Thursday, June 26, 2014

Home

When I think of home, I think of the house I grew up with in the North Carolina Mountains. I think of my grand parents’ sprawling New Jersey property where we spent many happy Christmases as kids. Home is where the memories are.


Saturday we had a few people over for our first try at zombies keep out. The board game features the players as goblin mechanics attempting to defend their workshop from a horde of shambling undead. At the beginning of your turn you draw a bad things happen card and pick one of three options—adding zombies to the board, advancing the shambling masses or taking a bite token. The active player then can draw two new cards, attack the zombies, work on building a machine, repair the barricades, or my favorite “push button!” Most communal tower defense games I’ve played come down to one player planning everyone else’s moves while everyone else ends up just following directions. ZKO is unusual in that the active player tells the group which bad thing they chose and what they did, but not what the options were. You can, and we did, play open hand, but it’s discouraged. You are playing as individuals for the most part.

The genius of the game comes in two parts. First, Privateer Press clearly meant the game to ape goblin bodgers from their war machine setting. I can’t help but think of short minions puttering around their workshop, muttering in squeaky voices, while devising steam punk tech. The concept is very light hearted—a tone which the mechanics support. Second, as you take bite tokens, the rules limit the kinds of actions you can take and force you to talk differently—in effect mimicking your progression into zombieism. With one token you slur your words. With two tokens you grumble and mush mouth your words. With three tokens all you can do is grunt and moan. At this stage you don’t get to pick what happens on the terrible things card, you just hold up 1, 2, or 3 fingers, turn the card over, and perform the associated action. At 4 tokens you become a zombie, can only moan, and draw 2 terrible thing cards instead of taking your turn.

PP hit a home run with this game. It has lots of strategic choices—real choices that have lasting value. It has an evolving game state from turn to turn so there isn’t always a clear right choice in every given situation. Especially given the tactical complexity, the game’s scope is simple. This means you have fun, feel like you’re contributing, and don’t have to think too hard.

We got hopped up on sugar and played through a full game in about three hours. I did everything I could to go full on zombie. Others avoided bite tokens like the plague. What made it fun wasn’t just the game, but that all four of us stuck to our required voice limitations, even when not specifically playing. The resident four year old mocked us remorselessly. I clowned around a bit. We ended up laughing so hard and so long that my stomach hurt and my head began to ache. It was a fantastic evening.

Sunday, WMTrainguy, Ceri, and I went to the range so they could try out my two Colt .38s. I love those pistols. Sadly, times, needs, and the makeup of our collection have changed. They may or may not end up buying them, but sooner or later those old friends are going on the auction block, the revolvers not the friends. I hope they end up with someone who appreciates them. I spent a lot of time plinking, replacing the grips, polishing, and generally giving them the TLC they deserve. Guns are essentially tools for me. Their purpose is recreational; but they also have to fill a nitch in either my collector or preparedness plan. The brunette and I have moved to a magnum/big bore model—one where I don’t have need of the old Colts any more.

While my friends were assessing the desirability of my wheel-guns, I rented an S&W Governor. The Governor is Smith and Wesson’s answer to the Taurus judge—a 6 shot, ultra-light revolver that fires 410 shotgun shells, .45lc, or .45acp with moon clips. It has utility as a survival gun and self defense piece. Up until this rental I’d never shot one of these dual 410/.45 revolvers. I had a 325trr, but sold it after it became clear that without any other .45 moon clip guns, the revolver was more of a pain than a compliment to my collection. Now I wish I’d held on to it.

According to the rental clerk, the Governor I shot had barely been used. It had the classic smooth S&W take-up and reset. It also had the heaviest trigger pull of any revolver I’ve ever fired, including my old Ruger GP100. Recoil was…stout. With a rock-crushing grip flip was manageable but man, firing 2.5 410 buckshot loads, it felt like I was lighting off .44 magnum rounds. In single action it was reasonably accurate and controllable—pleasant after I got used to the recoil. In double action I had problems pulling the trigger without twisting the muzzle off-target due to the pull weight. I didn’t notice it as much when I dry fired the gun, but forcing myself to hold it on target meant double action was…challenging. The governor has been on my list for a while. It still is, though what I had considered a relatively low investment gun now looks like it will require some work to make it viable. That takes it from being a front line purchase to more of a want-for later item. It’s possible I’ll end up looking at the judge, something that I would have thought impossible a year ago.

After range time, we picked up E and the brunette and hit Ginza. Fifteen years ago a Japanese steak house wouldn’t have caught my eye. Now it’s one of our favorite eateries—friendly, entertaining, excellent food, and some of the best customer service I’ve ever had. The prices are reasonable too. E loved the show, including the initial burst of flame, as the cook flipped, diced, fried, mixed, and hammed it up for the audience. The brunette and I played games and read audio books for the rest of the day.

Monday, super mother in law drove up and exchanged her china cabinet, china, and crystal for our old wicker bar. Opening up the boxes we found pieces that the brunette played with as a kid. We talked about the history of the cabinet. We opened up several boxes of glass and crystal we received as wedding gifts—finally having a place to display them. I like nice things and three generations worth of china and crystal certainly qualifies. The big deal for me wasn’t the ooo shiny factor though; it was the feeling that with that family artifact in our living room, our apartment finally felt like a real home.

To me a home is a place where you, your family, and your friends can look back and remember shared fellowship. The couch may be second hand, but it’s where games have been played, movies have been watched, and spirited discussions have taken place. It isn’t just where you live, but a place with its own gravity. You can look at any college dorm room, bachelor pad, or basement apartment and see that it’s temporary. The furnishings may match, the walls may be hung with pictures, but something about the domicile says that the person is living there out of convenience—not putting down roots. Most of our furniture comes from cast offs and hand-me-downs. Even so, there’s something about the place that has become uniquely ours. It’s not just home any more, but a “Home”—with a capitol H.

Friday, June 6, 2014

On gun Control

The recent surge in gun control commentary is really disappointing—nothing new, but still disappointing. I have a couple of acquaintances who know I’m a gun-guy. Some avoid the topic, some are interested in discussing guns, and others approach the conversation by lobbing verbal grenades in the hope of provoking something interesting. I respect the first group’s wishes, let the second set the tone, and use calm and principled logic on the third. Discussing gun control is as much about politics as statistics. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? More importantly to me, how much thought have you put into the validity of opposing stances? I don’t shy from the topic. Too often, I think we avoid discussing contentious issues. I don’t seek out the subject, but if someone puts it on the table I’m happy to engage.


I’m an information omnivore. I read Fox News and listen to NPR. I frequent several libertarian blogs. I’m not interested in what people want me to believe. I want to develop my own opinions—preferably based on objective research and sound principals. So after the recent California public shooting, I expected the obligatory outcry. Guns are bad! We have to do something! Ban guns! The NRA is evil! Murderers!!! Think of the children!!!! If a shooting meets certain criteria, media worthy, shock value, controversial, the last 200 years of history and debate gets thrown out the window. It’s as if the discussion has never happened before.

Some statements and my responses:

1. We need to compromise, have an honest discussion, and accept common sense gun control measures. When I think of compromise, I think of both sides of an argument walking away from a discussion with an agreement that gives them some, but not all, of what they want. A compromise might look something like unrestricting suppressors in return for “universal background checks.” That’s a compromise. Saying “universal background checks, 7 day waiting periods, assault weapon bans, and magazine capacity limits are just common sense isn’t a compromise. If by common sense people mean that agreeing with them just makes sense…then, again, we aren’t having a discussion in which both sides exchange viewpoints in a forum where shared sacrifice is possible. If you want to know why just about every gun control discussion ends with the people of the gun furious—that’s it. Over and over the other side comes to the table telling us to give just one more inch, just one more restriction. This will be the last time. Except it isn’t. There’s always one more stricture in the name of the common good. There’s no corresponding give and take.

2. “We need universal background checks.” We have universal background checks, or as close as we’re likely to get with our current constitution. Some states allow private sales, but they are the exception. If you own a gun “store” you are _required_ to have a federal firearms license. If you buy a gun through a FFL holder, you have to undergo a background check—no exceptions. If your state, like mine, has stricter laws than federal requirements, you have to abide by the more restrictive standards. These rules apply even at gun shows—background checks, waiting periods, restricted firearm types, and all. I don’t personally believe in background checks. Many states don’t bother reporting restrictive mental health and criminal incidents to the federal database. The government almost never prosecutes people who are shown to have lied on a firearms purchase application. Most important to me is that “universal” background checks wouldn’t have stopped any of the recent public shootings. All of those individuals cleared a background check or stole their guns outright. In the case of the California shooter, police knew there was a problem and couldn’t/wouldn’t act. I see the appeal of a litmus test—an impermeable barrier to evildoers. In practice though we have universal background checks already and they aren’t working.

3. A friend recently told me that “nobody needs a gun today.” I find this kind of logic intellectually dishonest at best. Here, right now, in my office at work, she’s absolutely right. I don’t need a gun for self defense…until I do. You could make the same argument for fire extinguishers, insurance, and car alarms. I really dislike this argument. On its face, it attempts to argue the legitimate need for a firearm. The subtext however is that because an outspoken part of society can’t see a need for guns, the rest of society should accept restrictions to firearm ownership. There are lots of things wrong with that argument—why do I have to prove a need? What other pastimes do we rate on a needs based scale? What makes one person’s definition of “need” more valid than mine? This is a straw man argument designed to logically mug me into supporting the illogical conclusion if I agree to the premise. Heck, it sounds like a challenge. I could sit here and justify my “need” all day; but the point is that “need” has nothing to do with the discussion. Our society is rife with excess material goods that nobody strictly needs. I’m not obligated to prove why I “need” a gun. It falls upon my ideological antagonists to prove that my ownership of the gun poses a clear and present danger to society—not the other way around.

4. “Statistics say guns are evil”. Someone smarter than me once said that there are lies, damned lies, and then there’s statistics. First, let’s accept the fact that if we play with numbers enough we can make them say anything we want. For example, if I want to make violence statistics look better than they are I could say, with complete honesty, that we should remove suicides from gun violence because modeling shows that suicides occur independent of means—if someone is going to kill themselves they’ll do it with or without a gun available. If I want to challenge child firearm death statistics, I would point out that most child firearm related fatality statistics include “children” meaning anyone under the age of 18—including all the youth gang shootings in that population. This adjusted perspective obviously paints a very different picture. I’ve not even started talking about the methodology of certain studies or the linguistic tricks one can use to tweak perception. I don’t argue statistics much because there isn’t anything worth arguing over. I can find numbers that support what I believe and the other person can do likewise. Decent google-fu will let you grab about any number you want from wikipedia. But then there’s the claim of “sight your sources.” I’m just not that good at remembering specific reports, scientists, and studies. I know the general results. If you want me to get into the down and dirty, we’d better keep it to email where I can point to something more reputable than some article I read a few years back. Don’t get me wrong, numbers are important. It’s just I find they cause more problems than they solve in casual conversation.

5. “The second amendment only applied to state militias.” This is actually 100% true—though it pays to build some context. The constitution was drafted after the colonies had fought a protracted war for independence with a totalitarian monarchy. Colonists were arrested for no reason, forced to house British troops in their homes at their own expense, pay excessive taxes without any representation, had their property confiscated without trial, executed, raped, harassed…etc. They fought that war with hunting rifles, dueling pistols, and anything that came to hand. It’s no surprise then that the former colonists wanted to severely limit the power of national government. The states wanted to be 100% sure that if their newborn union ever turned on them they would have the means to fight back—hence the militia language. Nothing said that the states themselves couldn’t limit the rights of their citizens—but the federal government would have no such power. Any place in the constitution where the states were limited, they are specifically addressed. You can see this language in both the first and tenth amendments as well as in the body proper. Go ahead and read the transcripts from the various state conventions and the later federalist and anti federalist papers. The country was just as split then on the role of government as it is now—possibly more so. The point being that the commonly accepted means of self defense and states’ rights enforcement was the armed citizen. The United States didn’t even have a professional standing army till World War I. The citizenry was the army. Whatever the intent of the second amendment was, times have changed. Specifically the civil war and the 14th amendment happened. In order to make sure the 13th amendment applied to everyone, the survivors of the civil war passed the 14th amendment which essentially incorporates the rights confirmed by the constitution down through the states. At the time the constitution was drafted, most of its language was mirrored in the various state constitutions; but to make sure slaves were freed, the 14th amendment was necessary. There has been much debate over which parts of the constitution the 14th amendment “incorporates” back to the states. A self-serving reading of the language would indicate that all of it is incorporated—meaning that state and federal governments can’t restrict the right to bare arms. In practice the courts have “selectively” incorporated the various amendments back to the states—forcing a geologically slow sequence of Supreme Court cases to validate which amendments apply to the states and to what degree. It’s generally accepted that the right to bare arms applies to everyone at the state and federal level. It’s the “shall not be infringed” bit that’s been the sticking point. What exactly is “infringed?” What “arms” are citizens entitled to bear? These aren’t clear-cut questions any more thanks to two centuries of judicial decisions. Suffice it to say that those who distill this issue down to “the second amendment only applies to militias” at the very least lack historical perspective.



To me, gun control comes down to fear—fear of the unknown, fear of the uncontrolled, fear of mortality. Let’s face it, murder has been illegal since before I was born and people still kill each other. Gun control doesn’t change that fact, much as we wish it were otherwise. For me, supporting the second amendment is about trust and faith—faith in the inherent goodness of my fellow man, trust that in 99.99% of cases people aren’t homicidal nut jobs. I believe that people should be judged innocent until “proven” guilty. I believe that the law should do it’s best to protect the rights of the majority regardless of how loud the nay-Sayers object.

Guns are tools. They have no agency of their own. When someone drives drunk we don’t blame the car and we shouldn’t blame the weapon when someone commits a crime with a firearm. I hear a lot of people talk about equality, tolerance, freedom, and nondiscrimination. It’s very easy to say those words. It’s much harder to live them when you have to go outside your comfort zone. That is my greatest issue with the gun control movement. It seeks to control me, to inconvenience me, to demonize me not for anything I’ve done, not for anything I am going to do, but because they are afraid. I will not live in fear. I will not predicate all my decisions on the idea that everyone is dangerous when provided with merely means—not motive. It isn’t always an easy choice, but it is far more rewarding than the alternative.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Lists

I am in a list making mood. There are lots of things I’d like to write about, the 2016 election, gun control, perception, my weekend, but while the spirit is willing the creative juices are lacking. So, on to the project list. I have a lot of projects on tap. Some, such as my dragon storm plans, have been shelved awaiting more favorable circumstances. Others, like rebuilding the man-cave, need some key “thing” to happen. Others have just been set aside and never seem to get priority.




In no particular order, my current working list looks something like this:

• Clean up the man cave. Get rid of the extra furniture. Pick up some more shelving and work space.

• Switch my computer over to the new laptop I’ve had for the last year.

• Build a functional 50 point warmachine army with all the accessories, storage, models, and books.

• Flesh out our preparedness kit including further redundancy, personal protection, and medical training.

• Build a dedicated active shooter response kit.

• Complete work on my modular Ruger 10-22 takedown project.

• Complete work on my perfect pocket pistol project.

• Clean out the kitchen/bar area and consolidate. Reload and refill the bar spinner. Reorganize flatware for maximum use.

• Set a date for Deathquaker to base and varnish my 4th Indian army.

• Get my French FOW army painted and stored.

• Learn how to play poker at a base level. Run one small tournament for the friends group.

• Play through at least three full bloodbowl games. Acquire at least one assembled and painted team.

• Learn at least two new easily prepared health conscious dinner preparations.



This list is far from exhaustive. For my purposes a “project” is something with a simple clearly articulated goal—a readily achievable endgame. I have plenty of ideas, initiatives, plans, sitting on the back burner; but none of them have a visible victory condition. These are the front burner projects—the stuff I need to get done this year.

The limiting factor on half of these projects is money. The two firearm projects required $300-$400 each plus some quality time with a gunsmith. I’ve purchased the raw materials for the warmachine army—it only remains for me to get them painted and assembled. The preparedness kit and active shooter bag need components which I have to budget for. I have one bloodbowl team and will likely be picking up a few more. Part of my promise to myself is that before I take on new projects, I have to take care of my existing priorities. In some ways, budgeting for these projects has helped a lot. I’ve had to plan much more than in the past, but I expect to finish a lot more of my projects as well. Already, I’ve purchased all the raw materials to complete my warmachine army. Next on the list is my modular 10/22 project.

As for less resource intensive issues, I need to switch my computer over. That really needs to be my top priority. I’ve been ducking it for months because frankly, I don’t like change. I don’t want to have to learn a new operating system. So, by the end of June, I’ll be switched over, totally. This weekend I’ll start work on the man cave.

The challenge isn’t doing the tasks; most of them are relatively straight forward. The challenge is getting up the motivation to get started on the project in the first place—or getting started finishing them anyway. It always feels like I have 100 things to do and somehow these get set aside till last. That’s how I end up with a new laptop that I haven’t used in a year—well that and I don’t want to give up XP. They say writing something down increases motivation—here’s hoping.