Monday, December 21, 2015

Initial thoughts on Exalted Third Edition

Introduction:




One of my favorite childhood memories came when the library for the blind got the wheel of time series on tape. Back then, you were lucky to get big fantasy on audio—and almost never unabridged. I spent many hours lazing on my bedroom floor listening to my first exposure to epic high fantasy. From that moment I have been hooked on the series and the genre.

Unfortunately, I have not found many well executed epic-high-fantasy role-playing games. There are good epic games. There are good High fantasy games; but Good and epic and high fantasy?—not so much. It is difficult to build a setting that encourages legendary shenanigans. You need a provocative world that begs for stories to be told. You need an advancement system that allows for customization and character development. You need a combat system with flare. Many try—few succeed.

I discovered first edition exalted when a friend offered to run a new fantasy game system from white wolf. At the time I thought it was simply a fun RPG with some interesting setting elements. Later I ran several campaigns and played in a couple short-lived stories. Exalted was the kind of game I had always wanted. It was big. It was bold. There were magic, artifacts, swords, heroes, villains, heroic villains, and villainous heroes. Multiple editions and splat books have evolved the franchise to something beyond the hardcover that first won my heart; however, at its core, exalted is still that game I fell in love with more than a decade past.

I went into the third edition kickstarter dreaming of a beautiful leather bound tome of perfect story potential—gleaming mechanics—elegant pros—a product that innovated but kept all the things I loved about first ed and none of the things I hated about second. Now, two years past the expected completion date with at least another year before I see a physical product, my expectations have been tempered. I still want that perfection–but I am willing to overlook some beauty marks if it gets me a workable result.



Overview:

Third Ed is a perfect illustration of how pen and paper gaming has changed since I picked up my first d20 25 years ago. Gamers of my generation remember when “games” were physical books marketed as any other retail product. The impression I got was that there was a brick storefront contracting, writing, and editing each tome before it hit the shelves.

Flash forward to white wolf’s acquisition by CCP and recent consumption by paradox, and things are a little different. Onyx path pays the licensing company for the rights to publish products in the legacy WW lines. They kick start their publications with a physical prestige copy. After the campaign ends, non-backers go to drivethrurpg.com and buy the PDF.

Looking at the pre-publication backer copy of third Ed you can see what happens when you let artists run wild. This book is huge. Converted to RTF, it clocks in at more than 800 pages (something like 600 in print with all the art.) The writing varies between medium to very high quality. The rules are cleanly written. The writers’ voices are not blended as well as in previous editions. Some of the art is poorly executed. The overall impression is a book that delivers on content but lacks polish.



Concept:

At a macro level the world of exalted hasn’t changed much—same back story—same old time of tumult. The section explaining the creation of the solar exalted and the fall of the first age could have been pulled right out of my first edition core book. Third edition retains all the familiar charm names, notable personages, artifact types, and nomenclature fans have come to expect. That being said, once you get past the exterior you can’t take anything at face value. I will detail individual items later; but for now I want to address the fundamental alterations.

First, the world is much more expansive. First edition left a lot of unwritten space. I think the idea was to leave room for future supplements and custom world building. 3E’s creation feels like the difference between color and high definition. Is there that much of a difference point by point? No. But the more I read the more I wanted to go to every location and build a story around every person. It feels like all that blank space is full of adventure-worthy material.

Second, the game is focused on telling big stories. You can see this in the depth of the charm trees, the way social challenges resolve, and the way characters advance. 3e is explicitly built to take a new exalted to the point where they challenge the fabric of reality. Previous editions tried to do this. The catch was that the mechanics didn’t scale well once characters started dealing with armies, nations, and gods on mass. The game now has defined mechanics for managing nations, for fighting armies, for waging a political campaign, for crafting first age wonders, for free handing magic, and on and on.

Third, role-playing is now fundamentally built into the mechanics. You can still throw a fist full of dice at problems but the game encourages players to build story concepts, play to those themes, and to collaborate. . There are tangible rewards for role-playing consistently well. Exalted 3e features an engine that bills combat and social interactions as equally viable problem solving methods.

Fourth, “concept” is critical to chargen and character advancement. Previously you decided what kind of character you wanted to play, mixed and matched your choice of cast—charms—spells—equipment—abilities to represent that idea. Building a character was often more about making the numbers work than aligning your dream with the fiction. Now, exalted asks you from the very beginning; what kind of character do you want to play, what activities do you want to be doing for the rest of the campaign, what role do you want to play within the circle, what kinds of actions do you want to generate extra experience? Concept is baked into 3E at all levels—a change which I wholeheartedly approve.



What follows are some of my observations regarding particular aspects of 3E. They are neither comprehensive nor in any particular order. Please keep in mind that these are my opinions generated after a single reading of the first player draft of the text with no actual play time.



Exalted:

The defining aspect of 3E is, as the title says, those exceptional individuals the gods choose to elevate. Onyx Path added several new types of exalted in this edition including those crafted from the bodies of the dead, those who rip themselves free of the tapestry of fait, and those who the little gods raise up by petitioning the unconquered sun. The core book doesn’t give much detail beyond basic concept, a ruff mechanical outline for the antagonist chapter, and some fiction snippets; but I like what I am seeing. Alchemicals and infernals are not mentioned in this book. I have not seen anything discussing their future in 3E, but given the extensive list of exalted types for which OP already has to produce source material, I am skeptical.

While I like what I am seeing in new exalted types, the traditional flavors received updates as well. Lunars have a defined role as guerilla warriors and assassins fighting the realm. Solars, abyssals, dragon blooded and sidereal are unchanged in concept but are mechanically polished to better reflect their respective natures. Each type of exalted has been tweaked. Lunars are no longer invincible. Sidereal are physically less imposing than other exalted but make up for it by actually bending fait to their advantage. The net effect is that the exalted are much more flavorful and mechanically intuitive than in past editions.



Character creation:

Character creation is the chapter where I really started to “get” 3E. Players can take a mortal, play him/her for a while, exalt him/her, start out as a solar newbie, or begin play as a seasoned solar. Using this method you can easily see how solar exalted are picked from the ranks of the most exceptional mortals. It clearly shows how this edition has been built from the ground up with a unified design.

For me, the best part of making characters is the design process—how do I make an engine that will let me role-play and be mechanically functional? So I was pleasantly surprised when the more I read about third Ed chargen the more design possibilities continued to spark my creative juices. Each of the 5 solar casts comes with a “job”, a distinct set of useful powers, and a selection of 8 abilities from which to select 5 cast focuses. Characters select one of those five as their supernal ability—a skill group in which they can choose charms while ignoring essence minimums. On its face that may not sound like a big deal; but the implications are huge. Your choice of cast, abilities, and specialties can now align at no penalty. No more picking a night cast who specializes in sorcery because you don’t like the special powers of the twilight cast. Since essence levels are increased based on the amount of experience a character has earned rather than by spending experience and bonus points, this means that each cast can actually begin the game with more skill and charm development in their chosen specialty/supernal skill than a member of a different cast with similar interests.

Supplementing this development is the “intimacy” system. I’ll get to the social game mechanic in a minute; but in the context of character building, players pick a guiding principal, positive and negative personal associations and levels of importance at chargen. This means that even for the least fleshed out character, some attempt must be made to develop a back story, motivation, and important associates.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss advancement. As in the past, there is a set experience total for showing up. However, characters can earn extra experience for role-playing their cast, allowing other characters to role-play, role-playing flaws, and achieving significant personal objectives. Again, while this might seem like a relatively unimportant detail, it has a massive impact. Flaws don’t let you make a more powerful character; they let you advance faster by role-playing a less effective character. Character concept and motivations drive experience which can drive story choices. Group dynamics are even part of potential experience awards. While a player can certainly do the minimum required to get by, any motivated player is going to be looking at who their character is if for no other reason than to make sure they don’t leave experience on the table.



Abilities and Charms:

The basic list of skills hasn’t changed much. Martial arts is a merit dependent subset of brawl. Endurance is folded into resistance. Taking their place are war (the skill of organizing and fighting with troops) and integrity (internal focus and spiritual strength.) Lore and craft require a qualifier such as a course of study or a particular trade. Each martial art must be learned as a separate application of ability dots. Leading and convincing through force of personality uses the presence skill while social niceties and rhetoric falls under socialize. Linguistics is skill at written expression and versatility—languages are learned via merit. My only head scratching moment came when I found that performance encompasses *all* forms of performance—including sex. It is the only ability that covers a huge range of specific skills and disciplines without qualification. In general the ability tree is cleaner than past versions.

Moving on to charms—hoo boy. Charms operate largely as they always have—starting off small and scaling up to finishing moves. At the very bottom are Excellencies—free charms that let you boost a die pool or static value derived from the associated ability. Die pool maximums are atribute+ability and half atribute+ability rounded up for static values. The key thing in that description is “free.” If you have dots in an ability you probably qualify for an Excellency. This means that even before exalted buy charms they can throw a lot of essence at problems—even ability checks that they wouldn’t otherwise bother investing charm slots to improve. Some charms grant periodic free full Excellencies in the associated ability—making more advanced exalted powerful and more efficient when using their signature skills.

Combos are gone—thank god. As near as I can tell, the book isn’t clear on this point, unless it says otherwise you can’t stack charms of the same name, can only use one “simple” type charm per action, and can’t combine bonuses based on charms from different abilities save those that allow for such. That sounds like a lot of restrictions but in practice it means you can use one simple and any number of reflexive and supplemental charms in the same round at no penalty. The lack of clarity regarding essence expenditure and timing is one of my few major criticisms of the system—there seems to be a lack of granularity in this area.

There are a lot of charms. You can tell that what with the starting essence of base exalted pegged at 1 (this goes up to 2 if you make a slightly more experienced solar) essence isn’t a limiting factor for most of the charms that experienced players will remember from previous editions. Each ability tree scales up at a slightly different rate with a wide selection of engines, bonuses, and enhancements. Many charms are simply permanent upgrades to prerequisites. At the upper end charms act more like old school sorcery spells than the essence techniques of yore. One of the lore charms—lore mind you—lets a player role a number of dice and predict a cataclysm. Depending on the result, a number of days later will see the destruction of an area as small as a city to as large as an entire region. War and Sail have charms that let exalted command armies and armadas. An exalted willing to commit a significant portion of their starting charms to their supernal ability is a force to be reckoned with—and then only by gods and celestial exalted of means. The charm trees feel like players are expected to build entire campaigns around their signature abilities—the kind of campaign that gives birth to epics like the Iliad.



Systems:

One of the things you could count on with WW products was the core engine of ability plus attribute. Third edition nominally holds to that tradition, but adds in multiple specialty systems. None of them are particularly complicated, but taken in total they represent an intimidating pile of rules.

E3’s social mechanic is…odd. Every character and NPC has a list of important associations ranked from minor to major to defining. Each level provides a bonus based on whether it is enhancing or conflicting with the modified action. There are different rolls for intimidating, convincing, determining motive, assessing emotional state, instilling passion…and so forth. In theory I really like the idea of defining everyone’s influences—the things that make them who they are. In practice it looks unwieldy. There is a long decision matrix regarding how to affect a person’s opinion, how to combat someone else’s attempt to do so, how to retry the attempt…and on and on. It looks like it would be easy to fall out of character arguing over intimacies and modifiers.

Combat is greatly improved. The essential mechanism requires a player to accumulate initiative equal to the damage they are dealing to their opponents (the opponent loses that much initiative.) Once they have a large enough pool of initiative points, they then spend it all as damage in a single “decisive” attack. There are provisions for “gambits” like disarming and unhorsing. Weapon and armor statistics are standardized by type and modified by tags. Combat looks to pace out better than in previous editions—largely due to the consolidation of the dramatic arc. There are no more split die pools or multiple actions unless allowed through charms—there are some combinations of movement, action, and combat which feel like multiple actions but aren’t. The result should be shorter more direct combat turns.

Group combats have been simplified down to a single stat line for a battle group of anywhere from a couple to a thousand individuals. Their stats are modified by skill, numbers, morale—literally cutting through filler with a series of straight forward rolls. I really like the idea of being able to condense an exalted VS. An army down to a couple rounds of abstract contest. It allows for some dramatic scenes that otherwise would require ridiculous amounts of book keeping.

At first glance sorcery hasn’t changed much—spend willpower+essence for the spell, three circles…etc. The difference is as with most abilities the change in scope. Sorcery is now a process by which one shapes essence using different methods such as potions, worship, or an elemental affinity. Sorcerers are no longer just exalted with access to expensive inefficient charms—they are legitimately wielders of the very fabric of the universe. The book takes pains to describe multiple methods for casting and learning sorcery to the point where it is a profession in its own right.

Crafting is possibly the most interesting new mechanic. In any system it is a challenge to balance the ability to build wondrous items with the need to make the cost of their manufacture somewhat prohibitive. I am not sure how well this system achieves those goals but it is…interesting. Characters earn points by completing projects. At the basic level they get a couple points for building a simple tool. Once they have enough of those points they can spend them to undertake a larger project. This escalates from building trivial items (a couple hours of work at most) to a larger project like a suit of armor (a couple of days or weeks) to a significant project such as an artifact weapon ( a couple weeks to a couple of months) up to world changing items that presumably take months if not years to finish. Depending on how far down the charm tree a character wants to go they can turn the construction of wondrous items into the focus of a campaign or a hobby for off moments. The point based mechanic means that craft is an all or nothing deal. I am curious how this mechanic plays out with other systems as theoretically one could build a mirror that lets one look back in time or a floating palace or a chalice that would exalt anyone who drank from it to say nothing of “mundane” artifacts. It is very much an open ended engine.

There are other systems such as how to administer fiefdoms, ship-to-ship combat, building a mance, and how to build magical workings—sort of like crafting items but for magic affects. If all of this sounds complicated that’s because it is. Towards the end of the text I, an experienced exalted storyteller, was thinking I have no idea how I am going to remember all of this stuff. None of this even takes into account that a couple martial arts operate under their own distinct sub-combat mechanics and several charms modify systems—effectively creating a sub-system in-and-of-themselves. In theory I love the way OP has built a system that addresses every little detail a character might want to utilize. In practice I am concerned at the sheer weight of the material and the bar to play that weight represents.



Deficiencies:

This book is ruff. It is a good editor and a unified art director away from exceptionalism. Even so, it has a lot to offer—especially for those already addicted to Exalted’s call. It is not without flaw though. The point of a RPG is to create a system and setting for people to act out stories. For an experienced player or storyteller 3E is a valuable resource. For a new gamer it is lacking. There is no chapter on storytelling and very little practical discussion of role-playing. This may be the product of the developers focus on the system and setting. It may be an intentional oversight intended for remedy in a later supplement. Regardless, in a core book anchoring a signature line from the largest grossing tabletop RPG kickstarter campaign of its kind, this is an unforgiveable deficit. The next 4 publications in this line have nothing to do with a story teller’s guide or a player’s guide. As a result, while I love 3e for what it is, I have to seriously question OP’s competency, editing, and professional vision.



Conclusion:

Every gamer has “their game.” Exalted is mine. I like what I am seeing in this draft in the sense that there is a lot of material for me to work with. I am less pleased with the lack of attention to fine detail and production values. 3E looks like it has reach and breadth. It looks to allow for beautiful characters and lush campaigns. It also looks to be complex enough that I will have to pick my group very carefully. Here is hoping for the future.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The making of an action hero, hitting the streets

Operation status: Active.


Duty Assignment: Local patrol.

Notes: Recommend further training and attention to diet.

It has been several months since my last report. As my training regimen has stabilized, I no longer feel the need for weekly updates. That being said, writing helps me order my thoughts and prepare for the next mission—so greater frequency may be in order.



I began training back in May of 2013. I try not to use my statistics from then as a guide since it tends to make me feel more comfortable than I like. The good news is that I am now fully capable of patrolling my neighborhood. Back then I had difficulty covering any significant distance. I was lucky to cover 15 miles in a week. Now, with the help of my Charge HR mission tracker/fitbit band, I have that up to more than 30 miles on average. The charge HR tracks pulse, steps, and provides vibrating feedback for alarms. It sends the data securely to my iPhone where I can compare my information against fellow agents like the brunette and Lisa S. I find myself getting up during the day just to add steps to keep up with peers and lighten the load I will need to hit my daily goals. I get off at earlier bus stops to force myself to walk further. The wrist mounted band has the advantage of more accurately counting my punches as well as steps compared to the previous pocket carried version.

Physically I am in excellent condition. I go to the gym/training three times a week. Tuesdays I attend boxing/hand-to-hand cardio from 6:30-7:30 followed by a strength and conditioning class from 7:30 to 8:00. Thursdays I take 45 minutes on the elliptical followed by a half hour with the previously mentioned strength and conditioning class. Sunday’s agent Squish and I do an hour and a half of upper body/core work followed by either an hour on the elliptical or an hour and a half patrolling the streets. I have had to balance the desire to push myself further with the fact that my joints in particular can only take so much. This seems to be the right balance—variable exercise in the classes backed up by a hard routine of cardio and upper body work the rest of the time.

I am satisfied with my progress so far. I am down from a size 50 jeans to a size 40 since April. They are relaxed fit, but progress is progress. I can wear an honest 2x now, not a large 2 or a small 3. I am considerably stronger in terms of raw power and endurance.

As my trainer likes to say, there is always room for improvement. By mid September I was down to 236 pounds. Now I’m between 245 and 250 depending on the day. Part of that first number came from stomach problems and dehydration—so I expected to gain some weight—needed to actually. Unfortunately while I was bulking up for muscle building and rehydrating I fell into bad dietary habits. This was entirely my fault. I tried a system of eating called intermittent fasting in which the subject (me) takes several days out of the week and eats essentially nothing or so little as to be the same thing. Short term I lost a huge amount of weight. Long term I became very tired, my joints started hurting, and when I stopped the fasting my appetite returned tenfold. I gave myself license to indulge with predictable results. I could have prevented this if I had brought more than a 120 calorie yogurt for lunch and convinced myself week over week that I could handle the hunger pangs. Turns out I can, but only for so long.

Until further notice I am bringing a sandwich and yogurt for lunch each day—or the equivalent there of. My breakfast is a banana and some fruit salad—usually a mix of grapes, strawberries, and pineapple. This hasn’t reduced the cravings entirely but I’m back down to a manageable level. The holidays are bad enough without me going gonzo for a cheeseburger every 8 hours.



Upcoming training items:

• Develop some new recipe templates for dinners to increase variety.

• Work to hit my 8k step goal each work day.

• Get the Aria scale back online.

• Develop a firm strength training program.

• Visit the range at least 4 more times by the end of the year.



Today’s Recipe:

Chicken salad Requires 3 diced chicken breasts, half cup lemon juice, diced celery, ½ yellow onion diced, 3 bell peppers diced, half cup light mayonnaise, ginger, Montreal steak seasoning, hot sauce, and 1 cup water.

Instructions:

Season the chicken breast with the steak seasoning, quarter cup lemon juice, and water. Cook chicken in the skillet until tender and juices run clear or in the microwave for 25 minutes. Drain and set aside in a large mixing bowl.

In a small batter bowl, mix mayonnaise and quarter cup lemon juice. Add ginger and hot sauce to taste.

Combine everything and mix thoroughly.



Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Making the Mac

Thanks to the master of mac, I have this excellent recipe which I will be making for this year’s friends’ giving. Let all rejoice, spicy chicken-mac is incoming.






Ingredients

Serves 4 to 6 servings

1/2 pound macaroni

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup all purpose flour

2 1/2 cups whole milk warmed

2 ounces Cheddar grated

1 ounce fontina cheese grated (gouda cheese can be substituted)

1 ounce American cheese grated

4 ounces Chihuahua cheese grated (Monterey Jack can be substituted)

2 ounces mascarpone

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion diced divided

3 garlic cloves minced

3 chipotles in adobo sauce pureed

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 pound shredded cooked chicken

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 2 teaspoon dried

2 tablespoons lime juice

salt and black pepper to taste

4 scallions white parts and 4 inches of green tops thinly sliced



1. Preheat oven to 375 F

2. Prepare a 13 x 9 inch baking pan (grease if needed)

For the pasta

3. Bring pot of salted water to boil over high heat

4. Cook pasta until it is al dente

5. drain pasta and run under cold water

6. return to pot

For the sauce

7. heat butter in a saucepan over medium low heat

8. stir in the flour and cook stirring constantly for 1 minute

9. increase heat to medium & slowly whisk in warm milk

10. bring to a boil whisking frequently

11. reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes

12. add the cheese except for the Chihuahua to the sauce by 1/2 cup measures letting it melt before adding more

For the chicken

13. heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat

14. add half of the onion and the garlic cooking for 5 to 7 minutes or until onion is browned stirring frequently

15. add the chiles, orange juice, precooked chicken, cilantro, and oregano cooking stirring frequently for 5 minutes or until thickened

16. pour the sauce and chicken mixture over the pasta and stir well

17. stir in lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste

18. transfer to pan and sprinkle Chihuahua cheese over top

19. bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the crumbs on top are deep brown

20. let sit for 5 minutes then add scallions on top

Friday, October 2, 2015

Doing the right thing

As I move from my 30s toward curmudgeonhood, I frequently ponder friendships, social obligation, and manners. I am one of those people who enjoy reading Emily Post for obscure items of social etiquette. I also read articles on conflict resolution, ethics, honor, and morality.




The byproduct of this musing is that I spend a lot of time trying to do the “right” thing. I used to think that worrying about how to tactfully get out of an invitation, when to tell a friend that they were being unreasonable, and at what point our obligation to family ends meant I was a bad person. I figured that the desire to protect my own interests meant I was selfish. I have since learned that worrying about such things is exactly what prevents one from becoming complacently self-centered—but it took me a couple decades to appreciate the distinction.

For example, we recently exited the friends’ group dinner rotation. The original Friday night dinner crowd (FND) developed when the core members gathered for a regular gaming night. Although we were kindly invited to several of these gatherings in the early 2000s, we didn’t formally join the rotation until a couple years ago. The founding group was built on similarly situated couples—post college, pre-children, building careers, RPG and board game fanatics…etc. Dinners ended with people staying late, rolling dice, playing cards, or throwing down in HALO until the wee hours of the morning. It was a huge compliment to be included in that community—both because of the fellowship and close ties that resulted from those associations.

We officially joined when some of the long time participants were having kids, expanding their social circle, settling into their careers, and completing professional degrees. Old members brought in new blood. The rotation went from an informal six week spread to requiring a Google calendar. Some members broke off as people ended relationships and found new partners. After a couple years, the community landscape bore little resemblance to the original roster despite some cosmetic similarities. For me, the biggest change was the loss of the sense of “closeness” which characterized those early gatherings. Those get togethers were intimate affairs among close friends. Current FNDs have lost that sense of personal connection, that sense of family which made the experience so special. I remember one day getting off a 13 hour shift at work expecting to take public transportation home. That week’s FND was supposed to have started several hours earlier. Even though it was my appointed birthday group meal, I had to stay late to hit goal. I left the building to find a car waiting to rush me to the still ongoing celebration. There I was greeted with a pitcher of kee lime martinis and birthday best wishes. I was deeply touched that someone had gone out of their way to make me feel welcome and wanted. At my most recent birthday FND five people mentioned the passing of another annual cycle. The brunette’s recent birthday FND got moved to a date she expressly couldn’t attend (we asked months in advance so as to schedule a date for pampered chef that wouldn’t conflict with other peoples’ plans and her dinner got moved to that date anyway.)

I mention the birthday celebrations because they are particularly good examples of the kind of ambiguity I struggle with. I don’t expect gifts around birthdays and holidays. I greatly appreciate anything offered, but there is no expectation even if we have recently gifted the other party. I do however expect that if we get someone a present that they will acknowledge the gesture. Over the past couple years we have routinely purchased gifts for FND members and had to press them to learn whether they even received the package much less appreciated the thought behind it. Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but when I take the time to memorialize someone’s celebratory moment I assume that common courtesy dictates a response on their part. I don’t expect much, but a simple “thank you for thinking of me” tells me that the gift had some impact. In reality I think most of the group just lost interest in observing birthdays save as a theme for that evening’s comestibles. The circle of friends is so large and disconnected that it isn’t a close family any more. That realization lead me to consider how many FNDs I chose not to attend and how many birthday dinners I didn’t feel compelled to gift. I remembered all the political discussions where I was told that I was wrong or made to feel stupid. I thought about all the dinners where I had to work to find anything to do or anyone besides my wife I had something in common with. There were plenty of good memories; but several not so great times as well. From there it was a short step to realizing that while I like most of the people in the FND orbit, the process had become an obstacle—one we ultimately decided to forgo.

Along similar lines, I am simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the upcoming release of exalted third edition. Exalted has been and will likely continue to be my favorite high fantasy tabletop RPG property. It has a unique combination of lush setting, evocative character creation, and epic storytelling. The third edition may or may not be an improvement over previous versions—I honestly don’t care. We paid a lot of money to kickstart and buy into the new edition and when it comes out I will damned well be running a campaign or two. I have run and played in a lot of exalted games over the last decade. Most of my friends have been roped into at least a couple sessions at some point. So, even though E3 is releasing more than 2 years late, I am eagerly waiting to put it on the table.

The catch, there is always a catch, is that I have no idea how I am going to put together a complimentary group. I want to say this delicately but I just can’t think of a way to manage it—most of my friends have regressed into poor role-playing habits. Some of them have no respect for character immersive RP. Others refuse to make group oriented characters. Many seem to take a perverse joy in holding the group hostage to a childlike desire to win at all cost—even if the urge is completely inappropriate for the moment. Each GM has their own quirks and foibles—I am no different. Each player has their own goals going into a campaign. That is as it should be. Part of good storytelling is conflict. Done well, intra-group conflict can drive powerful drama. I actually enjoy seeing players intentionally work at cross purposes to drive the action—provided everyone understands that:

A. The point is to tell a cooperative story.

B. Character choices aren’t about you, me, or the other players—they are about the character at that moment in time.

C. At some level the group has to work together—even if the goal is to resolve a conflict in a less than ideal manner.

D. Even if you are not playing you need to stay focused as to what is happening.

E. Role-playing means that sometimes you will have to sit through scenes and sessions in which you do nothing or the game drags on or your character has nothing to contribute—it sucks but derailing or attempting to shortcut the scene is extremely poor form.

F. Table talk over other players and use of significant distractions when it isn’t your turn is right out.



Running games for college students is easy—gaming is fresh and new and different. Gaming is the thing you’re doing instead of studying or writing papers or attending class. It commands everyone’s attention. Younger gamers have no concrete expectations—they enter the experience with an open mind. Running games for adults is hard. Logistically you have to get people with 40+ hours a week jobs, kids, and distinct social lives to show up at the same place on the same day for at least 4 hours on a somewhat regular basis. Seasoned gamers often want different or even sometimes impossible things from their “gaming.” The benefit of decades of play is that they have immense hordes of inspiration to draw upon for problem solving and character development. The drawback to decades of experience is that all that play time tends to make them inflexible when approaching gaming related challenges both in and out of character.

With that in mind, I am absolutely dreading having to:

1. Put together a group that can function as we all learn the new material.

2. Tell several people that I know they love exalted and they will have to wait till later to play a 3rd Ed game; and

3. The possibility of getting a picture perfect improvement on the Exalted line only to discover I have no players willing. And. Able to give it a sincere test run.



With the FND rotation I was worried about missing a point of common courtesy, offending someone by withdrawing, or losing friends by deciding not to show up to everyone’s’ events. I probably over-thought things. I know many of our friends just aren’t bothered by the finer points of social convention—and in some ways I wish I could follow their lead. With gaming lately I have found myself wondering if the people at the table even have any common interests or respect for each other or appreciation for the little courtesies that are essential for any group to function effectively. I know and care for all these people. In some cases they might as well be family. I find myself more and more often wondering where the line between respecting their feelings and needs ends and where it is appropriate for mine to take primacy. I don’t want to be the classic selfish self absorbed self centered jerk. I do want to maintain positive friendships and pleasurable social experiences. The question is whether I can do both in today’s hyper sensitive society and if not, which is more important.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Ranging

Last Saturday I returned to the range with ‘L’. There was a time when we hit the firing line every Sunday. It was great to refresh those memories. Shooting is a perishable skill—and I don’t just mean the act of putting rounds on target. Cleaning firearms, keeping track of the myriad little details that give each gun its character, loading, and resetting after a shot are easy to recall but often difficult to do if you’ve let practice slip. There’s an old saying “beware of the man with one gun because he probably knows how to use it.” My corollary is the man with full gun cabinet needs to practice more—and man, does that apply to me.


There was a time when I sold a couple of my boomsticks every six months to raise funds for my newest gun-related obsession. I didn’t get a lot of time to break in purchases before they were banished to the consignment case. As of now I only have one gun, my .22 anschutz 1400 that is on the block and that beauty is waiting for a friend to put together the resources to purchase and safely store it. So the good news is that since I haven’t been turning over my inventory I’ve been able to focus on a couple of key pieces.

I started off the session with 50 rounds of 9 pellet 00 buck through my Benelli Super Nova Tactical. I spent a lot of time working on picking up the gun from the station and presenting it true to target. After that I moved on to dealing with my “dropping.” There are two common reactions to firing big guns. The first is flinching where the shooter closes their eyes and involuntarily pulls the gun off target in fear of the slap and bang from the coming shot. The second is dropping, where the shooter preemptively compensates for the muzzle rise. The results are similar but come from very different impulses. I drop especially at the beginning of a session until my muscles warm up and I stop over-thinking shots. It took a 25 round box for me to calm down and start nailing center mass.

By the end of the second box I could feel my body paying more attention even while it was tiring out. Holding a 7 pound scatter gun for prolonged periods, working the slide with my short arms, and focusing on each shot takes a lot of energy. I am much stronger than our first range trips; so the physical side of the process is easier. The extended lapse in quality practice time has seen a decline in my fine muscle adjustment and focus though. The result is that getting on target is mentally exhausting. We had one bad moment when ‘L’ bumped the Nova off the bench and it fell muzzle down onto the concrete floor. I buy most of my guns with durability in mind; so it looks like I got away with a few scratches to the finish around the muzzle. It was annoying; but fortunately I intended to have the barrel refinished anyway. That experience reminded me that I am going to have to fish or cut bait soon on some of my projects. The cost of supplying a regular shooting habit is considerable—as is upgrading most firearms with qualified professionals. The two options aren’t mutually exclusive; but my budget is limited—especially when we’re talking about volume shooting of large calibers or major smith work.

After the Benelli, I put 15 rounds of Winchester super X .410 buck through the governor. I am not sure what to think of the big Smith. In theory it does everything that I want it to do. In practice it has the worst trigger of any handgun I have ever shot. Moonclips work, but are difficult to load into the cylinder. I have had several problems arise from the heavy trigger pull causing the action to move out of lock if one tries to ride the reset—resulting in a cylinder that is out of alignment for the next shot. I am reasonably certain the moonclip issue arises from the increased cylinder chamber diameter required to accommodate the .45lc and .410. I need to give it a good scrubbing and lube it up. Then I need to get 50 rounds of real .45lc, not the downloaded cowboy loads, and put it through its paces. That trigger that damned trigger is going to have to go out for work. Before I go through that hassle I want to make 100% sure that the gun is a keeper.

I finished up with 2 magazines through my magnum research 1911. I like shooting 1911s partly because of the ergonomics, partly because of the history, but mainly because it just feels right. I need to fit this one with a slimmer set of grips, but otherwise it is perfect—and honestly I replace the grips on all my guns anyway. My 1911 goal is to sit down with WMTrainguy in the next couple months and take both of my JMB specials down for a thorough cleaning. I have several cleaning systems that need to be put to use—I really want to know whether the triad is better than the froglube.

It is nice finally getting back into shooting. My Firearms have been a mental hobby for the past couple years. It hasn’t worked out financially until recently, but I sincerely enjoy regular trips to the range without worrying about how I’m going to make a box of ammunition last for the entire hour. Buying ammunition in bulk helps. Going once a month instead of once a week helps too. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to start shooting steel outside soon—but until then Continental is it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Getting a credit report

Instructions for getting your free annual credit report.




Per federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit bureau from each of the three leading credit reporting agencies once a year. This report comes in addition to any copies you may receive through your bank or other methods. It is important to remember that each credit agency (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) collect and present their data slightly differently. You never know which of the three will be used to decision a future credit evaluation. For this reason you should get copies of all three bureaus whenever possible.



Benefits of regularly viewing your credit report:

• You can identify and correct inaccurate reporting.

• You can identify and report credit fraud.

• You can identify possible identity theft.

• You can see how banks, employers, and other groups will view your credit history.

• You can make informed decisions regarding how financial transactions, debt, and bills will affect your credit.



To request your free credit report go to:

www.annualcreditreport.com

There are many companies and websites that offer credit bureau services—usually in conjunction with a fee or product trial. Annualcreditreport.com is the only source designated by federal law for you to get your free yearly credit report; so be sure to use this resource regardless of what advertisements may tell you.



Once there, you will need:

• Your social security number.

• Your Date of birth (month, day, year.)

• Your full legal name including middle initial(s).

• Your most recent mailing address (usually a physical street address and not a P.O. Box.)

• An active printer so you can make physical copies of your bureaus

*The site asks several in-depth questions about your residential and financial history in order to authenticate your identity. As such, it helps if you have your last ten years worth of addresses, financial institutions you have done business with, and telephone numbers available. You will be asked to verify a random sample of these items as well as processing a captia numerical challenge (audio challenges are available as well.)



Once you have completed the application, view and print all three of your credit bureau profiles. The website does an excellent job of summarizing the data but provides guides for understanding the material for those who have questions. Be sure to note any inconsistencies—accounts you don’t recognize, delinquent debts that have been paid, bills reporting a balance that were previously paid off…etc.

If you find an item on a report that you feel should be corrected, you can challenge the report through links on the annual credit report website. I recommend contacting the reporting institution (bank, lender, collection agency) to request clarification and correction as well. It is up to you to identify and report fraud and inaccuracies on your credit report.



You will be offered the chance to purchase a view of your current credit score also called your FICO score. This refers to a metric derived from your available credit, current credit usage, payment history, how you compare to other borrowers in the same general category, and a variety of other criteria. The Fair Isaac Corporation uses this information to estimate how risky a potential credit customer you are. Scores range from 300 to 850. In general, a score less than 600 is viewed as very risky, a score of 650 or more is moderately risky, a score of 750 or more is very good, and a score of 800 or more is near perfect. This number is only an abstraction of your credit report at a given time and therefore may not present a completely accurate picture of your credit worthiness. As such, lenders have their own formulas and processes for incorporating this metric into their decisions. For more on credit reports and FICO scores see:

http://www.myfico.com/crediteducation/creditscores.aspx



This communication is intended for educational purposes only.

It does not constitute financial advice or a contractual obligation on the author’s part. People wanting more information should seek advice from a certified financial professional.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Projects and Progress

Projects, projects, projects. One of my goals for 2015 is to complete several projects. So far I’m making progress, progress, progress.




Saturday I had a long discussion with the brunette about my obsession with “things.” She was mildly annoyed that every time I get something, I want to buy other things to accessorize or upgrade it. This is an old topic—one I’m not likely to ever truly get ahead on. I like building things. It’s the same instinct that drives me to cook, to run games, to build armies, and to prep. The process of creating and customizing a system is at least half the fun of ownership. To an outside observer it probably looks like I just like owning “things.”—and that’s still true to some extent. The difference is that now I seriously control that urge where as when I was younger I let it control me.

I don’t talk about the stuff I don’t buy because it seems kind of pointless. I used to have a completionist collector’s approach to my hobbies—I wanted it all! As I’ve matured, I’ve begun to focus more on good stewardship. I simply can’t buy “everything.” I don’t have the space. I don’t have the time to support that kind of approach. I don’t have the money to make it happen. As an example, I used to have a robust warmachine collection—everything in the Khador range plus a heavy selection of mercenaries. I had literally everything available to big red—even models I didn’t like very much. Time passed—I sold that army and got out of warmachine entirely. Now that I’m reentering the market, I have a very focused approach. I’m only interested in models that compliment my chosen casters and their theme lists. I also look at how easy it would be to play a given model/unit. As a result I’m ignoring ironfang pikemen, winter guard, assault commandos, gray lords, and their variants. I still buy “stuff”; but my goal is to create a collection that works together and lets me play; not a pile of models that lets me say “I has all the things!”

I’ve done pretty well with warmachine of late. My initial Farrow collection is painted and ready. Pigs are great for me. The model range is small and will probably stay so as a secondary faction. The units are mostly 6 figures or less. There’s a lot of flavor mixed with asymmetric movement and shenanigans. I still have a ways to go, especially with the meat thresher coming out, but I’m good for now. So far I’ve got:

• 3 warlocks

• 5 heavy beasts

• 5 light beasts

• 8 lesser beasts

• 1 solo

• 1 character lesser warlock unit.



The problem with pigs is that I can use every one of their current models. This puts me in a bind as I have other projects to complete. Still left to pick up and get painted:

• 2 units of brigands.

• 3 units of bone grinders.

• 2 units of slaughterhousers.

• 2 meat threshers.

• 2 boneswarms

• A bunch of solos

• 2 warlocks.

I could keep on with this group, but I’ve got a playable army now. I’ve got some model selection. So I’m going to move on to other items until I get some games in or other modeling projects finish up.

I’ve been working for a while to build a legion of everblight army. Conceptually, this is supposed to be my artistic competitive power force. Deathquaker agreed to do some of the project while Corc agreed to the rest of it. I was stoked. Soon after I bought the first models Deathquaker had some scheduling conflicts which pushed the project back indefinitely. Corc took my initial heavy beast pack project and has been sitting on it for months. Some of that is his schedule and some of it is his inability to focus on one thing for more than a couple weeks/months. I hit him right at the end of his painting cycle and have been poking him ever since—hoping and praying for progress. I’m very close to just dropping the entire project. I want to make this force a reality, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen—or at least not any time soon. I’m one of those people who likes to keep a somewhat clear to-do list. If Deathquaker isn’t going to be able to handle the project and Corc isn’t going to get me to a point where I can play more than battle box games, then I’ll just farm off the remaining models in credit for other work done. I’ll send Corc an email explaining my situation later this week. Hopefully that will work out.

All that being said, I have some work lined up for Khador. Deathquaker may have some time coming up—not enough to take on my legion project, but some. Squish has dibs on getting his convergence painted—yes, another person to play with. After that I’m considering seeing if she’ll paint up my mounted manowar model, 3 heavy jacks, and 2 variant butcher casters. This is more likely if legion gets tossed as I’ll have even less competing for my hobby dollars. I’m in no hurry to expand Khador. I have a good force as it is and my friends have limited time and resources to play. This is the buildup. This is when I complete some projects before pushing for more table time in the coming years.

Blood bowl, despite only being played twice in the last 12 months, is getting painted and assembled. Last year I bought a dwarven team from a new sculptor on kickstarter. The figures have been sitting in their shipping box waiting for me to get around to them. Last year I ran into a new painter/employee at alternate worlds. He has since become a good friend and is looking for additional work after finishing up my initial Farrow collection. What with the upcoming January gaming outing, I decided that now was as good a time as any to get them done. I kind of want to grab an Amazon team, but with blood bowl competing for space with warmachine and FOW, that’s not a good buy right now. Maybe later if a team really catches my eye.

Speaking of FOW, things are moving along. Jay’s next project after the dwarves will be my motorized early war French horde. I’ll see if I can get him to clear coat my 4th Indians while I’m at it. That will give me 2 fully assembled, painted, and stored flames of war forces—or it will after I buy a battle foam case for the French.

Dragon storm is done, ca-put, finito. I shipped off our cards to a fellow player. He’ll be paying us in installments over the next few months. I’ve got more to say on the subject than will easily fit here. Suffice it to say that as the online community fell apart, Mark’s death put a damper on the game, and I grew away from the managing players, it was one of those things we didn’t have mental, financial, and physical space to maintain anymore. I’m sad to see it go for the sake of all the memories DS gave me. I’m happy to be out from under its shadow though.

The man cave is coming along. I have three of four shelves up, a desk in place, and some basic decorating done. My brother is working on a final heavy shelving unit so that we have enough space for all our games and my hobby products. That should be done around the holidays. I still need to decide on a workstation for firearm projects, especially if I decide to start reloading. Office depot had a nice multipurpose work table, though at $500 I might be better served by something a little more traditional. I still need to get some of our pictures up and build in a radio/preparedness center—though that’s more of a long-term goal.

The kitchen refurbishing is well on its way. Actually, for practical purposes it’s complete. We replaced the microwave, upgraded my pots and pans, grabbed a dehydrator, and picked up a vacuum sealer. At this point I have products to help with things I haven’t even begun to make yet like cheese cake. I have a vitamix on my wish list; but like I told the brunette, that’s more of a want than a need. I’ve consolidated all our Tupperware around a couple styles rather than the hodgepodge we had before. I still need to clear out the freezer and start reorganizing around Beef, chicken, and veggies, but that will come.

Regarding firearms, I finally have a cleaning system I think I can work with. I went through a series of non-toxic products—all of which are sitting on my card table currently. I have Remington’s rubber bore cleaners, a pull through kit, and several bore snakes. I have all of froglube’s products—it just remains for me to sit down with wmtrainguy and figure out how to clean each of my clockwork bullet throwers. I’ve been buying up discounted ammunition in anticipation of the run we’re going to have on any kind of common calibers next year when the election season kicks into high gear. I have a ways to go, especially on the maintenance front, but it’s getting there.

I feel like I’m finishing up more projects than I’m starting, which is good. The brunette is right to question my purchasing habits. I’ve traditionally spent more time accumulating useless stuff than actually using said acquisitions. Now just to keep in budget and on-plan.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The making of an action hero, Punchy time.

I feel like a lot of my health updates center around dissatisfaction with the fitness industry. Well, nothing but positive this time.




Between April and June I’ve gone from an extreme of 298 pounds to 262 pounds. I lost 20 pounds in my last five week cycle. I finished lifting upper body with 2 sets of 6 at 195 pounds and one set of 5 at 205 pounds on bench. I managed three sets of six on military press with 50 pound dumbbells. I’m currently curling 3 sets of eight with a 50 pound bar.

Body-wise I’ve lost 4 inches around the stomach. I’m down to a 44 inch belt. I heard the number but didn’t really appreciate the result until I tried on an old 46 inch Galco sporting gun belt and had to tighten it to the next to smallest hole. Most of my other measurements are down at least an inch as well. My old Wilderness instructor belt is down to its smallest setting. My one pair of 50 inch jeans are too big. I’m avoiding buying new clothes because I don’t want to have to spend money on something I’ll just size out of in a couple months anyway.

The specifics from my last training cycle:

May 19th, 2015



Weight- 282.6

Body Fat Percentage- 36.9

Body Mass Index- 44.2

Arm Circumference- 16 inches

Chest Circumference- 49 inches

Waist circumference- 47.5 inches

Abdomen circumference- 52.5 inches

Butt Circumference- 50.3 inches

Thigh circumference- 25.75 inches



June 25th, 2015



Weight- 262.6

Body Fat Percentage- 35.1

Body Mass Index- 41.1

Arm Circumference- 15.2 inches

Chest Circumference- 46.3 inches

Waist circumference- 44.5 inches

Abdomen circumference- 48.8 inches

Butt Circumference- 48.5 inches

Thigh circumference- 26.0 inches



The biggest part of those wins came from my twice weekly training session. I can push myself hard, but to really test my limits I need someone else to get me past my mental barriers. You wouldn’t think an extra 60 minutes a week would make that much of a difference; but the combination of social expectation, a good trainer, and positive reinforcement made a huge difference—especially when I went home and had to think about what choices I wanted to make. Knowing that someone would be looking at that number once a week made me question choices when I would have otherwise have let things slide.

A less obvious contributor has been my shrunken appetite. Regular readers will remember a couple posts I wrote about running caloric deficits to facilitate weight loss. I’ve cut my daily intake down a good bit. My normal breakfast is a single banana. My usual work lunch is a 100 calorie Greek yogurt. I looked at my daily intake and found that during the work week I only cared about eating a decent sized dinner. Since the research I’ve read says that when you eat is less important than your total daily intake, I started cutting back in the mornings and afternoon. The result has been that while I’m still hungry during the day I’m not “hangry” any more. I still want to eat, but it takes less to satisfy me. This combined with a much healthier menu means I’m eating better and eating less. I hope this means my stomach’s capacity is shrinking too.

Several people have commented that I look like I’m losing weight. This is hugely flattering. Most of those comments lead to a discussion about what I’m doing differently. This is one of those questions that’s hard to answer. On the face of it, I’m exercising more and eating less; but that’s not really what people want to hear. The truth is that getting to this point has been an eight year ordeal involving working on all aspects of my life. Granted, I started seriously looking at getting physically healthy back in May of 2013. There have certainly been some ups and downs since then. The thing is, I think what people are asking is really what did you change a couple months ago that let you lose the weight…but I’ve been changing things for years in order to get to this point. In no particular order:

• Quit drinking energy drinks and soda.

• Got our finances straightened out.

• Started using a sleep machine

• Transitioned to a job with less stress, better hours, and more rewarding work.

• Built up enough working muscle to let me actually do serious exercise.

• Stopped ordering out.

• Started cooking our meals.

• Started cooking healthier meals.

• Started bringing my lunch to work every day.

• Cut my alcoholic intake.

• Started weighing myself daily.

• Started using the fitbit.

• Stopped getting my breakfast and lunch from the company cafĂ©.

• Started using the Indian steel clubs.

• Made going to the gym an unbreakable part of my schedule.

• Joined a boxing class.

• Stopped drinking coffee.

• Cut down my total daily caloric intake.

• Started working with a personal trainer’s fitness class.

• Started using the dehydrator to make my own healthier snacks.

• Began making multiple smaller trips to the grocery store in order to cover more distance.

• And probably some other stuff I can’t recall.



It is difficult to put all of that in a succinct explanation—one that fits into small-talk anyway. The best I can say is that I started fixing small things and after a while all those small things added up to big things. It feels good. The recognition is nice. The lost pounds are nice too. The best thing though is that I’m going through classes and pushing myself harder and harder. No breaks, no rests, just full-on physical effort for thirty plus minutes. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I can get there. I feel good about myself and my ability to do the things I need to do.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Debt! I curse at thee!

When you work in collections, the most important part of any conversation is understanding the customer’s financial situation. Often the person on the phone has a picture in their mind of how their finances look. This picture may or may not have any basis in reality—humans are funny like that.




I collected for a major financial institution for over a decade. During that time I saw the industry move from a free form model to one where every aspect of my interactions was scripted and regulated. That scripting was designed to get the customer to a place where they were reducing their debt with an affordable payment without taking food off their table or the roof from over their head. So I spent a lot of time talking to people all over the U.S. about their financial problems. It surprised me how many customers didn’t understand how debt works. In some cases you could tell they just didn’t like the situation they created for themselves. In other cases, the customer genuinely didn’t “get it.”

Simply put, debt means you owe someone money. The amount borrowed is called the principal. The profit is the interest and fees collected while you are paying that principal back. Those fees are the lender’s incentive to make the loan and their cost of doing business. The riskier the lender thinks the loan will be, the higher the fees. This means that if the lender is paid back, they make a large profit to offset their risk. The larger fee structure also encourages the borrower to pay back the debt faster to avoid mounting interest and penalties—or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In practice many Americans don’t think of credit, especially credit cards, as loans. You can attribute this phenomenon to our growing materialistic focus or the degradation of civic values; but I really think it’s that people aren’t taught what holding debt means any more. How many people do you know with $50,000 in student loans, $200,000 mortgages, or $20,000 in credit card debt? Owing the bank money just doesn’t have the stigma it used to.

My grandfather’s generation grew up mixing canned chili with dog food. They lived through one of the worst economic periods in United State’s history. WWII gave us the boost we needed out of the great depression, but it was a close thing. That experience scarred him. I can remember him railing at the idea of paying anyone interest for anything. Whenever he found a hat he liked he bought enough to last him the rest of his life. He did his own home repairs and ground work. Every vehicle he bought cheap and sold at a profit. He worked his entire life expecting to have to pay for his retirement out of pocket—which he did. He hated debt in all forms because owing money was inextricably tied up with the memory of those dark times.

My father isn’t much different. Maybe it was my grandfather’s influence, maybe it was living through the financial crash of the 1980s, but he saves and pinches every possible penny. My mother and mother in law are always looking for new ways to save a buck. Growing up, Dad budgeted everything. Notably, my parents were able to retire comfortably despite raising three kids and putting two of them through college without student loans. I grew up with the unspoken understanding that if you worked hard you could earn a good living. It might take discipline and sweat, but it was absolutely possible.

Flash-forward to the present and my understanding of how life works has been seasoned with a healthy dose of experience. You can certainly earn a good life for yourself if you are willing to work hard and improve your resume. Of course, the financial landscape of 2015 bears little resemblance to the one my parents negotiated. Part of that difference comes down to changed attitudes regarding debt and credit. Recent generations expect to borrow money to go to college, to buy a car, to fund their lifestyle—all the things that used to be luxuries in days gone by. On average American households have four credit cards revolving a combined balance of $7,500. However, only about half of American households carry credit card debt; meaning the average family debt for those that carry a balance is almost $16,000.00. 70% of 2014 college graduates took on student loans averaging $33,000.00 a piece. The average U.S. mortgage runs $156,000.00. In fourth quarter 2013 the average new car loan was $27,500.00 with those holding subpar credit coming in at a staggering $30,000.00. Used car loans came in at $18,000 on average—I say again, used car loans. Per this article:

http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2015/01/18/the-average-american-has-this-much-debt-how-do-you.aspx



“According to the U.S. Census, there are 115.6 million American households in 2010. That means that if we divide the total revolving credit outstanding by the number of households, the average family has $7,630 in revolving debt. The U.S. Census also reports that in 2010 there were 234.56 million people over the age of 18 years old, which suggests that the average adult owes $3,761 in revolving credit to lenders. Across the average household, American adults also owe $11,244 in student loans, $8,163 on their autos, and $70,322 on their mortgage.”



So the average American household holds over $96,000.00 in debt. Note that I said household. Not every college graduate will have a mortgage. Not every car owner will have a credit card balance. The average household debt figure shocked me; but it was the follow-up analysis that really got my attention:



“If we look at total debt divided by the total number of accounts outstanding for that debt, we get a slightly different picture. The New York Fed reports that there are 410 million credit card accounts, which suggests that the average balance on the average credit card in the average American's wallet has a $2,151 balance on it. Multiply that amount by the average 3.7 credit cards that Creditcards.com estimates each person has open and the average American with a credit card owes $7,950 in revolving debt. According to the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, the average person carrying student loan debt owes $25,745, and dividing total auto debt and mortgage debt by the total number of open accounts for those types of debt, as reported by the New York Fed, indicates that the average American with this type of debt owes $10,392 on their car and $100,197 on their home, respectively.”



You can infer just about anything you want from the above numbers. Some people will see them as good; some will see them as impending doom for U.S. consumers. I see a financial market in which more and more people are borrowing money while the amount borrowed per category continues to skyrocket. All this while the cost of living continues to rise, wages remain stagnant, and there is real concern over what “unemployment” even means any more.

It looks like many people are choosing to finance their lifestyles on the banks' dime. That’s good news if you’re a responsible lender, not so great news if you’re a twenty something looking to buy a house, car, and/or a college education. There are some situations where credit is beneficial. Buying a home is near impossible now a days without bank financing. Sometimes credit cards are the only way to solve a short term problem. College loans let economically disadvantaged youth gain critical skills and degrees. Car loans let you buy your own transportation. Credit, used sparingly, is a valuable tool. The challenge comes when borrowing ceases to be a way to defer short term financial issues and becomes a form of supplemental income. The brunette and I have paid off almost $40,000 in debt over the last 15 years. We incurred some of that helping family, some of it making unwise choices, and some of it was a deliberate choice where the financial cost was offset by long term benefits—and yes, I know how ironic it is that I’ve had to pay back that much debt given my profession. I can say with the weight of extensive personal and professional experience that long term debt is bad—really really bad.

To illustrate this, I’m going to discuss several of the most common misconceptions I hear regarding debt. “I can afford some credit card debt as long as I’m saving for retirement.” According to bankrate.com, the average credit card fixed interest rate is running 13% as of May-June 2015. The stock market returns 2%-6% depending on fund—we’ll call it 4%. So your investments are currently returning a quarter the rate your cards are losing—and that doesn’t take into account late fees and risk based pricing. Worse, credit cards compound their interest monthly, while the 4% figure is a weighted metric assuming your investments compound yearly. That means credit cards are actually losing you more than just 4% investment+13% interest because the interest is calculating in and moving your balance every 30 days—and of course there is no guarantee that your investments will actually pay off but you can be sure your credit card balances are going to be costing you money until the very end.

“I’ll pay off my student loans/afford my mortgage/consolidate my credit cards when my career inevitably improves/I sell my house for a profit/this thing I’m working on finally pays out.” I hear this a lot, especially from people like mortgage brokers who rely on commission. There are certainly situations where it’s reasonable to carry some debt with the expectation that all accounts will be paid off once ‘X’ happens. The challenge is that for most people ‘X’ is far from certain. Assuming ‘X’ will happen because historically it always has is betting your financial future that life is reliable and predictable. There’s a temptation here to succumb to wishful thinking, a temptation that is as compelling as it is self-destructive.

“I can afford to buy this on credit because it is an investment.” We’ve already discussed how you’d need at least a 14% annual return before any “investment” would be financially viable re-credit card debt. There are some investments like college that can actually pay out long term. This comes down to a sense of scale. Is the investment going to increase your income to the point where you’ll be able to pay it back, /realize a profit before interest, minimum payments, and fees make life financially unpalatable? If you graduate college with a degree you never use, $40,000 in loans, and no job prospects how much of an investment is that sheep’s skin? Be very sure you know the answers to these questions before signing on the dotted line.

“It was totally worth putting that purchase on credit; Look at all the money I saved!” Say I want 6 eggs. A dozen eggs is $0.20 per ovum while the half dozen is $0.25 each. The 12 pack costs me $2.40 and the 6 pack costs me $1.50. Buying the 12 pack gets me a better per-unit rate, but I still end up spending $.09 more than I need to. You only save money you don’t spend. Don’t get me wrong, I think comparison shopping, coupon clipping, and unit pricing are highly undervalued skills in today’s market—especially when it comes to daily essentials. My point is that money spent is money spent. People should be looking at the end result rather than the bragging rights on their discount.

I recently spoke to a group regarding credit and finance. I tried to articulate that debt is a contract, an agreement, a Burdon—something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. 50 years ago, bankruptcy filings were printed in local papers—publicly shaming those unfortunate enough to have filed. Now, not so much. Credit is the power to buy on someone else’s dime. Debt is someone else’s profit at your expense. Cultivate the first; avoid the second like the plague.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The making of an action hero, or Fitbit and the science of "weight"

Status update: pounds coming off—punching more—eating less. Situation improving. Evil-doers be where, your reign of crime is about to come to an end.




I read a lot about health and fitness. While I sometimes find gems of wisdom, I more often find pseudoscience and personal opinion masked as fact. As a result, regular readers know that I’ve been more than a little annoyed lately with the American public’s obsession with terms like diet and obesity. Take an article I heard on NPR a couple weeks ago where the scientist challenged the idea that someone could be fit and fat. The tone of the presentation had more rebuttal in it than objectivity. The subtext was something like “Hey fat people, the only answer to your problems is losing weight. So stop kidding yourselves.”

Since the brunette and I began using fitbits and the aria scale, we’ve talked a lot about the subjective nature of “weight.” Society is obsessed with the ideal. For women it’s a 120 pound toned body with an hour glass figure—not cut, just smooth and toned. For guys it’s six feet of chiseled steel at about 190 pounds. These are the ideals against which all of us tend to compare ourselves. It doesn’t matter that certain body types can’t obtain that ideal or that even if they did they’d incur serious health risks, that’s what we’ve been taught. Similarly, modern “health science” is obsessed with the idea that obesity is the root of all evil. I’ve read several studies that jump strait past correlation to causation because being fat is associated with certain risk factors—which must mean that being fat causes all of those issues. Its possible these studies are double blind peer reviewed pieces of research perfection. All I hear when a scientist adopts that lecturing tone about being fat though is “confirmation bias!”

Let’s talk about weight and what it means. Weight is a measurement of how much gravity is pulling your mass down. More mass=more weight. It’s a measure of quantity not quality. The body mass index (BMI) is centered on the idea that if you are ‘X’ tall and ‘Y’ pounds there is a healthy range and an unhealthy range. To be sure, if you stand five foot four and you weigh 250 pounds, you probably aren’t in a great place health wise unless you are a professional weight lifter. The problem with our weight obsession is that we’ve come to see the ideal as an objective and anything less as failure—“If you’re not first you’re last” as Ricky Bobby would say. Looking at weight as an absolute number completely ignores the reality of healthy eating and exercise.

For example, I started April consistently weighing 298 pounds. Since then I’ve stepped up my exercise in quantity and quality. I’ve put serious effort into my diet. Currently I start a workout day at around 277 pounds and can drop as low as 271 pounds after a 90 minute boxing workout or an hour on the elliptical. On a typical gym day according to fitbit I’m burning between 3500 and 4000 calories. It’s probably a lot more than that since the pedometer doesn’t make any adjustments for my arms. So there’s six pounds or more of variance depending on when I log my weight. A portion of that loss is caloric, but the bulk is water. I could think of myself at 271 pounds, going with the lowest number, but the truth is that as soon as I get home I’m going to rehydrate and get some protein in my system. I’ll probably weigh close to 271 the next morning, but the day after that I’ll have had a complete rest day and have fully rehydrated. I’ll be up 5-7 pounds—and that’s fine. I need that water so I can go back in two days and do it all over again. I need that protein so I can refuel and heal up the damage I just inflicted on my muscles and joints. If I don’t give my body the resources it needs, it will cannibalize muscle and organ meat to make up the difference. It won’t heal the damage and I’ll perform at a lesser level. This is why people are encouraged to weigh themselves in the morning right after they wake up. Doing so gives you a consistent point for comparison without subjecting that number to the vagaries of your daily regimen.

“Diet” functions in the same manner in that eating healthy, counting calories, or going organic isn’t enough individually. I used to hate counting calories because I didn’t understand what they represented. If a serving of food contains 500 calories, then it represents 500 units of potential energy. When we talk about “burning calories” we’re really talking about consuming that many units of power. Your body burns calories keeping itself going, processing food, breathing…etc. The easiest way to look at what most people think of when they want to lose weight is caloric intake VS. Expenditure. A single pound equals about 3800 calories so if you eat 1700 and burn 1800 each day then it will take a little over a month to lose one pound. That’s why exercise helps; if you’re running a 100 calorie daily deficit and you burn 700 extra calories through exercise each week, you’ve doubled your loss rate—and 700 calories is about what you can expect to burn from a solid 45 minute run on the treadmill.

Calories are not an absolute. Water for instance has weight even though it has no calories. If I “retain water” then I’m retaining weight. It isn’t adding to my body fat percentage but it does increase my mass. There are plenty of 0 calorie sodas that fall into the same category. You regularly expel respiratory and digestive byproducts. That material has weight too. When you lose 1 pound of fat and build 1 pound of muscle you’ve made a net 0 weight trade but significantly improved your fitness. It’s very easy, especially in a good exercise program, to have large weight swings that have nothing to do with your core body fat percent. When you are sick your body will often cut your appetite and consume muscle fiber and organ meat. This results in weight loss, but not the kind most people are looking for. This is why I’m not fond of the body mass index. It’s a simplistic way of evaluating health. It certainly has validity on a macro scale, but when you go micro you start seeing where it breaks down.

There are other ways of looking at weight and health as well. There is an ongoing debate in the health media right now over “diet.” I’ve talked before about Atkins, palio, South Beach, the fermented diet, and primal. Each of these philosophies has nutritional benefits and drawbacks. In general they represent a focus on reducing sugars and carbohydrates while focusing on nutritionally rich food sources. Each diet takes a slightly different angle; but Regardless of how you come to it, if you cut out sugar, reduce your processed foods intake, and focus on lean protein you are probably improving your diet even if you don’t lose a single pound. The catch, there is always a catch, is that you need a balanced selection of nutrients to operate at peak efficiency. We need fat to manufacture hormones. Carbs are used for ready energy after exercise burns out the reserves held in your blood and muscles. Fiber aids in digestion. There are a host of nutrients your body craves. So if your diet focuses on one side of the equation too much, you can actually lose weight and still take a hit on health. You can eat 2000 calories of leafy green veggies; however, if you only burn 1800 calories each day you are still gaining weight. You can dehydrate an apple and make it smaller but you are not reducing the calories—just the size and amount of water in it. Weight loss is…complicated.

I think one of the reasons we love diets so much is that they make thinking about weight loss easy. Outside of the philosophical appeal some plans present, it’s nice to have all your choices distilled down to a couple words of wisdom or an easily actionable process. After the novelty wears off it becomes difficult to sustain the momentum and we fall off. One of the reasons I’ve had success lately is that working with fitbit, counting calories, and monitoring my intake VS. Expenditure means that I’m not sweating the number any more—you know “Oh Noes! I gained 2 pounds since yesterday, how did that happen?!?! Whatever am I going to do?” I know why I gained those 2 pounds. It takes the mystery out of stepping on the scale and the guilt out of reading the results.

Speaking of fitbit, I love it. There’s something about the abstraction of “steps” that keeps it from being one of those diet things I hate. It does the tracking for you, which takes all the effort out of the process. If you want to log your food or water consumption you can do that, but it’s not required. The result is a process that encourages me to walk more, to get up and move, to compete with friends for the better number. It’s a no-stress positive way of getting me up and moving—which is good. It also gets me to pay attention to tracking so after a while being more active is second nature. I realize it isn’t for everyone, but it’s been great for me.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

In Memory of My Grandfather

I love reading about larger than life characters. Walt Longmire, Spenser, Earl Swagger, Jeff Cooper, Andrew Jackson, and Louis L’Amour are a few of my favorite examples. As long as I can remember my Grandfather was one of those mythic figures. He was tougher than steel and rawhide. He flew planes, shot in competition, fought in WWII, ran his own company, taught himself to play the organ, hunted, and fixed anything he put his mind too.




As a wee lad, I couldn’t say “pop” so I called my grandfather “puck.” Puck was the man with the tractor who let me ride on his lap while he mowed the lawn. Puck was the man who took me for my first haircut with a barber. Puck was the man who put my Christmas presents together and showed me how they worked. Puck was the man who gave me my first pocket knife—a stag handled silver chased Boy Scout folder that originally belonged to my great great grandfather. Puck was the man who took me fishing and taught me how to cast a line. As I grew older and more independent, I spent hour upon hour listening to his stories—delivered in his dry “just the facts” style. Some of my favorites were when he fixed his first car at age 12 (taking the bus to his grandparents with all his oil and tools in the process), how he almost shot down a Japanese fighter in WWII, how he quit smoking cold turkey, how he put his kids through college by fixing up old boats and selling them at a profit, and how people used to date my aunts just so they could see his gun collection. I listened to him talk for hours while he tinkered with his plane or changed the oil in his car or landscaped his yard. A couple years ago I bought a 1907 vintage colt 1903 pocket hammerless. When I told my grandfather, he said that he never cared for them that much since they were prone to corrode in the marine humidity. The way he told it, they’d go up for a flight and come back to the carrier and the gun would already have begun rusting. A month later and I had to get mine refinished because it too had started corroding. He always had a story or bit of wisdom to share—and even if it was something I’d heard before it was worth hearing again.

I remember him as a physically imposing man. He was a bewhiskered colossus with the answer to any question. It wasn’t that he was physically large—more that his life seemed so much bigger than the one I lived in. He didn’t just go out for Sunday dinner; he flew to whatever eatery his group of fellow fliers decided on for that week. If there was a problem around the house, he would fix it. He learned how to fly in the dark by instrument for the heck of it. He rode his bicycle well into his 80s 15+ miles a week. One of my proudest childhood moments came when I finally beet the old man at arm wrestling. He was a force to be reckoned with—uncompromising in his principals, fiercely loyal—a man who was shaped by events that I know only from history books and movies.

Chester Nixon passed away Sunday May twenty fourth, 2015 at age 94. To my knowledge the only task he set himself that he didn’t accomplish was making it to 100. I am reminded of a line uttered following the death of Teddy Roosevelt:

"Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake there would have been a fight”

He would often ask me to sing the Navy hymn at his funeral. It seems a small tribute for so great a man—I pray you find it worthy.

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/3375356/memorial_final.mp3



Husband, veteran, businessman, hunter, pilot, father, captain, grandfather, and friend—he was the finest man I have ever known. Puck, you are loved. You are remembered. You will be missed.

Rest in peace sir, the world is smaller without you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Return to the range

Last week I had the pleasure of hitting the range for some trigger time. What with the rising cost of ammo, I’d forgotten what it was like to have more gunfood than time to work with.




If I had my way, I’d be at the range weekly. As friends have gotten jobs and kids, it’s become more and more difficult to find the necessary time and company. Back in March I spent my portion of our tax return on a Benelli Vinci tactical—a semiautomatic 12 gage shotgun built off Benelli’s newest sporting design. I also got my 10/22 takedown back from the gun smith. I’ve been waiting for two months for a chance to test the new hardware—so I was super excited about this outing.



I invited K&G to attend, but in the end K wasn’t feeling good so it was just the two guys. G is a relatively inexperienced shooter—smart and attentive but still learning the basics. We got placed on a small caliber lane first so I took out the 10/22 for function testing. The current 10/22 takedown build consists of the standard receiver, stock, and barrel fitted with a Kidd precision 3 pound trigger group, extended magazine release, bolt, rod, buffer, QD Leopold 4xrimfire scope, and 2 piece scope base. I don’t see the point of building a heavy barrel onto a .22 takedown as it imbalances the package. A takedown rifle should be compact and handy, not a bench rest piece. Our first five round strings from the factory BX10 magazine were…mixed. It worked pretty well for me, but G had several failures to eject leading to crushed brass and a lot of resets. After 50 rounds of bulk rim fire ammo, the action seemed to be breaking in—though G was still having a disproportionately larger number of feeding and ejecting issues. He preferred to run the Ruger without the scope. He said that with more practice he might change his mind; but he enjoyed the clear lines of sight provided with the irons. The quick detach rings let me remove the scope in seconds as intended.

There’s a perception in the gun-owning community that firearms should work 100% of the time regardless of conditions. My experience is that most guns require a 250-1,000 round break in period before testing for absolute reliability. Parts need to wear in before an action is going to operate at peak efficiency. Since the 10/22 became more reliable during the initial testing, I’m not concerned about its dependability yet—I just need to get to continental again and run some more rounds through it.

After a half hour of rim fire fun, the clerk told me that a big-bore lane was available. I moved our gear over, set up a new target, grabbed ammo, and pulled out the Benelli. The Vinci is my second Italian scattergun purchase following last year’s super nova tactical acquisition. I wanted a semiautomatic shotgun with an 18.5 inch barrel, easily disassembled action, inertia driven system, and a dependable track record—oh, and it couldn’t be made by a Freedom group subsidiary. I read a bunch of reviews and came to the conclusion that my best options were either the Vinci or the M2. Then while browsing the cases after a range trip the clerk put a vinci law enforcement into my hot little hands. I can’t buy it (stupid import laws) but the attendant said that the tactical American version just had a longer barrel and lacked the increased magazine tube. As I mulled it over I shouldered the gun and put hand to the pistol grip. I usually detest pistol grips. They are often built as an afterthought lacking any kind of ergonomic comfort. But this, this was like heaven. The front grip has beefy finger grooves molded into a smooth plastic form that feels natural to the hand. The rear is covered in an over-molded rubber coating that provides a very comfortable cushion—especially in the face of 00 buck loads. Having held the monster I set about acquiring my own 943 compliant version.

It took me a couple tries to get the hang of the Vinci’s manual of arms. It has a disconnect which keeps the bolt from loading another hull into the chamber. It’s designed to let you unload the gun without grabbing another round from the magazine tube. The challenge is that if you actually want to chamber a shell, you can end up working the action without actually touching the magazine—leading to some interesting click-no-boom situations. Once I got it down, G and I took a couple tubes worth of 9 pellet buck and had at it. It quickly became apparent that the Benelli, much like the 10/22, liked me better. I ended up with 1 failure to eject while he had 3 in the course of shooting through 40 shells. My suspicion is that since he has a bad shoulder, he wasn’t driving the scattergun into the pocket—giving the inertia driven action less to push off of. After a couple tubes down range, G moved to my .22 marlin lever action while I kept on hosing down targets with the Benelli.



Things I learned this session:

1. I need to go through my range bag and look for opportunities to consolidate and lighten the load. I keep adding gear to the kit such that with 100 rounds of 12 gage, a couple hundred rounds of .22, and all my accessories it felt like I was hauling an anvil collection.

2. Upgrading the Ruger with quality parts should have made it more accurate and reliable. It looks like I have an uncertain break-in period coming up. If that doesn’t work, I’m going to have to put it back in for smithing. I’ll try it with some cci minimag and see if premium ammunition helps. Maybe I’m just using crappy ammo.

3. I really like 12 gage. Especially with the choke keeping the patterns tight, I get a nice accurate shot weight with a satisfying boom. I used to think of myself as primarily a handgun guy, but that’s changing. Daddy is really taking a liking to these Italian boomsticks.

4. I need to sit down with wmtrainguy and figure out how to disassemble and clean several of the newer pieces. I’m going with frog lube as my main cleaning/maintenance product line. That means I need to treat all of my platforms.

5. I really miss regular range time. It validates the time I spend researching and futzing around with gear at home. It relaxes me. It’s a rewarding activity that I’ve been able to ignore due to gym sessions, but that capacity is rapidly dwindling.



That’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll have more to report soon. I just ordered a custom holster for the Governor—and once that’s set up it’s due for an action job. Priorities priorities.

Monday, May 11, 2015

We the armed

Armed citizens have been in the news lately—some good, some bad, and some contentious. Since the Baltimore protests, the brunette and I talked a lot about this issue.




The definition of “armed citizen” is a battleground. Armed is a relative term that can range from some martial prowess with fisticuffs to wielding a firearm. Many people simply class anyone with a dedicated self defense device as “armed.” These implements include flashlights with striking bezels, strobes, pens with glass breakers, martial arts aids, brass knuckles, pocket knives, pepper spray, bear spray, fire arms, fixed blades, swords, crossbows, bb guns, air soft guns, slingshots, bows and arrows, batons, bricks…etc. One of the challenges in discussing armed citizens is that everyone’s threshold for armedness is different. I have friends who view anything even remotely resembling a weapon qualifying one as “armed.” I grew up as a boy scout, hiking, and playing outdoors. As a result I view knives as tools. If I had my way I’d carry a 4-6 inch fixed blade everywhere. Some people consider this extreme; I simply like having a good knife around in the same way I like having my cell phone and bottle opener handy. I don’t consider pepper spray or stun guns weapons. They certainly can harm, but their purpose is primarily defensive. So, a lot of people believe that a person is armed and dangerous well before they get to the point of carrying a gun. For those of us interested in self defense there are further gradations between handguns meant for close quarters defense and long guns intended for medium to long range shooting. What you consider armed, adequately armed, or armed and dangerous varies—largely with how you feel about the objects in question. This makes it difficult to talk about armed Americans in mixed company—not because of differing views, but because peoples’ opinions are informed by their comfort level with the inanimate object under discussion.

That comfort level builds directly from familiarity. I am a dedicated gun guy. I read about firearms. I try and get to my local range regularly. I associate with other gun people. Firearms are one of my hobbies. I find the science, the art, the precision, the history, and the technology of guns academically fascinating. Shooting is a relaxing and enjoyable experience like unto exercise and listening to music. I spend a lot of time handling, researching, and discussing firearms. I respect guns. I know what they can do. I know their limitations. I have the same relationship with knives, pepper spray, and other defensive items. I look at the tools of the armed citizen as just that, tools. In contrast, I have several friends who have never spent any meaningful time with guns. Their opinions are based largely on what they see in games, movies, television, and books. I play RPGs with people who arm their characters to the teeth but won’t carry even a pocket knife in the real world. I am not in any way implying that games and RL are equivalent. Rather, I am saying that our culture has two very different standards for armed people depending on whether we’re talking about entertainment or every-day interactions. The same people who are happy watching Rambo, age of Ultron, and the walking dead are just as likely to look at guns and knives as agents of woe outside the theatre. I can’t blame them really. Much as I disagree with their point of view, if you’ve been told your entire life that guns are magic death rays with but one purpose, it’s perfectly reasonable to be scared of them. Deathquaker, a devout pacifist, once told me that a gun’s only purpose is to kill. I respect her position even though I fundamentally disagree. Guns are designed for numerous purposes including competition, bench rest shooting, plinking, fun, art, teaching, collectability, and self defense. While people kill each other and animals with firearms all the time, there are plenty of uses for them that don’t involve loss of life. Sadly, it’s often the negative interactions that are magnified in the collective awareness.

One of the challenges for the second amendment community in this regard is distinguishing between the intent of self defense and straight up murder. One of Obama’s legendary quotes referred to those who cling to guns and religion. This is a common view—one where gun owners are irrational violent people just waiting for a justifiable chance to go-postal. The reality is that self defense is not state sanctioned murder. When a gun owner shoots “in self-defense” they are acting to “stop” the threat. While death will end the threat, the intent isn’t to kill anyone. Rather it is to conclude the present circumstances that threaten them, their property, and/or others in their care—preferably with as little risk to life and limb as possible. We the armed view this as a risk management strategy and as a way of preserving the lives of innocents. Carrying a firearm is a sacred trust in which the citizen implicitly agrees to act only in defense of self and others. Although many see the desire to arm oneself as a sign of mental deficiency, I see it as an act of courage. It takes great strength of character to choose to stand up for oneself and ones neighbors. It requires a sense of honor to face the legal, moral, and physical risks of carrying a weapon while responding to a threat.

Unfortunately, that’s not how many people view armed Americans. That’s partly due to the familiarity I mentioned before. As the U.S. moved from the post WWII manufacturing and agricultural focus to an urban service based economy, firearms became less present in every-day life. I have plenty of friends who grew up with guns. I have even more friends who didn’t. I even have a few friends who though they enjoy shooting, have seriously mixed emotions regarding firearms and concealed carry. For some people it’s a philosophical choice. For other’s it’s a religious decision. For most people media, Hollywood, and politicians have taught them that guns are simply too dangerous. Take a recent conversation in which an acquaintance told me that it was just as well that there were no concealed carriers at the Colorado movie shooting because if there had been there just would have been more people killed. From this person’s perspective guns were capable of killing multiple people, but couldn’t be used defensively against the shooter. As an aside, she’s probably right as James Holmes was credited with wearing body armor and using tear gas—creating conditions that would have made it difficult for someone to effectively engage him. If that had been the basis for her argument I would have conceded. Her point though was that armed Americans are simply accidental deaths waiting to happen—in other words all they can do is harm, not help. This reasoning is provably and logically flawed. Not only are there numerous examples of armed citizens engaging threats and saving lives; but you have only to ask, what if one of the teachers in Sandy hook had a firearm when they tried to subdue Adam Lanza? What if they could have countered his threat? No more lives would have been lost, but more lives might have been saved. This is the fundamental disconnect when people talk about guns. For many, they can only do harm and are only mildly tolerable in the hands of police and military. For the rest of us they are valuable tools that save lives and guard freedom.

Later, after a few minutes of difficult back and forth, the dialog ended when one of the conversationalists said that she went to Virginia Tec. This was said with a degree of satisfaction—knowing that there was no good response to such a declaration. In retrospect, the reason the conversation ended is because I wasn’t willing to challenge the sense of superiority granted by association with that tragic shooting. There were valid responses if I wanted to keep throwing myself in front of that bus, but I chose the better part of valor. With the benefit of hindsight it’s clear to me that what she was saying was that it is better to risk becoming a victim rather than take the risk of allowing more guns in public circulation. To me this is just another symptom of the growing cult of victimhood and learned helplessness. For example, the brunette’s employer prohibits employees from carrying any kind of weapon, pepper spray, or defensive implement. The thought is that the kids she teaches might hurt themselves with such a tool if they got hold of it. I was visiting one day when they put the building in an active shooter lockdown drill—and the official response to someone coming in and shooting up the place is to hide in a closet. The thinking in these situations seems to be that the risk of someone accidentally hurting themselves or others is far worse than someone coming in and killing staff. Her office has literally no defense other than cowering in fear. If you’re the person paying the insurance premiums maybe that makes sense; but if you’re the person in the closet it’s no consolation. If you’re the employee taking public transportation in questionable parts of town I somehow doubt that the employer’s bottom line is your biggest concern—and yet society endorses this way of thinking. We would rather become victims than have to trust fellow citizens to act responsibly. Given the prevalence of this perspective it’s understandable that Armed Americans are viewed with such fear.

While it’s “understandable, I still wonder why people are so closed minded when it comes to firearms. In the previously referenced conversation it took about three minutes for a tone of mild condescension to enter the dialog. This is par for the course when I talk to people who don’t like guns. It’s one thing to raise practical objections to a difficult situation; but too often what I end up hearing is why anyone with a gun is bad. From the other person’s perspective they are addressing distinct issues—concealed carry, armed school resource officers, armed teachers, youth firearm safety education, and constitutional carry. They just happen to oppose them all for good and substantial reasons. While everyone seems to have “reasons” why guns in public hands are bad, it seems to come down to guns in general are objectionable—to wit, there is no acceptable way to place firearms with the public or loosen related strictures. Their fear of firearms trumps my freedom, my right to defend myself, and my right to live my life independent of the moralizing of others.

I use the word “fear” here intentionally. Most of these people are afraid of scary looking guns. They are afraid of media driven buzz words. They have been indoctrinated into the idea that a gun’s only purpose is to kill. The reality is that modern gun control got its start in anti-black sentiment during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. California ended the right to open carry when armed black panthers marched on a city hall in response to discriminatory police practices. Maryland’s gun control movement got started after the 1968 race riots following Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. If I said today that I wanted to base any part of public policy on a fear of black people I’d be rightly and roundly denounced; and yet, that’s exactly where the modern gun control movement began. It’s difficult trusting the people around you. It’s difficult choosing to see the benefit of a potentially dangerous freedom. I’ve thought a lot about the subject and I’ve decided that I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to walk around believing the worst of everyone I meet. It’s certainly easier for me to adopt that attitude since I don’t have the fear of the unknown to deal with. That being said, I firmly believe that armed citizens do more good than harm in our society. I have to hope and pray that others come to my point of view.