Phase Two


Hey folks,

This blog was an experiment for me. It was as much about discovering what I wanted to write about as it was actually about writing any particular thing. Now, that experiment has run its course. From talking with friends and with my wife, I’ve discovered both what I like writing about and what I’m good at writing about, and I want to launch a new blog to do just that. That blog can be found at: , and is linked to my new social media account. That will help me manage some things better, and help me to be more disciplined in my posting, I hope. As a result I hope the quality will markedly improve, and you’ll enjoy the new blog. If you’re still interested in following me, give the linked blog a follow and I’ll get to posting there soon. Thanks!


I try not to get angry, but…

I don’t like being angry. Anger feels like failure, like giving in, like letting circumstances get the better of me. Instead, I try to maintain a cool head and sober judgment about things. There are a few things that are really prone to make me angry, though, and I think it’s an appropriate moment to talk about one of them. It all started here. Some followups are here, here, and here. Phrases and topics later in the entry may be a problem for some people to read about. Unfortunately.

That is an article that thoroughly and professionally critiques a cover of a particular comic book. It’s pretty non-controversial stuff – or at least, it should by all rights be non-controversial. The material itself is also not really the issue. The critique is well composed, and though I have no expertise at all in art or comic books it seems well put together and persuasive. I was certainly persuaded. The response to it is the problem.

I’m not going to dwell to much on the specifics. What it boils down to is this: this artist thought that piece of art was sub-par, and offered a critique. Because the author happens to also be a woman people not only acted generally like jerks in replying to her, they also started threatening her with violence and sexual assault (that is, rape). It has been covered in a number of places by now, so I’m hardly the first to say this, but What. The. Fuck!?! Again?!?

There are things I will tolerate, and then there’s this. If you think that threatening someone you don’t know with rape and/or murder is okay, do me a favor and go somewhere else. Don’t show up in my universe ever again if you think that’s okay. If you only meant it as a joke, then the party to whom you were speaking had better know you very well and know with certainty that you were joking – if you don’t, or they don’t, then we’re done. Even if all of that is true, don’t expect me to forget that and don’t expect me to think it’s perfectly okay. If you do it in my presence, even as a joke, expect a response ranging from a verbal “wtf?” and a slap upside your head to telling you to get out and never come back. I don’t care about the setting, or the context. It’s wrong, it’s stupid, it’s hurtful. When it comes from someone to whom I claim a degree of kinship, by virtue of shared geekery or whatever, then it’s also embarrassing.

It’s never right, and because it seems to be men doing it at least most of the time online, we need to stand up and say something when it happens. I wasn’t there to say it then, but this is the only platform I’ve got and I’m saying it now. That shit’s not okay. If you think it is, please let me know. I don’t want you in my life or in my hobbies, so if we share associations then I will have some decisions to make. If you think being an internet troll by using rape threats as a cudgel is just good fun, then I don’t want you near me. If you think that people need to just get a thick skin to that because you have freedom of speech, get out. If you think that trolls being just a fact of life excuses their behavior to any degree, get out.

I don’t like making people angry, and I don’t like being angry. This is one of the few things that makes me angry at the drop of a hat, though, so bear that in mind before you play devil’s advocate. I’m not a court of law, I’m not obligated to hear all sides, and if you are in a space I control then I reserve the right to censor and censure you for this and other gross violations of basic human decency. If you can’t handle that, then you aren’t obligated to stay in my universe, nor I yours.

Be a free thinker, think like me

Free thought

Free thought

The term “free thought” is somewhat laughable, in its common usage. It’s like “non-denominational” when speaking of Christianity in the USA in that it aspires to transcend limitations and definitions, but in practice it ends up being remarkably consistent. That seems like the opposite of what you’d expect. Once free of restrictions, the things people think (or believe) would seem likely to be as diverse as they are. Some people would think about God, some about humanity, some science, mathematics, engineering, gaming, cultural issues, television, sudoku, the Kardashians, and so on. There are many, many kinds of people, after all. It seems, however, that when free to think however they want, people always end up by some strange means thinking about Libertarianism or Progressivism (but never something outside of or more centrist on that axis), Ayn Rand, Karl Marx, Richard Dawkins, atheism/agnosticism, secular humanism, logic, and the scientific process.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m sitting in a chemistry lab right now, doing science. I’ve devoted my life to it. I like it a great deal. I think its laughable to call science “free thought,” however. Similarly, it is laughable to call something a “free” thought if in order to hold that thought it has to have already survived logical inquiry, debate and argumentative analysis. That is, in fact, the opposite of free thought. It is thought within very tight, narrow terms, designed to winnow out all thoughts deemed by those terms to be inappropriate. Those terms may even be things you find agreeable – logic, debate, rationality, the scientific method, etc – but they are terms, and they do limit your thoughts rather sharply.

As a result, I’ve given up on the traditional idea of “free thought.” I consider it a failed method to achieve its stated aim of liberating the mind, because you simply can’t use shackles, even very logical ones, to create freedom. There is another method that I much prefer, called “mindfulness.” It is a meditative practice from the Buddhist religious tradition, but there is nothing intrinsically religious about it, and it is practiced by people from all faiths and many walks of life. It can be summarized as “Be Here Now.” It means to be present in your mind, observing without judging, and trying to fully experience the things you are experiencing on their own terms. That seems self-evident, almost automatic, but it is surprisingly difficult. The essence of the practice is just sitting. When you sit (legs crossed, lotus, in a chair, whatever), you try and sit back inside your own mind as well, observing what is happening without trying to affect it. It isn’t “try[ing] to stop thinking,” because that results in a feedback loop of thoughts-about-not-thinking and fighting with your own mind. Instead, just observe and appreciate, without judging or analyzing. If there is a feeling, let yourself feel it. If there is a thought, let it be thought. Then, let it go. Don’t ask why, or what, or where it comes from, don’t wonder about what you’ll do next time you think it or how someone made you feel that way. Just experience it, and when it is done let it be done. If the experiences are positive, you’ll doubtless enjoy them. If they are negative, you may find in a weird way that you almost enjoy those too. After a great deal of practice, you’ll find it easier to find that state of mind even when you are up and moving around. During the day, there is inevitably a great deal of free time, or at least time when you have to hurry up and wait. During that time, the moments in between when your mind often wanders, I find that mindfulness practice tends to creep in. Then, afterward, instead of having thought myself into knots of worry or anger or confusion, I’ve simply appreciated the moment. It’s a much better use of time, I find.

It is fair to ask how this frees the mind. Well, in my experience, it’s not religion or politics that ensnares the mind, but desire, fear and deprivation. The desire for affection makes you see a bad relationship as good enough to stick around for. The desire for money makes you stay at a job you hate. The fear of rejection keeps you from asking out the man or woman that you like. The fear that you’ll be robbed or stabbed or shot makes you leery of black men. The pains of hunger make you steal or stab or shoot. The pain of betrayal makes you hurt those you once claimed to love. The fear of a faceless government makes you leery of any man in a suit that shows up at your door, or in your life. You know these things are bad for you, but you do them anyway because the desire, the fear, the deprivation, the pain are so powerful that they overwhelm your reason. By experiencing them, by facing those feelings down, by allowing yourself to observe and experience them, you help to decrease their influence on your mind. Perhaps, after consideration, you decide you do need to stay at that job you hate in order to have the money to eat, but you can take a little of your spare time and look for better jobs rather than sleep and ruminate on how your life has gone off-course. Perhaps s/he did betray you, but then maybe your fear of being alone makes you see betrayal even when it is not there? By allowing your mind some distance, by considering experiences without getting caught up in them, you help to set aside the shackles that, deep down, bind us all.

The Dresden Files RPG

Cover to the Dresden Files RPG, copyright Evil Hat Productions

Cover to the Dresden Files RPG, copyright Evil Hat Productions

Recently, Evil Hat announced that they were launching a playtest of their upcoming Dresden Files LARP, based on the RPG shown above. This is awesome, and is something I’ve been hoping would happen for years at this point. At one point I even started designing one, but never got very far into it. I applied (I don’t know if my application will be accepted or not. They start sending out letters on 02 May), but regardless of what comes of that I really enjoy the game and want to get back to playing it.

This post contains spoilers for the Dresden Files, by way of talking about my Dresden Files RPG/LARP game. If your concern for that makes you uneasy about playing, then you might want to click back now. Everyone else, read on.

Back when I ran a game, it was set in New Orleans, just after the end of Changes. As you might expect from the name, that book introduced some important changes to the Dresdenverse, and I felt that running a game prior to that point would be cheating my players out of something important. Running it later than that wasn’t tenable because Ghost Story hadn’t been released yet, but Jim Butcher already alluded to it not being as epic and world-shaking as its predecessor, so I felt pretty safe in my decision. I included some additional material that appeared in things like Side Jobs as well, because I thought it was fun and applicable.

Given that I applied to run a playtest, it should come as no surprise that I am interested in recruiting new players. If you’d be interested in that playtest, drop me a note here or on Facebook, or via e-mail or phone or whatever. Most of you have that info; if you don’t, then comment and we’ll work it out. This is a local thing being run live in Baton Rouge, at the moment, so people who can’t play in Baton Rouge probably shouldn’t worry about it right now. I don’t know if Evil Hat is interested in testing out how the game works in a play-by-email or IRC or other chat format, to be honest, but if they are I’m not averse to running that provided I have an appropriate venue and player base.

I’d like to have a fairly diverse set of players with a variety of interests and tendencies, as well as schedules. It’s okay if you can only make it to a couple of games or if you’re busy many weekends; I’d like to vary the cast to get a more meaningful playtest, anyway. The Dresden Files RPG is a highly narrative game, more in the vein of the World of Darkness (classic not new, unless you count God Machine, which you should because OMG) than Dungeons & Dragons. It is also a highly cooperative game, though I expect that will be toned down somewhat (to what degree I can’t say) for the LARP. The rules were fairly simple, and I expect them to be even simpler in the LARP. I do not expect (but cannot guarantee) it to be a boffer-style LARP (the hitting people with foam weapons kind of LARP). I expect the overall playstyle to be somewhat similar to the World of Darkness, except it seems much more inherently interactive between supernatural types; everyone doesn’t stay in their own swimming pool, not even a little bit. I could be wrong about any or all of that, but those are my expectations going into it. Also, anyone with experience playing FATE-based RPGs will probably have at least some transferable experience, since it will probably be based on that. Games will probably be run on no more than a bi-weekly schedule, because that is my work schedule, but I can vary the days session to session in order to vary the cast of players if that’s needed. I don’t need time commitments or anything right now, either; I just want to gauge interest. Working out schedules will come later.

Now, to the good stuff. The setting and plot this is going to be based in is the setting from my previous Tabletop Dresden Files RPG game, described above. It is just after one of the most tumultuous events in recent supernatural history. The Red Court is in ruins, and there is a war going on over the scraps of their empire, a war to fill the power vacuum they left behind. The supernatural elements in the city are as follows:

Wizards and other Magical Humans

The White Council itself has a comparatively weak presence within New Orleans. Only one Warden claims his domain here, in the Lakeshore neighborhood of northern New Orleans. He mostly controls and manages finances for the Council, though, and so was only conscripted as a Warden after the War started and demanded all able-bodied persons join the fight. A robust network of minor talents, held together by Priestess Marie Tusaud of the Voodoo Temple of New Orleans and the Paranet, manages and protects most of the magical persons within New Orleans. Rumors persist of a necromancer within New Orleans, claiming to be the child of Kalfou himself. Priestess Tusaud, when pressed, will not acknowledge that such a person even exists, but says that if he does then he is certainly her enemy.

Vampire Courts

The Vampire Courts in New Orleans (and everywhere else, for that matter) are in an uproar right now. Their previously established paradigm and balance of power has been thrown into complete chaos by the destruction of the Red Court at the hands of Harry Dresden. As a result, the historic home of the Vampire Courts in New Orleans, the French Quarter, has become something of a battleground. Fights and gang violence are on the rise there, despite the city cracking down on such things in the heart of their tourist district. The Black Court has as yet remained unseen, so it is the White Court that has primarily fought and gained territory in these areas, at the expense of ghoul gangs and other long-time allies of the red Court in New Orleans. Those gangs have, as a result, withdrawn to their strongholds in the lower Ninth Ward, in neighborhoods that have not as yet been rebuilt after being flooded by Hurricane Katrina and looted in the chaos that followed. House Raith and its allies lead the White Court in New Orleans, allying with other supernatural powers to secure their base of operations and assets as necessary.

Faerie Courts

Unlike in Chicago and many other temperate and northern cities, the Winter Court has only a very small presence in New Orleans. The Summer Court has its stronghold in the Garden District, Audubon and City Park, led by a noble living in the Garden District, but they are primarily opposed by two different foes. The Court of Storms, led by the Erlking himself, threatens and does battle with the Summer Court (and everyone else) every hurricane season. Occasionally the Wyld Hunt breaks into the city itself – the last such time being during Katrina – but most years it simply nips around the edges and is repelled by the allied forces of the magical practitioners and the Summer fae of New Orleans. The other force the Summer Court perpetually battles against for control of the Nevernever is the Court of the Lwa, a unique entity found only in New Orleans and throughout the Caribbean. From Baron Samedi to Legba, Erzulie, and even Kalfou, the Lwa represent for New Orleanians a mix of concepts, filling a role as Catholic Saints and pagan gods. Supernaturally, they are something all their own – a kind of spirit, kind of god, a collective power unto themselves that only holds sway within cities where traditions like Voodoo are held dear. Their power is by its nature somewhat decentralized, but it is most prevalent where older, poorer, and more superstitious people live. So it is only natural that many of the neighborhoods on the West Bank, such as Algiers, Gretna and Marrero, along with some of the older parts of New Orleans itself, like the Ninth Ward, Bywater, Treme, and Uptown, are where most of these shrines and much of this influence can be found.

The Restless Dead

New Orleans is famous for its zombies. They are an undeniable part of the folklore of the town, and there is a reason. Every time it rains, it seems more of them rise out of the wet, dark earth. Some of these are merely corpses dropped in the bayou or dumped in the river by New Orleans’s criminal element, but many of them are anything but mundane. The ghoul clans of the lower ninth ward regularly leave caches of dead to feast on, and sometimes even kill runaways and homeless persons in order to maintain their supply. A few of these produce ghosts, and as a result of New Orleans’s unusually thin veil, these ghosts sometimes find their former bodies and inhabit them. Others are bound to bodies by necromancy or other dark magic, and still others are created through mind-altering, coma-inducing chemicals and rituals mastered by the Bokor, members of the occult underworld who practice the dark side of voodoo and venerate the dark Lwa in the back alleys and shadows of New Orleans, not as Wizards per se but as servants to and extensions of those dark powers of the Nevernever. In addition to the zombies, bodiless undead like ghosts or poltergeists also call New Orleans home. These dead cluster around places of suffering and paid, so they tend to congregate in places like the condemned ruin that was once Charity Hospital and in the Cemeteries found throughout the city. Late at night, the dead even stir around the Superdome, which during Katrina was the site of much suffering and violent death. Priestess Tusaud and others have been working to correct the manifestations, especially the last, but as yet the work is merely ‘ongoing’.

Shapeshifters and Lycanthropes

Stories of gator-men and bog bears and bayou panthers occasionally make the news, but there are very few genuine instances of lycanthropes or their kin living in New Orleans. Only one major instance bucks this trend. A gang called the 3’n’G, located on the West Bank in Westwego and Gretna, is known among some for being one-and-all a pack of lycanthropes. The anger that fuels these men also helps them to protect the neighborhood they call home, though their particular manner of protection is as bloody as it is efficient. More than one dirty cop has been found strung up and stabbed to death in this part of town, and as such the police generally avoid it unless they can enter in significant numbers with plenty of backup. Elsewhere in the city there are certainly a small number of theriomorphs, but they have not formed a society or otherwise gathered together in any way.

Men of Faith, Hallowed Ground

There are only a few men of faith to be found in the churches in New Orleans. Despite being very deeply Catholic, the city is also deeply involved with the voodoo sub-culture, and what men of faith there are are often Houngan of Mambo, serving as priests or extensions of the Lwa, rather than priests or holy warriors. These men and women are found in no particular place. Perhaps the strongest man of faith is Monsignor Harold Watkins, serving as a priest on staff at St. Louis cathedral in the French Quarter. It is rare for genuine men of faith to be given this assignment, but Msgr. Watkins’s activities sanctify the ground of the church so that the servants of darkness and pain cannot enter (a fact that displeases the White Court to no end). He is not himself aware of the darkness, but the holy ground he maintains makes St. Louis cathedral itself a useful island of calm and safety amid the storms going on in the world. A more aware priest is Fr. Thomas Montegut, priest at St. Patrick’s, located near St. Louis on the edge of the French Quarter. He works with elements in the church such as the Ordo Malleus and Fellowship of St. Giles, helping to coordinate their efforts and house people on the run from the White Court or other dark powers in New Orleans. Rumors of his holding one of the blackened darnarii persist, but he denies them when and if he is ever asked. Predictably, this does nothing to quell the rumors.

Neutral Ground

While the greenways in the middle of the streets in New Orleans are popularly called “neutral ground,” the only place in New Orleans that is properly Accorded Neutral Territory is in the French Quarter. The bar-cum-pirate safehouse, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, is the one place that all the supernatural denizens of New Orleans can meet relatively secure in the knowledge that violence will not break out. It is run by the descendant of Jean Lafitte himself, a man by the same name. He is known by everyone in town, but known to very few of them. It is known that he is close to several Lwa, good friends with Priestess Tusaud, regularly attends mass with Msgr. Watkins at St. Louis, and on a first name basis with the only Warden in town, but no one knows how he acquired these connections or how deep they go. He seems to like it this way, and if nothing else it makes his in-the-know patrons that much more wary of crossing him.


For those who wish to play, I’ve whipped up the following poll to help me schedule games. They’ll also have to be scheduled around my time, but I’ll manage that part. If your schedule varies bi-weekly, answer for the week starting on May 6th, 2014 (so 10 days from now). Again, if your schedule is irregular, clarify it in the comments.

Know You Audience, Say Something Worthwhile

Obviously, the image copyright belongs to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee

Obviously, the image copyright belongs to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, not to me.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is missing a chance to both help itself and help the American people*. I might not have a great deal of authority with which to decree that, but consider the following:

One, the DSCC has many thousands of donors who get daily e-mail blasts, and even more people who donated to something or someone tied to the DSCC and who get those blasts because of that. I’m one of them (I donated to OFA and Obama-Biden 2008, and 2012), and many of my friends are too. Two, those e-mails go straight to my spam folder. Three, I’m not unique. The only time I read them is for the donate link, and the only time I donate is when something else tells me both that I should and can afford to help.

If people actually read the e-mails, rather than sorting them away, what would that do for the donor rolls, influence, and public presence of groups like the DSCC? While many things are a possibility, the worst it could reasonably do is nothing. That their reader engagement is so low is a huge missed opportunity, regardless of how many people are subscribed to their mailing list. They could be making a substantive difference in the party’s image around the country, and could be informing the debate in a meaningful and constructive way. Instead, they spend all their time trying to scare me and then beg me for money.

Fear and ignorance, which when stewed together become conspiracy and paranoia, are two very powerful enemies. Polling seems to bear me out that when government is transparent and not completely ineffective, people trust it more. When people trust government more, they are willing to support policies and ideas that lean on government rather than undermining it. By informing the debate, by using their bully pulpit to do something other than add heat to the culture war, not only could they help themselves they could help the country.

How do they do that? Any or all of the following would be a good start.

1. Links to proposed legislation and summaries thereof. Many people wont read it, but the fact they have those links and that information, that the DSCC is going out of its way to give people that information, makes it a much harder sell that they are hiding something. People (and Fox News) can say it, but if the response is immediately, “You say they’re hiding it, but I got this in my e-mail…” then it is significantly harder to maintain that lie.

2. Links and reprints of prominent opinion pieces and articles about good things that Democrats, the DSCC, or its members are doing. One of the most frequent lines of attack that conservative media use is that Democrats only serve certain people (people of color, the underprivileged, unions, the urban poor, etc), and not the “average” American. The best way to respond to that isn’t by saying that it’s wrong, it’s by showing that it’s wrong. “We’re helping everyone, and here’s how…” works better than simply screeching invectives about how the other side is greedy or short-sighted, even when they are.

3. Simple summaries, infographics, and other social media shareables that deal with common notions and controversies in public affairs. “They’re coming for our guns? Here are all the gun-related bills signed into law in the past 20 years and how we are not, in fact, doing that:” Again, information is the greatest enemy of fear. Don’t put out so much that you confuse the issue, which is why something like an infographic is ideal, but more information than, “Give us money because reasons” could only help.

4. Short, humanizing profiles about the people that are leading the Democratic party and what they care about. I hear a whole lot on the news about Joe Biden, Harry Reid, and so on, but I know little about them beyond what they are doing. That makes it hard for candidates to get name recognition, and makes it hard to put anyone in the field for a Presidential or Vice Presidential campaign. Don’t tell me about their stance on abortion or gay marriage or whatnot (I probably already know that, anyway), tell me where they went to college, what their wife/husband’s name is, and who their favorite author is. Make them human to me, and it’s more likely I’ll be able to empathize with them. That makes it easier to trust them, and by extension easier to trust government.

In short, give us a reason to read the e-mails you send, and we will. Prove to me why I should donate to your cause, and I will. Know your audience, DSCC.

* Note: Okay, probably several opportunities. I’m just going to focus on one with this blog entry, however.

What I think we need

us-constitution-pdf-logoI frequently see “What we should really do is…” memes, and talk about related things. Some of my most popular posts are related to ‘culture war’ issues like Duck Dynasty and Cliven Bundy. Still, what I think we really need as a people has little to do with these issues directly. That’s because I think they are symptoms of a deeper problem, of certain deficiencies in our laws and oversights in our Constitution which, with 235 years of hindsight, we ought to fix. They aren’t immediately obvious, so they aren’t controversial. They don’t get people juiced up and don’t Rock The Vote, but I think they can really help. Here they are:

Amendment XXVIII (28) [Truth in Politics]

Section 1.

Freedom of speech shall not protect false statements by the President, Vice President, Congressmen, Senators, or any other official appointed or elected within any branch of government or any candidate for such office, for statements made in the public interest or in the course of a campaign to be elected to those positions, except where there is a risk of substantial harm for doing so or substantial risk of revealing state secrets. Issue campaigns; lobbying efforts on behalf of or directed toward public officials or the public as a whole; and support for news media shall be public and transparent; all donations shall be registered with an appropriate body and be in plain view of the public, and be made in a manner that it is clear and unambiguous.

Section 2.

All campaigns for office within the Federal government shall only be funded by the Federal government; no private donations of any kind shall be allowed. The funds for such campaigns shall be divided equally among the Executive and Legislative branch, then equally among the Senate and House of Representatives. Equal funding shall then be given to all candidates for office within the Legislative Branch as are registered by that state’s laws, and who appear on the ballot for office within that state. Candidates must appear on the ballot of a number of states such that the total population of those states is a majority of the national population, or the collective electoral votes is a majority of all electoral votes, in order to receive this funding when they are a candidate for a position within the Executive Branch.

Amendment XXIX (29) [Representative government]

Section 1.

Each candidate for President shall be entitled to choose a number of electors in each state equivalent to the percentage of voters within that state who cast ballots in favor of that candidate.

Section 2.

The House of Representatives shall be drawn from districts that shall themselves be composed of either a whole municipality or a contiguous collection of whole counties. The former shall be used for all municipalities where the population exceeds that state’s number of representatives divided by its whole population. The latter method shall be applied such that their total population is as near as possible to the number of representatives in that state divided by its whole population. When the former is used, an electoral method allowing for multiple winners of a single election shall be used, and applied in a manner that faithfully represents the wishes of as many voters as possible. These districts shall be redrawn by the foregoing rules on a decennial basis, pursuant to the results of the Census.

Amendment XXX (30) [Constraining government abuses]

Section 1.

State secrets shall, when alleged at trial as a defense for the actions of a government actor and as requested by the presiding judge, be revealed by the government to the judge in private, to the extent they are relevant to the events of the trial. If the judge does not meet the qualifications for such, then the case shall be either moved to a more appropriate body if possible, or declared a mistrial. In the case of a jury trial, the judge shall instruct the jury on the disposition and applicability of such secrets if so ordered.

Section 2.

The laws, rights, and procedures within this Constitution shall not be amended or restricted during wartime except through explicit declaration by Congress, and only within and in furtherance of that declared war. Congress may further only declare war against an established nation; all other actions shall be police actions, and shall thereby respect the laws of the nations they occur within if those nations are not subject to a declared war with the United States. When it is reasonable to do so, the rights and protections of the Constitution shall be afforded to all persons interacting with the Federal government, regardless of citizenship status, place of residence or any intrinsic factor.

Cliven Bundy

Image Copyright belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, with which I am unaffiliated in any way

Image Copyright belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, with whom I am not affiliated in any way

The standoff between Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management has been all over the news. As such, there are many, many opinions about it, and just as many misconceptions and misunderstandings. That’s a problem, because ill-informed opinion can turn into tragedy and violence when unleashed into a volatile situation like this. While I’m not so egotistical that I think anyone with deep influence over this situation is listening to me, I nevertheless feel a duty to stand up for truth and the rule of law.

Lets begin with a bit of history.

The area known as the Bunkerville Allotment came into the possession of the United States when it was ceded to us by Mexico at the end of the Mexican-American war. Most of the land in Nevada is still owned by the Federal government, including that area, basically because people didn’t move there and buy it when the Federal government was willing to sell it. As a result, and because Nevada could not afford that much land (and didn’t want to own and therefore be responsible for a bunch of empty desert, anyway), it remained in the hands of the Federal government.

In 1934, Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act (TGA). It allowed farmers to graze on many areas of Federal lands, provided that they got a permit and paid a fee.

In 1954 or thereabouts, Cliven Bundy and his father began grazing their cattle in the Bunkerville Allotment, paying the fee and keeping up the proper permits to do so.

In 1976, the Federal Land Use Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) was enacted, which superseded the TGA and was designed to put many Federal lands into a multi-use policy, with the general goal of making sure that all of the ways that Federal lands are useful are recognized and protected. This meant that grazing permits were given equal weight to things like recreational or scientific use, or mineral extraction or whatever. Under this Act, the Bunkerville Allotment was classed as “Ephemeral” grazing land, meaning that it only has sufficient forage to be useful as grazing land some of the time. As such, only a limited number of permits are ever granted for use of that land, in order to avoid depleting the forage and permanently reducing the stock available for native animals and whatever other herds need it. At this point, Cliven Bundy was still in compliance with the law.

In 1993, Cliven Bundy decided to stop paying for grazing rights in the Bunkerville Allotment, but continued grazing his cattle there. I’ll let Federal Judge Johnnie B. Rawlinson explain what happened next: “On February 26, 1993, Bundy sent an Administrative Notice of Intent to the BLM, which stated his intent to graze cattle “pursuant to my vested grazing rights.” Bundy sent several more Administrative Notice[s] of Intent in the months that followed. On June 16, 1993, the BLM sent Bundy a letter informing him that his application had not been received to graze livestock for the June 15, 1993 to August 31, 1993 period. The BLM included another application for Bundy to fill out and return.” That appears in the 1998 decision that he wrote when the matter went to court. It would not be the last time it went to court.

The legal battle escalated through the mid 90’s, until as I mentioned a second ago it went to court in 1998. The decision can be found here. Essentially, it is that Mr. Bundy’s claim that the Federal government has no claim to that land has no merit, that he and his cattle are trespassing, and he needs to pay the fees that he owed and stop grazing his cattle there. He ignored that order.

Over the next 15 years, Mr. Bundy not only grazed his cattle in the Bunkerville Allotment but also in several new areas, including the Lake Mead recreation area. The BLM took him to court again in 2013 to demand not only that he stop and pay the feed he owed, but that if he didn’t the government had the authority to remove the cattle if they were still in trespass 45 days after the judgment. The decision is here. That was in July of 2013; as you can guess by the news, they only started trying to round up cattle a week or two ago. That is quite a bit past their 45 day deadline.

So there’s that. A few of the legal questions are pretty well settled just by that chronology, but I’d like to deal with the questions directly as well.

1. Who owns the Bunkerville Allotment?

It appears to be a fairly well settled question that the Federal government owns that land. There are no native tribes in that area that might have a prior claim to ownership, so the oldest claim to ownership belongs to Mexico. It ceded ownership to the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which like all treaties is signed by the President and ratified by Congress. When Nevada was created, that land was not settled, and so by the terms of Nevada’s admission to the Union, in compensation for the fact that its population was so small (and therefore that it could not supply many soldiers for the Army), that land remained in Federal control. Cliven Bundy implicitly acknowledged this when he paid grazing fees from 1954 to 1993; you don’t pay for the right to graze on land you own. He stopped paying for it and asserted his property rights after he acknowledged that he did not have them, thus when the question was put before a Judge, it was decided that the Federal government owned that land.

2. Which court has jurisdiction over the case?

This is also a fairly well settled question. It is a case against the United States Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. Any case where the Federal government is being sued or is suing someone is a Federal case, and has to be decided by a Federal judge. This is called federal question jurisdiction (thanks to my friend Cherry for pointing out that I was misphrasing this earlier tonight). This is stated in Article III, Sec. 2 of the Constitution, which says “The judicial Power shall extend … to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;” The United States is a party, so it is a Federal question. In case there is any doubt, Article VI of the Constitution reads, “This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” Federal law trumps state law when the two are in conflict, in essence.

3. What actions has the Bureau of Land Management taken to try to resolve the situation?

It communicated with Mr. Bundy through letters throughout the period of 1993 to 1998, as well as serving him several notices. In 1997 the BLM offered to sit down with him and work out the conflict; he refused. In 1998 is got a court order for an injunction requiring him to pay a fine, which he did not pay. In 2013, the BLM got a second court order to seize the cattle if they were not moved in 45 days. More than 266 days later, they started trying to round up his cattle. They didn’t act sooner because, “The government contends it could have impounded Bundy’s livestock, but it took no action because any action could have resulted in physical confrontation.” This was in 1998. The following sentence is also worth noting, “The government has shown commendable restraint in allowing this trespass to continue for so long without impounding Bundy’s livestock.” I think Judge Rawlinson said this because at no point did the BLM actually need a court order to impound his cattle; they were unambiguously trespassing, and therefore the BLM was within its rights to remedy the situation through any reasonable remedy. The FLPMA allows for the impoundment of trespassing livestock, so they never needed to take him to court. They only did, I imagine, to try and avoid what has happened anyway – a physical confrontation.

There are more questions, I’m sure, and I’ll get to them in time but this ought to be enough to combat some of the myths that are floating around about this situation. I feel there’s a larger story to tell about Cliven Bundy himself and his role in this, as well as the role in citizen militias and how this relates to the rule of law, but that will have to wait for another time.

Dealing with it from the inside

I posted this on FB yesterday, but I think the term “panic attack” is kind of a misnomer. When we say “[x] attack” we normally mean “an attack caused by a/an [x]” – a bear attack is caused by a bear, an epileptic attack is caused by epilepsy, a heart attack… well, in the same way that’s kind of a misnomer too. Anyway, a panic attack isn’t like that. It’s not something caused by panic, it’s something that causes panic at inappropriate things or moments. The problem isn’t that I’m panicking over my bills, my work, or my life choices, it’s that there’s something in my head that’s causing me to react to that (or something else) as though I were being attacked by a bear, and that something will find a stimulus to latch on to, no matter how ridiculous it is. There is a core problem, in some but not all cases a medical one, that causes people to respond to things in an inappropriate manner. It’s not their choice to do this, they don’t want to do this, but despite that they still do.

How do I know that? Because last night at work, and just about as soon as I walked into work this morning, I started having the symptoms of a panic attack (for the record, those for me are: elevated heart rate, respiration, sweating in the absence of heat; increased irritability, impatience, aggressiveness and fear response; irrational thoughts and quick, inappropriate responses to external stimuli. Some or all may be present at any given time.). It didn’t start because I walked in to work, I think (because I deal with that stress just fine every day), but it chose that moment to manifest because that’s the earliest point in my day that I deal with any significant amount of stress. So, strictly speaking, it probably started some time before that, and I only noticed it when it found something to latch on to, and that required just the tiniest bit of stress. That’s how it works.

It’s kind of like an autoimmune disorder, in a way. When you have a regular immune response to something, it is scaled appropriately. When your immune system sees a kidney cell,  it says “Hi kidney cell, how ya doing?” When it sees a virion (viral particle), it kicks it out and says “no ticket.” When it sees a whole invading army of bacterial Nazis (yes, for some reason your immune system is Indiana Jones. No, I don’t know why), it sounds the inflammatory alarm bells and sets off a systemic cascade that recruits a whole bunch of white blood cells to help repel the invasion. When you have something like Crohn’s or Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis, your immune system responds to seeing something completely normal – a kidney cell, cartilage, or your own intestines – by setting off the alarm bells and trying to repel the invaders. In this way, a panic attack is similar. A panic attack is your brain reacting to perfectly normal things – school, life, work – or nothing at all by going into fight-or-flight mode, releasing adrenaline into your blood and causing you to physically prepare for the bear to come a-clawin’ at your face.

The way I remember learning about it, many reactions in your nervous system do not involve your brain at all. For instance, when you jerk your knee after the doc hits it with the rubber mallet, for instance, that cascade reaction only involves nerve cells in your leg and spinal cord. Most of the time, your heart rhythm is controlled by your heart. I imagine that to varying degrees, most autonomic functions in your body are that way. It feels like that’s happening here, too, in a tail-wagging-the-dog sort of way. Let me elaborate. It feels like there is something in my body or brain which is outside of my conscious control, which is causing adrenaline to be released into my blood. This causes a whole host of automatic responses that mostly encapsulate the symptoms I listed above. The effect on my brain is to encourage hyper-focus on my immediate surroundings, because that’s absolutely the correct response in a genuine situation where you ought to panic. So, the brain searches for the ‘source’ of the panic, the bear or whatever, and works to eliminate it or remove the situation in some other way. That means that any tiny situation which seems vaguely stressful can become this huge looming thing, simply because your brain decides to latch on to it and make it your whole world for the time being so that you can hyper-focus on it, solve it, and stop the alarm bells. In a normal situation, that would be the best response.

In this situation, that’s a problem. Because there is some persistent, invisible issue at hand, none of the proposed solutions work. Your brain, making a most reasonable assumption, assumes that the thing that it thought was the source of the problem was not. It goes looking for a new source, and the process repeats itself. This results in you panicking about small, meaningless situations and problems-that-aren’t; hyper-focusing on things you can’t address, like bills or why you chose the major you did in college; and just generally being jumpy, irritable, and acting as though every little problem is the end of the world. So in that way, it’s not an attack by panic, it’s an attack that causes panic at inappropriate times or for inappropriate reasons.

Hm. I’ll have to think about this some more. I’ll try to remain calm while I do, and deal with this from the inside.

Obamacare saved my life

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has divided America. Town halls, state houses, and news rooms are consumed with the debate over whether it is what we need, and whether it is what we want. None of this matters to me, though, because as strange and unbelievable as it sounds, the Affordable Care Act saved my life.

In 2006, I was diagnosed with an ear infection. It made me deaf in my right ear, but it seemed to resolve itself, so I put it on the back burner. At the time, I was a starving student. In 2007, I became a starving graduate. In 2008, President Obama was elected. Soon thereafter, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. In early 2011, I got a letter in the mail from Blue Cross-Blue Shield. The ACA required my insurance carrier to cover children with pre-existing conditions, but at the urging of Sec. Sebelius they opted to cover all pre-existing conditions on insured persons. This seemed innocuous, but would not stay that way for long.

In December 2011 I discovered that 5 years prior, the doctor called it wrong. What he called an ear infection was actually a large brain tumor, and if I didn’t have surgery immediately I would soon be dead. I was rushed through a battery of tests, and only days later I was operated on by two of the finest surgeons I think one could have. One was the chief of neurosurgery, the other the chief of otolaryngology (“Ear, Nose and Throat” surgery), and their joint operation lasted nearly 16 hours. I lived, but it was a near thing. A less steady hand, a less precise method, and I would be dead right now. After I left the ICU, I saw the bill: more than $1,000,000 before insurance, and about $5000 after.

Without the Affordable Care Act, my insurance wouldn’t have covered the tumor, because it predated my insurance coverage by several years – a pre-existing condition. Without insurance, the hospital would have had no reason to not shuffle me down the street to the state-run charity hospital. Without the the best doctors, the tumor that nearly killed me might have finished the job. For all its flaws, the Affordable Care Act saved my life. When there is talk in Washington of repealing and replacing it, I always ask myself: if that had been done instead, would I be dead right now?


I wrote the above at the request of a friend, as a short opinion piece for a small publication. I realize that there are points within it worthy of a spirited debate, and there are more sides than I present. Five hundred words is not long enough to tell the whole story, but that’s all I had. Was I at fault for not acting sooner (I was without hearing in my right ear for 5 years, after all)? Would it really have been classed as a pre-existing condition, given that it was misdiagnosed? Does the fact that this happened to me counter-balance the other ethical issues, like job losses and disruptions to families, that perhaps happened elsewhere? Is the good that it did for me weight enough to make it good policy, if at the same time it encourages society to move in the wrong direction, if indeed it does that? These are all good questions, and I’m not here to answer them for anyone but myself.

What I know, however, is that even though I think parts of the ACA are less than ideal, even though I think it doesn’t go far enough, I cannot malign the Act itself on that basis. It saved my life. It is costing some people some money, and if that makes their lives difficult or impossible then that’s a bad thing. I sympathize. I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, too, and it’s tough. On the other hand, I’m living, and that means I’m better off than I might be otherwise.

Alera Nova

AleraNovaIt has been a while since I posted on this, but I’ve been quietly working on the above named RPG for the last few months. I have nailed down much of the basics; I’d like to tell you about them. There may (read: will) be spoilers below if you’ve not read the Codex Alera. Read on only if you don’t care about that.

The game is based in the world of the Codex Alera, and its mechanics are inseparable from that setting. It uses dice pools of 6-sided dice so that every roll reminds one of the 6 furies of Aleran life – Air, Earth, Fire, Metal, Water, and Wood. As well, 6 Attributes directly tied to those furies – Quickness, Strength, Passion, Resolve, Empathy and Perception – define the inherent capacities of every character. Every character starts with between 2 and 4 levels in each Attribute at character creation, with the ability to learn up to and even past the normal, unmodified maximum of 6.

Inherent capacity does not come from nowhere, however, nor is that the sole determiner of a character’s power or position within the game’s narrative. Skills also play a large role, representing those learned or earned capabilities that go beyond inherent ability to something more focused and specialized. A character learns Skills in one of two ways: through his background and through his profession. The former always stays the same while the latter can change periodically, as a character evolves and as the narrative develops. In that way, while a character’s growth is within certain limits at any given moment, in the grand scope of the chronicle a character can be or become almost anyone he wishes to be. Experience is earned as play progresses, and is spent on new Skills (or Magic, detailed below), expanding a character’s repertoire of available options. A character’s Attributes never increase through direct experience expenditures, but there are certain Skills that have the benefit of increasing Attributes.

Mundane skills are not the only options available to the peoples of Carna, however. Each character has access to magical tricks and benefits that vary according to their background. Marat characters gain power or speed or skill through their chala bond, for instance, while the Canim unleash powerful ritual sorceries to bless their allies or curse their foes. Alerans, of course, master the six branches of Furycraft, learning to smite their enemies with vicious Firecrafting or grant themselves the unnatural speed or flying abilities of advanced Aircrafting. In the years since the end of the Codex Alera, the doors to Furycrafting have been thrown wide open by the First Lord, so that even Marat or Canim may learn Furycrafting to a degree. They are not as adept at it nor do they take as naturally to it as do Alerans, but they have the option to learn at least a few powers or applications of Furycraft if they so choose.

The world has also changed a great deal in the generation since the end of the Vord War. In some ways it has grown; in other ways, it has stagnated or even gone backwards. The Canim have been given reign over two provinces within Alera Nova – the province of Shuar’a in the frozen north, and the province of Narash’a in the swampy south. The rest of the provinces within Alera Nova have been redrawn and reorganized, creating new provinces like Tiberia and Appia while erasing old ones like Ceres or Kalare. New technologies, developed by adapting the Canim war machine to Aleran use, have empowered the masses and helped fuel a generations’ long conflict between the different classes of Aleran society, between the newly- and long-freed men (not that slavery has been outlawed in all official capacities), the citizens, and the nobility. While Alera’s armies have pushed her enemies back to the swamps and ruins of old Kalare, they have stalled there for more than a decade, unable to penetrate the stinking ruins and root out for good the odd alliance of pirates, criminals, and Vord that dwell there. Rumors have even been heard of a few Marat who’ve abandoned their racial enmity toward the Vord, even going so far as to extend the chala bond to the vicious, perverse creatures. How this works, or if this is simply a ploy, remains a mystery. What is less mysterious, and more threatening, are the remains of dead Leviathans that have washed up on Alera’s beaches in the past few months. To a one their bodies were hollowed out, used as thus-far-failed transports for collections of Vord takers and spiders from, it is presumed, the captive lands of old Canea. Unable to meet this threat head-on due to failing health in his twilight years, and having lost his only heir to a disastrous military campaign, the First Lord Gaius Tavarus Magnus is in dire straits.

This uncertain hour demands new heroes. From the lands of the frozen north, the boiling south, the decadent east or the austere west, young heroes are born to the Academy, the Legions, or the Citizenry, and join together in common destiny and shared purpose. You are among them, and it may well be your choices that decide the fate of Alera Nova.