Friday, July 29, 2016

The start of three things

I have decided to use the “three things” email as a weekly writing exercise.  I will copy the results into my blog(s) and send it to my discussion list—thereby forcing me to keep up with my craft in some small part.  So with no further ado:


1.        Star Wars or Star trek and why?

This is one of those questions that would have received a different answer depending on when you asked me.  Growing up, Star Wars was that classic movie series I watched when U.S.A. ran its Christmas marathon and when my grandparents’ friends wanted something to amuse the kids while the adults talked about adult things.  It was a fun piece of distraction but nothing special in-and-of itself.  Star trek on the other hand was one of the few shows that I loved, that my parents let me watch, and that seemed to get bigger and bigger the older I got.

My local cable affiliate regularly ran marathons of the original pulpy series.  Late Saturday nights were characterized by Wild Kingdom, inspector gadget, the Muppets, and Nickelodeon’s star trek cartoon.  Afterword’s we would go night-sledding in my back yard where I would pretend that the house lights were shuttle landing lights while I slid down a hill on an alien planet into the mysterious darkness of a Vermont winter evening.  I remember watching the original first episode of star trek the next generation—again while my parents were having a party.  I loved Data and Worf.  Reading rainbow did an entire episode on STNG from Geordi’s perspective.  I even had a couple packs of the associated CCG when I was in high school.  I got all the novels I could find on audio from the library of Congress.

              STNG’s high production values, interesting characters, and revealing outfits seemed fresh—edgy—scandalously adult to my elementary school sensitivities.  The original series was interesting—gritty—ruff in a way that gave it a certain charm long before I knew what the term “pulp” meant.  People forget sometimes that while Star Wars was a movie classic, star trek was a cultural phenomenon—especially during the late 80s.  Star trek was the bigger “thing.”  I played with Star Wars toys, colored in a C3PO coloring book, played Star Wars video games, and even listened to a dramatization of the movies on public radio—all from a very young age.  Both franchises were present—trek simply was expanding at the time while Star Wars wouldn’t hit critical mass until the 90s.

              Star Wars didn’t start to grow on me until a friend introduced me to west end’s original d6 RPG.  At the same time super Nintendo had a video game that would let you fire away with blaster, homing missiles, drive a land speeder, pilot an x-wing, battle with lightsaber, and get tons of extra lives using the classic Capcom cheat code.  The graphics and sound were so advanced at the time that it felt like I was playing in the actual movie.  I watched friends play x-wing the computer game, played the Nintendo and the classic Atari cartridges, built force sensitive x-wing pilots in the RPG, and re-watched the movies over-and-over again.  In college I watched all the remastered movies in the theatres on opening night.  My two first VCR tape purchases were a complete collection of James Bond titles and the Star Wars trilogy (the originals thank you very much George.)  Post-college, I read the endless collection of novels, played the West End RPG with friends, watched the prequels, and debated the nature of good and evil—dark side VS. light side endlessly.

              Star Wars seemed to age better than trek despite Lucas’s ham-fisted attempts at revitalizing the franchise.  Leia Organa Solo was a bad ass force-wielding, blaster shooting, negotiating princess who was equally at home in formal garb or slave bikini duds.  Han was a gritty take no prisoners softy with a heart of gold and an iron fist for his enemies—he shot first damn it.  Mara Jade and Lando started off as supporting characters who grew into heroes in their own right.  In addition to the characters, I found continuity issues in the world of trek.  What gave the federation the right to decide what was best for everyone else?  The conflicts that energized me in middle school seemed trite and campy as an adult.  Books like red shirts did a great job of satiring the genre to the point where I still enjoy watching old episodes—I simply cannot recapture the wonder they evoked in my formative years.  So short answer—Star Wars.

2.       What is the hottest thing you have ever eaten?

That would be the mad dog collectors’ edition hot sauce:

They call it a sauce but I cannot figure out who would use it as a condiment.  It is made with 6,000,000 scoville pepper extract.  I made a five-pound batch of jerky recently using a splash of this stuff and woooo boy!  My hands burned for 24 hours just from folding it into the meat.  I can only eat two pieces of the resulting death sticks before I have to down a glass of milk.  The really crazy thing is that the company that makes this stuff has a sauce called plutonium extract which is 50% hotter.  If you are interested in what it is like to take this murder sauce straight, the following video will be instructive.

So, not going to give that nonsense a try without some major rewards in the offing and probably not even then.

3.       Which fictional character most inspires you and why?

I hate having to choose.  If I have to pick just one though, it would be paladin from the TV western “have gun, will travel.”  He combines several elements I admire—taste and courtesy—a sense for what is right even in morally gray territory—the ability to persevere in the face of physical and emotional challenges—the desire not to use violence to solve problems while retaining the ability to do so when circumstances require.  I love the fact that he grapples with what is right and wrong—not just when he is justified in throwing down.  It makes for a character equally at home ruffing it on the range and debating poetry over a game of bridge in the salons of high society—a warrior poet in the true sense.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Buying ammunition and such

              I got into guns after the 2008 election.  Since then I have learned a great deal about the economics of the hobby.  There are a lot of variables at play—what laws are likely to pass in your region, how the upcoming candidates are set V.S. gun control, how National and state congresses look to shake out, how many supreme court slots are coming up for nomination, and what events have recently spurred the second amendment debate.  I would find the entire process fascinating if the future of one of my favorite activities did not hang in the balance.


              The 2012 election was an exercise in chaos theory for the people of the gun.  Obama, he of the clinging to guns and religion fame, had proven that gun control was high on his personal to-do-list.  Romney was not a noted second amendment supporter either—a practical politician in his way but not exactly the bulwark candidate the gun community wanted.  Rhetoric was heated, fears of national gun control were rampant, and shelves were empty of common ammunition types and platforms.  Newtown and the Colorado movie shooting simply enhanced the 2a community’s belief that dark days lay ahead.

              Although the media enjoys mocking the firearm related fearmongering that precedes National elections, the community’s fears were justified.  In 1993, the Stockton school yard shooting resulted in the death of five elementary school students, the shooter, and the wounding of 28 other individuals.  That event precipitated the 1994 Federal assault weapon ban—and Stockton occurred before the dawning of social media, the internet news cycle, and today’s deeply partisan politics.  The1981 attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the 1933 attempt on FDR both lead to landmark restrictive firearm laws.  The United States has a history of reactively legislating guns after National tragedies—and New Town was more than five times as deadly as the Stockton shooting.  So while there was definitely a period of panic buying pre-election and post Newtown, that panic stemmed from multiple historical benchmarks.

              Frankly, I hate panic buying.  Heeding the call of the falling sky strikes me as the worst kind of group think.  Giving into mass hysteria harkens far too close to a loss of reason for my taste.  Gun owners have plenty of legitimate material to give them pause entering the 2016 election cycle without falling prey to chicken little syndrome.  Between multiple large scale terrorist strikes in Europe, the San Bernardino and Orlando shootings, the wife of the president who signed the 1994 AWB carrying the Democrat’s torch, Republicans publicly working for a compromise bill on no fly-no buy, and the recent shooting of 11 Dallas police officers at a black lives matter protest, the 2016 election cycle looks primed for gun control to become a defining issue.  More broadly, democrats have seaced to view gun control as the electrified third rail of politics.  California just passed a Pandora’s box of restrictive firearm related legislation in a state that already boasted one of the strongest anti-gun pedigrees.  Heller and McDonald have been tempered by the Supreme court’s inability/unwillingness to clarify issues such as may issue concealed carry, assault weapons bans, and restrictive firearm ownership requirements.  It seems unlikely that the 8 member Roberts court will strike a blow in favor of gun rights before they get their ninth justice—and depending on how the election goes not even then.  Fear is not my goal.  There is a cycle to these things—I just want people to make informed decisions in times of crisis.

              As the song says, “to everything there is a season.”  The cycle starts around July during presidential campaign years.  Common ammunition begins to rise in cost.  Bulk deals sell out quickly.  Popular platforms—especially semiautomatic rifles and magazines—are harder to find.  September—after the conventions are done and the attack adds ramp up—is when prices start to skyrocket.  The panic starts.  People lose their minds.  In November—forget it.  Popular military calibers—9mm, .45acp, .223, and .308—can only be had at gold plated prices when available at all.  You can still find self-defense ammunition but cheap range ammunition is a thing of the past.  Popular recreational calibers like .357 and .22lr simply cannot be found.  Reloading supplies like powder and primers vanish.  Suppliers buy out any excess market capacity.  Hoarders buy up everything—and I do mean everything.  Market momentum and scarcity keeps the storm going well into the following summer.  Two years later—as the midterms are cranking up—most ammunition types and supplies can be had if not cheaply.  Three years later and prices and suppliers are down to desirable levels again—just in time for the next National panic.

              So in no particular order, here are my suggestions for the upcoming ammunition desert:

1.       If your state is going to outlaw something, buy it now.  Even if you don’t get to shoot for a while, better to have the rifle, handgun, or magazine you want.

2.       Even if you have to split the cost with someone else, buy at least a thousand rounds of handgun or 500 rounds of rifle ammunition for your favorite firearms—more depending on how often and in what volume you expend gun food.

3.       The preferred order of purchase should be platform—magazines (at least 6)—and finally ammunition.

4.       There is no substitute for a handgun or rifle and a couple thousand rounds of .22lr.  The cost per round is low enough that you can stock upwards of 5,000 rounds for less than $500.

5.       There is a saying in banking, the best time to start saving was yesterday.  The second best day is today.  Buy it cheap and stack it deep.


You do not have to buy in fear.  Ammunition prices and supply will normalize eventually.  Buy smarter.  Buy defensively if you have to but do so with full knowledge of your options.  Your wallet will thank you—as may your range partners when you are the only one with gun food in 2017.