrations try to add yet more burdens such as unrealistically high minimum wage standards, machines won't be affected by them.  They just keep on working.

If your job is one of those in danger of automation, you need to be thinking about retraining yourself and getting into a new career field right away.  Far more jobs are threatened than you might think.  If you're in any doubt, I highly recommend that you read at least some of the following articles and reports.  They're well worth your time, particularly those marked with asterisks at beginning and end.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

On the ground at LibertyCon

Miss D. and I are having an exhausting, but interesting time at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN.  We arrived on Wednesday evening, in the middle of an extremely enervating wave of heat and humidity, and suffered through it until a thunderstorm dropped the temperature nicely yesterday afternoon.  The relief is very welcome indeed!

Thursday evening saw the wedding of Sanford Begley and Cedar Sanderson, and the renewal of their wedding vows by Dan and Sarah Hoyt on the occasion of their 30th wedding anniversary.  I was privileged to be a part of both celebrations.  I'm sure many of my readers have already seen photographs and descriptions of the occasions on other web sites, so I'll simply say that it's great to be able to be part of friends' lives at times like these.

For the first time in its history, LibertyCon is completely sold out.  What's more, this year Eric Flint has brought his 1632 Mini-Con to join us, so that there are 700 people here.  The hotel's sold out (with a large number of its rooms and parking spaces unavailable due to remodeling), and with all the extra bodies the crowding is much worse than it's been in previous years.  On the other hand, everyone's having a good time and being very good-natured about it all.  The cooler weather has arrived just in time to make us all more comfortable, too . . . so much the better!

My health hasn't been good.  I picked up an infection of some kind that made Thursday and Friday pretty miserable.  For a time I feared that I might have to cut short my attendance at the convention to head to the ER - or even back home - to get medical attention.  Fortunately, things have become a little easier, so I'm going to try to keep going.  I'll see the doctor on Monday after this is all over.  It hasn't stopped me participating in panels or presenting my workshops so far.  I'll hope for the best.


On gay 'marriage' and the Confederate battle flag

Over the last couple of days two major developments have affected the American body politic;  the controversy over the Confederate battle flag, and the legalization by the Supreme Court of gay 'marriage' in the USA.  I think both are related.

As an immigrant to this country, I've always found the Confederate battle flag an anachronism, because it's been misused by almost everyone.  It was never the national flag of the Confederacy, but was used by the Army of Northern Virginia.  As Wikipedia reminds us:

At the First Battle of Manassas, near Manassas, Virginia, the similarity between the "Stars and Bars" and the "Stars and Stripes" caused confusion and military problems. Regiments carried flags to help commanders observe and assess battles in the warfare of the era. At a distance, the two national flags were hard to tell apart. In addition, Confederate regiments carried many other flags, which added to the possibility of confusion. After the battle, General P. G. T. Beauregard wrote that he was "resolved then to have [our flag] changed if possible, or to adopt for my command a 'Battle flag', which would be Entirely different from any State or Federal flag." ... He described the idea in a letter to his commanding General Joseph E. Johnston: "I wrote to [Miles] that we should have "two" flags—a peace or parade flag, and a war flag to be used only on the field of battle—but congress having adjourned no action will be taken on the matter—How would it do us to address the War Dept. on the subject of Regimental or badge flags made of red with two blue bars crossing each other diagonally on which shall be introduced the stars, ... We would then on the field of battle know our friends from our Enemies."

The flag that Miles had favored when he was chairman of the "Committee on the Flag and Seal" eventually became the battle flag and, ultimately, the most popular flag of the Confederacy.

Ironically, it was only after the Civil War that the battle flag became identified with the Confederacy as a whole.  I can only presume that was through the efforts of veterans who'd fought beneath it, and who wanted to commemorate their sacrifice.  It may also have had something to do with the mythos of the 'Lost Cause', which also arose after the war.  The battle flag as such had nothing whatsoever to do with the institution of slavery;  but because it became identified with the Confederacy as a whole, rather than just the Army of Northern Virginia, it inevitably and irrevocably acquired that association.  That's why opposition to it has grown so entrenched among the liberal establishment, the black community, and those who regard residents in the former Confederacy as unregenerate Southerners who need to be reminded who won the war.  (There are a surprising number of them.)

Unfortunately, those in the south who value the battle flag for its original significance have had the moral ground cut out from under their feet by its identification with the Confederate States as a whole.  If it was just a battle flag, I don't think anyone could seriously object to its being flown on historical grounds.  As a symbol of a state that was established to preserve the institution of slavery . . . that's a whole new ball of wax.  (And don't tell me the Confederacy was not established for that specific purpose.  The historical record - including the statements of those who supported and endorsed secession of the various States - is quite clear.  The Confederacy was all about the 'peculiar institution'.)

After the church shooting at Charleston, photographs of the shooter posing with a handgun and the battle flag were found online.  (He was also photographed wearing the flags of the former Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa, adding to his personal association of the Confederate battle flag with racism.)  That precipitated the public explosion of anger against the battle flag among certain circles that has led to the current situation.  Many in the south are angry and appalled that the flag has now become a symbol for racism in the eyes of many.  They protest that it's simply not the case, that the flag is being tarred with the brush of mass murder.  I fear they forget that the flag has already been tarred with the brush of racism and slavery, whether they like it or not, and whether or not there's any factual historical foundation for that.  The conflation of the battle flag with the cause and nation for which the Army of Northern Virginia fought has inexorably led to this.  I fear the backlash is now inevitable.

The trouble is, the status of the battle flag has been enshrined in custom, and sometimes in law, in several former states of the Confederacy.  If it had remained a completely private affair, with individuals or small groups flying the flag to commemorate historical association or something like that, the present situation would never have arisen.  Unfortunately, legislative enshrining of the flag as a symbol of a nation that itself symbolized slavery and racism has now run into its use by the shooter at Charleston.  It's now so inextricably tied up with all that symbolism that I fear it can no longer be separated from them in the minds of many, perhaps most Americans.

As for gay 'marriage', I put the word 'marriage' in quotes because to me, and I think to many others, the term has always denoted a religious or spiritual understanding of the formal bond between a man and a woman.  Certainly, in human history there has almost always been the understanding that such a bond is ordained, or sanctioned, or blessed, by the divinity, in whatever form and under whatever name a given society has known him or her or it.  Therefore, for the US Supreme Court to rule that 'marriage' must be opened to all, including same-sex couples, is, to me, a contradiction in terms.  If 'marriage' is a religious or spiritual institution, it should fall under the separation of church and state, and not be subject to interference by the government or the judiciary.  If it's not a religious institution, then why are churches and faiths so invested in it?

I've discussed this before in these pages (follow those four links for more information).  My preferred solution today remains what it's always been:  get the state out of the business of marriage altogether.  Let individuals and couples decide for themselves where their priorities lie.  If they're religiously oriented, let them marry in a way that conforms to their faith.  If they aren't, let them make whatever arrangements they wish in order to codify their relationship and afford each other the legal, contractual benefits of shared living.  This may or may not involve a formal, state-sanctioned bond (although for purposes such as inheritance, etc. that may be inevitable).

Frankly, the Supreme Court decision won't change my outlook on marriage at all.  I'll continue to regard it from the perspective of my religious faith, and act accordingly.  To those who don't share that understanding, I'll respect and accept their right to live according to their own lights, as long as they extend the same courtesy to me.