December 16, 2015

Sometimes I like to pretend I know how to draw

I know enough about art to know that I am a terrible artist. But that's okay. Some people dedicate their lives to mastering the skills, tools, and medium of art. I never had the patience or the discipline. In all honesty, one of the reasons I have always found photography to be an exciting and fascinating hobby is because it allowed me a way to communicate visually without the hard work it takes to learn drawing and painting. Nonetheless, sometimes I feel like sketching out a half-formed idea to see if I can come up details not readily available when I write. For example, trying to describe the surface of the moon without resorting to arcane scientific language and elaborate astronomical terminology. It's much easier to photograph the moon or paint a picture of it than it is to describe it in words. Unless the moon is fulfilling some kind of metaphorical role, of course, in which case it serves quite well in poetry, songwriting, and fiction without a detailed description of the craters, mountains, refracted light, and other features.

Since carrying around a bag full of art supplies is silly just for an occasional sketch, I downloaded a drawing program onto my Kindle Fire. The program is called, "Paint Pad HD" It is free to download and use. Here are the four pictures I have drawn so far. Each is followed by a brief description of how they came about.

This is December, Christmas season, so the first picture I drew was a Christmas Tree. This image was mostly intended just to familiarize myself with the program's interface. I was happy to find the interface completely in line with standard interfaces for Windows drawing programs. It lacks many of the save features, crop features, and so on that are standard nowadays, but it works perfectly well for creating one image at a time and saving it. The pictures are saved in PNG format and they include information that allows the program to run them as a short video showing each step of the creative process. I don't find the movie aspect useful, so once I offload the PNG onto my computer I convert the image to JPG, which deletes the animation information.

For my second picture I wanted to draw a winter campsite under a full moon. The first and most annoying problem I encountered was my inability to accurately target small strokes of color or darkness as accents. After I finished this picture I decided I was definitely going to have to find a stylus that worked with the Kindle touch screen. This turned out to be a much more difficult proposition than you might imagine! I don't know the technology of the touch screen. I do know that most narrow point stylus have no effect at all while the soft point stylus are no different than using a finger. Since I needed a narrow point stylus that worked on an interface designed for fingers, I could not find anything online that I could trust. Reading reviews did not help because most of the stylus designed for manipulating a touch interface are designed for use with mobile phones and no one who wrote the reviews mentioned trying to draw or write!

While I was pondering the problem of finding a suitable stylus for drawing on the Kindle Fire touch screen, my son came home for a visit. He wanted to go to Shinjuku to look for accessories for his brand new Microsoft Surface 4, so we went to an electronics shop. I happened to have my Kindle with me, so after he finished his shopping I went by the stylus display and began experimenting. It took quite a bit of searching to find a stylus that not only worked with the Kindle touch screen, it was easy to use and comfortable in my hand. This more detailed campsite was the first thing I drew with my new stylus.

Today I watched the Republican Presidential Debate on CNNj. This was, without a doubt, the looniest presidential debate I have ever seen. The candidates were arguing with one another like school children. It was embarrassing to call myself a Republican. Not only were they acting crazy, some of the ideas they were tossing around were completely unconstitutional. Almost every idea debated today, regardless of the candidate, would require expanding the size and reach of the federal government and increasing the cost. Even the anti-establishment candidates were proposing ideas in line with the old guard Republican Party. It was quite shameful. So naturally I drew a full moon in response!

December 07, 2015

A world governed by Islam

The first thing we need to establish is who this fellow is and whether he has the right to make sweeping comments about Islam. Grand Ayatollah Ahmed al Hassani al Baghdadi is a famous Iraqi scholar and cleric. Unlike their Iranian counterparts, the Iraqi Ayatollahs do not exercise direct control over the secular government. However, considering the current situation in Iraq, the Iraqi Ayatollahs probably do have more real world influence than the government does. When a tribal leader or a local politician has a question about the religious nature of a decision they must make, that leader either consults one of the Ayatollahs directly or refers to one of their publications. In a country such as Iran, the Ayatollahs are the government because the secular government operates at the mercy of the Ayatollahs. The Ayatollahs are the most important leaders at the top of the theocratic hierarchy in Shia Islam. They are the experts everyone turns to when they need answers about how Islam applies to life in the modern world. It is true that outside of Iran the ability of each nation's Ayatollahs to enforce their decisions becomes somewhat limited. However, it is equally important to note that even in countries like Jordan or Saudi Arabia many political and legislative decisions are designed to be as inoffensive as possible to the Shia leadership because if the Ayatollahs are not satisfied, they can and will inspire outbreaks of Shia or Wahhabi violence by issuing one or more "fatwa", which is a call to arms for the most conservative Muslim faithful.

Sunni Muslims are less inclined to dogmatically follow the dictates of their leaders. Most of the "modern liberal Muslims" President Obama likes to refer to are Sunni Muslims. They play modern music, wear modern clothes, the women work alongside the men, their children are raised in secular schools and taught to have secular goals. Although there are some exceptions, the majority of violent Islamic radicals responsible for modern terrorism are Shia, not Sunni. Those Sunni Muslims who do wind up terrorists are often from the Wahhabi subset, which parallels Shia in its propensity for extreme conservatism. Some terrorists who are raised in the West might not even realize which school of Islam their parents have taught them to follow since Sunni Islam accounts for the vast majority of Muslim adherents. In many cases, although not in all cases, when a Muslim raised in the West is "radicalized" what has happened is the children of a Sunni family have discovered the writings of either Shia Ayatollahs, Wahhabi evangelists, or both. However, even in a predominately Sunni country such as Saudi Arabia, many of the stricter Shia Ayatollah theologies are the deciding factor in legal circles because the country uses Shari'a as the basis for their national legal system rather than English common law or German case law. Although English common law and German case law are compatible with each other in many areas and are the basis of most modern legal systems in the West, they are both completely incompatible with the theocratic precepts of Shari'a. Western scholars neither like to recognize it nor admit it, but the writings of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels have so many parallels with Shari'a it is entirely possible that Shari'a was the inspirational basis for communism. Impossible to prove, of course, but the number of parallels is truly uncanny, especially in the treatment of the poor and the assumption that violent overthrow is necessary to impose enlightened rule on self-centered humans.

The rise of ISIS, for example, was expedited and made possible because Nouri Al-Maliki, a Shia Muslim, violated the mandate given to him by the American government. As soon as the United States removed their military from Iraq, Al-Maliki consolidated his power by driving out Sunni military officers and government bureaucrats. Many of the Iraqi Army divisions that walked off as ISIS advanced, leaving behind advanced American weapons and armor, were Sunni divisions whose commanders Al-Maliki had fired and replaced with Shia officers. Given the choice between political isolation in Iraq and political power with ISIS, they naturally chose ISIS. As a result, the ragtag and undisciplined mixed band of Shia and Wahhabi terrorists who had broken away from Al Qaeda gained a multitude of experienced, competent Sunni commanders, bureaucrats, and social leaders. Faced with a common enemy, the Shia and Sunni naturally fall into this sort of arrangement with the Shia guiding the passion of the collective and the Sunni providing the realism that keeps it functional. (See, The Historical Roots of ISIS)

If the West submits to the demands of terrorists it will have far more impact on our daily lives than a few changes in how we do business or what our children learn in school. Submission to Islam means global imposition of Shari'a. Western law, with its emphasis on individual rights and personal responsibility, will be replaced with jurisprudence defined by the Shia Ayatollahs which is then enforced by strong arm Shia and Wahhabi moral police. In Shia Islam the Ayatollahs are far more than legal scholars; they are the hand of Allah on Earth and the only ones enlightened enough to make decisions about how people should go about their lives. Scientific pursuits would be grudgingly entrusted to Sunni researchers, but the Shia Ayatollahs would decide which avenues of research were "in line with Allah's plan for humanity" and which were "the realm of Iblis that can only bring sorrow to the people of Allah". Shia Ayatollahs are recognized throughout Islam as the only source of divine wisdom on Earth. Pursuit of any field of study not marked out as acceptable by them is accompanied with either deep feelings of guilt or elaborate self-justifications. A Muslim forensic pathologist, for example, might enjoy their work immensely and believe it is important but their family and friends would be relentless in their ridicule of examining dead bodies as a career choice.

According to the Pew Research Center, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. (See, The Future of World Religions) Whether anyone likes it or not, whether ISIS is defeated or not, by 2050 it is entirely possible that Islam will control our world. Unless something changes and changes fast, our children and grandchildren will live under an Islamic Caliphate governed by Shari'a that spans the entire globe. It is less than one generation away. Either you are comfortable with this idea or you are not. It seems to me that if you are, you have not fully grasped just how dramatically different life would be under global Shari'a. This is more than just brutal punishments for crime and women being forbidden from driving. Global Shari'a means the number of children you are allowed to have, where you are allowed to live, what kind of work you are allowed to do, and the upper limit of your earning potential would all be dictated by Shia Ayatollahs and enforced by Sunni bureaucracies. Space exploration will completely cease, or at the absolute best, be limited to unmanned orbital satellites which make it easier for the government to monitor and control the population to insure everyone is conforming to "the Prophet's divine guidelines for happiness and prosperity of all".

If you think greedy capitalists are harsh taskmasters, just wait until you are forced to live under the dictates of the Ayatollahs!

Wikipedia: Shia Islam
Wikipedia: Sunni Islam
Wikipedia: Wahhabism
Crethiplethi: The Historical Roots of ISIS
Pew Reasearch: The Future of World Religions
The Guardian: ISIS Constitution for a Global Government
American Enterprise Institute: A Global Strategy for Combating Terrorism

December 03, 2015

Gun control did not work in San Bernardino

State of California
Department of Justice
Bureau of Firearms

Fox News: Mass Shooting in San Bernardino

Everything the anti-Second Amendment crowd dreams of at the national level already exists in the State of Kalifornia. They require background checks for every transfer of a firearm, they require background checks to purchase ammunition, they have a list of "approved" firearms and anything not on the list is considered illegal, "high capacity" magazines are prohibited, and they even have a registration requirement for "assault weapons", although it only applies to weapons sold before the current statewide ban on the sale of new assault weapons went into effect. If gun control people are demanding it, Kalifornia has already implemented it, and yet none of those laws were able to prevent yesterday's ruthless slaughter of 35 people (14 killed, 21 wounded - not including the two killers).

So why are we still arguing about gun control? I honestly don't understand why we are still having this debate. Clearly Kalifornia's "superior quality" firearm's regulations are not doing the job which gun control advocates promised us they would do. It seems plainly obvious to me that all of Kalifornia's draconian restrictions on the basic freedom of self-defense did absolutely nothing to either prevent this horrible massacre or lessen the ability of two people to engage in mass slaughter. Seriously, can there be any clearer example of the delusional nature of gun control? And yet, even though none of the existing laws accomplished anything, the first response of tens of millions of people in Kalifornia and across the nation is to demand even more gun control! I don't understand! I'm sorry, but none of this makes any sense to me at all. How will punishing law-abiding gun owners prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again? If everything already in place does nothing to prevent two people from walking into a Christmas banquet and brutally slaughtering 35 people, how will adding more laws prevent the next tragedy? Nothing short of going daily from house to house confiscating weapons and destroying them will make a difference, and even then, anyone inspired to commit mass murder needs simply to rent a truck, load a barrel of ammonia next to a barrel of bleach, drive into a busy intersection and dump them over the side.

We can't control people with laws. The only thing laws accomplish is to set out a system of punishments and retributions to apply after the fact. Writing a law does not prevent anyone from doing anything. It only punishes them for it after they have already accomplished whatever nefarious purpose they can imagine. The purpose of the law is to lay out the standards for civilized behavior and punish those who refuse to conform. That's it! Law neither controls behavior nor prevents people from being destructive. It is impossible to control the choices another person makes. That is the simple reality of life. People think their own thoughts, arrive at their own conclusions, and engage in behaviors that result from their own internal choices. We will never have utopia because it is impossible to control the choices another person makes. It simply will never happen. Not even the best propaganda supported by carefully drugged water can completely control a population of people. Individuals will always ask "why?" and then refuse to drink the water you provide them. Complete mind control is a fiction, a dream, and a delusion. If population control were possible then everyone in the world would wear Nike shoes and Levi's jeans.

You can, however, make a huge difference as an individual. If you treat everyone you meet with respect and courtesy, if you compliment with sincerity and scold with restraint, if you negotiate before you demand, if you treat people the way you want to be treated, then you can reduce the likelihood someone around you will be driven to the point they pick up a gun and start shooting people at random. You can not stop it from ever happening again. There will always be one or two people out of every hundred who simply cannot believe the courtesies and compassion they receive are genuine. I'm sorry, but it is true: you can't please everyone. It is important to try, but it is also important to realize some individuals are insane and cannot respond in positive, constructive ways. This is also why it is impossible to legislate good behavior. It just cannot be done.

I cannot force the world to read my blog. I cannot even force the people to do read my blog to accept the things I write. Even if my influence spread far enough and high enough to have laws written requiring everyone in the world to read my blog, it would not work. Some people would simply open the page, stare at the words, and think about something else. We cannot write laws that will stop people from being violent. The only thing we can do is write laws that punish those who engage in violence. It is possible to make self-defense illegal. Just look at the United Kingdom. It has become routine in the U.K. to prosecute burglary and assault victims who dare to defend themselves. Consider Saudi Arabia, where rape victims are routinely punished under laws governing adultery. Is that the extreme we wish to achieve in the United States? Already in many of our schools if children defend themselves against bullies it is the victim who is expelled while the bully is free to continue terrorizing the class. The slaughter in San Bernardino clearly demonstrates that something similar has happened with Kalifornia's gun control culture. The victims are the ones who were denied the right to choose violence in response to the violence of their attackers. The attackers had absolutely no restriction on their ability to exercise a violent choice, but the victims had no freedom to respond with equal violence. The only choices the victims had were die, flee, or hide. For 35 of them, two of those choices were denied to them by the combination of the attacker's violent choices and the laws put in place by the People of the State of California to "protect" them from gun violence.

Is it irony or insanity that the laws designed to protect the victims of the San Bernardino massacre made them victims?

November 16, 2015

That's Compassion

So let me see if I understand this correctly:

Freedom of choice murders around 1.2 million unborn Americans every single year. That's compassion.

Iraqi Yazidi and Christian refugees cannot be accepted into the United States because they should stay in their homeland and help the Iraqi government fight ISIS. That's compassion.

Syrian Yazidi and Christian refugees cannot be accepted into the United States because we don't have room for them. That's compassion.

100,000 Syrian Muslim refugees must be allowed to enter the United States even though we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that some of them will be terrorists, because that's compassion.

Half a million illegal immigrants coming across the southern border every year must be allowed access to schools, hospitals, and public utilities even though they have already broken our laws by entering without permission and even though we know some of them are murderers, rapists, drug dealers, and Middle Eastern terrorists, and even though they cannot and will not pay taxes to use those schools, hospitals, and public utilities, because that's compassion.

1 in 4 young black men must remain unemployed, and 1 in 3 black single mothers must receive taxpayer supported monthly checks and other assistance instead of looking for work because jobs have to be found for the 20 million illegal aliens already here, the 100,000 Syrian Muslim refugees coming here, and anybody else the "government" decides to hire to sit at a desk in a climate controlled office and insult taxpayers, because that's compassion.

50,000 American war veterans will sleep in the streets of our cities tonight because we're spending so much money taking care of illegal aliens and Muslim refugees that we don't have enough left to provide them food, shelter, clothing, and mental health care. That's compassion.

A fast-food worker must receive a "living wage" even though a soldier, an EMT, a rookie police officer, a secretary in a large corporation, a background and set piece artist in Hollywood, a journeyman mechanic, a gas station attendant, a table server, a bartender, most retail sales people, and most factory workers do not, because that's compassion.

When a white police officer kills a black criminal it is clear evidence of systemic racism, but when a black officer kills a white criminal or when a black gangster kills a black child, that's just a form of "acting out" and we must try harder to understand the stresses of their oppressed life, because that's compassion.

Sure. I guess that makes sense. After all, that's compassion.

November 14, 2015

A Deadly, Persistent Swarm of Gnats Revisited

Fox News: At least 150 people killed in Paris Terror Attack

As I write this post, French police are cordoning off Paris streets, counting bodies, and trying to figure out how to mobilize enough forensics people to investigate at least six, and possibly seven different crime scenes. In one of those bizarre episodes of synchronicity that haunt my life, it just so happens that while the terrorists were moving into position to begin their attack I was writing about terrorism in a game forum. One of the many concepts that popped up in that thread was the idea that terrorists are just another kind of criminal. They might be a bit more ruthless, they might be driven by zealotry, but many people believe there is no difference between a terrorist and a serial killer. Completely unaware of the horror about to be unleashed on Paris streets, I replied:

This is a badly mistaken assumption that has been propagandized relentlessly by elements in society that do not understand the nature of terrorism in general, and Islamic terrorism in particular. Every terrorist has a political objective. Period. That objective might be a cover or disguise for simple wealth gathering or sadism (as in the Die Hard series), but this is extremely unusual and I can say with complete confidence it is not something I have ever encountered in the real world. All terror organizations are political in nature, even when they use religious justification for their actions. Terrorists are soldiers in a war with a specific agenda and terror is the strategy they use to fight that war. They are not the same as serial killers, serial rapists, drug dealers, grifters, or common thugs. It is a dangerous mistake to attempt to understand their organizations and motivations using the same thinking as one applies to understanding the criminal mind. They are not criminals. They are soldiers.

Because their goals and objectives are political, they are armies and not gangs. Granted, some of them are poorly organized and poorly equipped, but that does not make them thugs. Their motivations are completely different. Their emotional and psychological weaknesses are completely different. Their entire internal landscape is completely different. When you think of them as criminals you make it easier for them to accomplish their objectives because you put in place entirely ineffective and inefficient security measures. You cannot stop terrorism by using the same tools as you would use for fighting crime. Doing so just makes their job easier because they assume right from the beginning that they will have to find a way to avoid those kind of security measures. Because they think and plan differently than criminals, they simply go around security measures designed to stop crime. In most cases, it doesn't even slow them down.

This morning I was just as horrified as the citizens of Paris to discover the lessons from Mumbai had not been applied. Back in November 2008 the city of Mumbai experienced our world's first swarm attack by Islamic terrorists. (Wikipedia: 2008 Mumbai Attacks) Although I and many other people pointed out that this would be the trend of future terror operations, no one paid attention. (Brian's Meandering Mind, March 4, 2009: A Deadly, Persistent Swarm of Gnats) In January of this year, Islamic terrorists fired another shot across the bow with a two-point swarm attack on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. (Wikipedia: Charlie Hebdo Shooting) Once again I pointed out that swarm attacks would become regular occurrences as nimble terror groups using the global internet to recruit and teach strategy to Islamic radicals worldwide inspired local radicals in diverse locations to take action against the modern world. (Brian's Meandering Mind, January 8, 2015: Irony and Hypocrisy) This strategy is going to become far more widespread and frequent as the lessons from each new attack are learned by terrorist leaders.

One approach is to improve government access to the infamous "Darknet" by providing law enforcement and intelligence services with the tools they need to break through high levels of encryption and gain access to internet traffic flowing between foreign Islamic terror groups and local recruits. (Info Security Magazine: Countering the Terrorism Cyber-threat) As governments gain better access to tools for breaking encryption, Darknet providers and hackers improve their own tool sets to protect their hidden domains and social networks. (Rollingstone: Is the Government Destroying the "Wild West" of the Internet?) Focusing on cyberwarfare is an important approach to breaking down the communication networks used by terrorists to recruit, plan, and execute global attacks, but cyberwarfare alone is not enough.

In order for a swarm attack to succeed, several factors must come together all at the same time. The attackers need a source of weapons and ammunition. They need transportation to the attack site, and possibly transportation away from the attack site. To coordinate distractions and diversions they need constant, real-time communication in addition to secondary personnel willing to conduct these secondary attacks. However, the single most important element in a successful swarm attack is a compliant, defenseless target that concentrates large numbers of helpless people in a confined space. In the case of the Mumbai terror attack, the principle target was the railway station. It was only after succeeding there that the attackers moved into the city to their secondary objectives of hotels, cafes, and bars. In Paris, a variety of small attacks and drive-by shootings provided the diversion necessary for three terrorists to slaughter a massive number of people in a packed concert hall. Numerous witnesses emerged from the concert hall reporting that the terrorists had at least fifteen minutes to fire indiscriminately into the tightly packed crowd and then to search through the concert hall for hidden survivors. Fifteen minutes is more than enough time for a skilled AK-47 shooter to unleash a couple thousand rounds at a wide variety of targets, particularly if those targets are in close proximity to one another.

There are two ways to counter a swarm attack: put up an obstacle that is impossible for the attackers to scale and/or provide a much higher level of response by the target than the attackers anticipate. The problem with the first strategy is that no matter how good your obstacle is, sooner or later there will be enough attackers to swarm over it and around it and reach the target. Increasing the number of law enforcement, providing law enforcement better equipment, pre-positioning law enforcement at possible targets, and even restricting access by ordinary citizens to weapons and ammunition are all examples of building bigger obstacles. With time, planning, and careful execution, all of these obstacles can be surmounted by a determined team of attackers. It is impossible to stop a swarm attack simply by erecting obstacles. Notice, for example, how badly this strategy has failed in Israel. (Haaretz: Gazans Work to Repair Flooded Smuggling Tunnels)

That leaves us with the second option: provide a much higher level of response by the target than the attackers anticipate.

Sooner or later swarm attacks by terrorists will happen in the United States. It is inevitable. We are, after all, "The Great Satan" that every single Islamic terror group in the world seeks to destroy. Naturally, even governments like Iran and North Korea would like to see the United States implode from our enduring flirtation with utopian delusions. When those attacks begin, they will target "Gun-free Zones" with dense crowds. Shopping malls, NFL/MLB stadiums, as well as arenas for basketball, hockey, and concerts will all be high priority targets. Broadway theaters, Wall Street corporate headquarters, subway and train stations would also be viable targets because all of them restrict access points while demanding people disarm before entering. "Shooting fish in a barrel" is what happened at the concert hall in Paris and it is also what will happen when terrorists finally start attacking targets in America.

I suggest we start arming the fish.

Expanding concealed carry in the United States is the only viable strategy for countering swarm attacks by terrorists. Back in August three Americans and one Briton thwarted a lone wolf terror attack on a French train. (NY Post: How American Heroes Stopped a Terrorist) The most important response to a swarm attack will not come from law enforcement racing to assist, nor from armed guards pre-positioned to respond. In any small arms based ground attack, the most important first responders are the intended victims. How many lives could have been saved if only five concert attendees in Paris had been armed? Even if they died in the resulting shootout, armed civilians in the audience could have provided precious minutes for greater numbers of people to escape through the emergency exits. When a swarm attack does finally occur in the United States, your only hope for survival will be either the ability to immediately respond with a firearm of your own or the presence of someone else with a legal concealed weapon. If the intended victims respond with gunfire of their own then the swarm attackers will be unable to press their attack and will be forced to delay, retreat, or accept fewer casualties than they planned to achieve.

This is also why I advocate for the entire world to codify local equivalents to our Second Amendment. It is only when every citizen is armed that terrorists and criminals both must ask themselves if dying to achieve little or nothing is really worth the effort of planning and execution. It takes months to plan a Mumbai or Paris-style swarm attack. It takes tens of thousands of dollars to secure weapons, ammunition, and transportation. If a terrorist group or even a criminal group knows their intended victims are likely to return fire and end their attack before it even starts, they will be far less likely to invest the time and money into setting up the attack in the first place. This will force them to fall back on car bombs, suitcase bombs, and other indiscriminate weapons which can be more easily detected and prevented from arriving on the scene. As we saw recently in Egypt, terrorists are still more than happy to look for ways to bring down airliners filled with people. (International Business Times: Metrojet Flight 9268 Crash Update) We have already put in place countless obstacles to planting a bomb on an airliner and yet this is still a viable strategy for anyone seeking to create massive casualties with minimal investment. The very least we could do is not make the same mistake in our efforts to thwart the much simpler to counter swarm attack.

As I pointed out in a game forum last night, we cannot fight terrorism using the same kind of thinking we use when fighting crime. Terrorists are smarter, better equipped, and more prone to developing detailed plans than criminals. The vast majority of crimes are crimes of opportunity or passion. They are unplanned forays into simple overpowering of the prey by the criminal predator. Like all predators, the criminal seeks out the weakest victim in the most vulnerable position, then strikes and walks off with their reward. Terrorists have a much different objective. They are seeking to make a political statement and achieve a political goal. In order to do this, they will invest as little resources as possible in creating the maximum amount of terror. Remember the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? (Wikipedia: Boston Marathon Bombing) After running over and abandoning his brother, the surviving terrorist eluded a 30 hour manhunt involving seven different law enforcement agencies, thousands of law enforcement officers, and costing untold millions of dollars. He was finally found cowering in a boat by a civilian several hours after the search was called off. Tens of thousands of Americans were imprisoned in their own homes "for their own protection" while militarized law enforcement teams combed their hometown only to completely fail in their primary objective: arresting a single poorly armed terror suspect. This is what happens when we use the same kind of thinking to pursue a terrorist as we would to pursue a common criminal.

Creating obstacles to terrorism has completely failed. The time has come to allow the intended victims the opportunity to arm and train themselves in preparation for that fateful day when they encounter a terrorist face to face. We cannot stop a swarm attack with better policing. A swarm attack can only be stopped by the first person on the scene: the intended victim.

November 11, 2015

Internet Meme Red Cup Death Match

Atheists are yelling at Christians who in turn are yelling at Starbucks over the redesign of their winter season paper cup. Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about. All I see is this:

Ten Days to Collapse of the Global Order

Please read this editorial by Greg Littell. Seriously. Go read it, then come back:
The Idea of Armed Rebellion in the US is Ludicrous


Mr. Littell, you are a delusional fool.
This is how an insurgency in the United States will unfold.

Day One: Local law enforcement backed up by National Guard attempt to confiscate the illegal firearms held by a community following the passage of an expansive "safe firearm ownership" law. Much to everyone's mutual surprise, a small group of 15-20 gun owners have barricaded themselves inside a well-fortified stone house owned by one of the wealthier members of a local "assault weapons fan club". In the ensuing firefight, all of the gun club members are killed, along with over 200 law enforcement officers and National Guard soldiers.

Day Two: A memorial service for the fallen members of the gun club erupts into violence as two factions of the club begin shooting at one another in a dispute over the "reasonable new law" and the "murder of our family and friends" that rapidly escalates out of control. Dozens die in the ensuing firefight and it takes several hours for local law enforcement to restore order.

Day Three: All across the nation local militias begin to call in their members and organize defense protocols just in case such a law is passed in their local community.

Day Four: News Networks and the internet are ablaze with calls for a national version of the local law that led to the initial firefight because obviously owners of "assault weapons" are violent, criminally insane psychopaths who cannot be trusted.

Day Five: State legislatures all across the nation along with both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate begin debating similar laws to "disarm these potential terrorists in our midst". Many of the laws are passed immediately in late night sessions where opposing members are held outside the chambers by force of arms.

Day Six: A retired military officer along with a couple active duty flag officers begin making the rounds of talk shows calling for communities to peacefully accept the new laws. Other retired military (but no one on duty military because they have been silenced by their commanders) refute the call for peace and demand these "unconstitutional restrictions on the Second Amendment" be vetoed by governors everywhere.

Day Seven: Several states where the laws have passed begin immediate programs to confiscate "assault weapons and other military hardware" but to their surprise, law enforcement and National Guard troops raid armories instead and take the stolen weapons to their fellow "gun nuts".

Day Eight: In anticipation of confiscation, armed bands surround police stations and National Guard armories demanding the new proposed legislation be opposed by governors. Violence breaks out in cities all across America. Millions of members of the American military join up with flag officers who oppose the new laws and begin planning ways to avoid compliance. Some of these meetings are broken up by Military Police and Shore Patrols, often with violent consequences.

Day Nine: Violence escalates through the ranks of the military and across the nation as the two opposing sides refuse to negotiate with "tyrants" in the other camp.

Day Ten: Russia invades those Eastern European and Central Asian nations that have refused to join the Russian Federation. China invades Taiwan and Japan. North Korea invades South Korea with support from China. Israel sends tanks and soldiers into The West Bank, the Gaza Strip, South Lebanon, and the Sinai Peninsula. Iran responds with Russian backing by launching a missile barrage on Israel.

It might not be ten days. There is every possibility it could take anywhere from ten hours to ten months, depending on what comes beforehand. Nonetheless, if gun control advocates continue in their blind efforts to limit the access of law abiding Americans to their God-given right to possess the best self-defense tools available to the modern world, then civil war in America leading inevitably to global chaos will be the final result. The balance of global power is a very delicate thing. Many people hate the United States of America not for historical brutality, but for the linchpin function they serve in the modern balance of power. If this linchpin collapses because half the nation simply cannot accept the personal value structures of the other half, then the entire world will collapse into chaos.

A free, strong United States of America is the power that holds the ambitions of other national leaders in check. Remove that influence by an internal civil war and the entire global house of cards implodes. I don't like this reality any more than anyone else does, but I will not pretend it is not true. This stupid debate over gun rights has the potential to destabilize our entire world and the fault does not lie with those who enjoy firearm ownership. This danger to our world is being funded and propagated by people in all walks of life who simply do not understand that free people enjoy the right to be armed while slaves do not. There are too many people in modern America who long to be slaves. This is not a racial issue. It just so happens that the vast majority of these people are middle-class white Americans who have surrendered their right to free speech, their right to religious freedom, and their right to self-defense to "experts" in government, in churches, and in education. Too many of us have simply stopped taking responsibility for our own future because it is so much easier to rely on "experts".

The worst truth of all, and the one that everyone ignores, is this: there are influential people on both sides of the debate who honestly believe that triggering an American civil war and collapsing the existing world order would be a good idea. Those people are fools. They do not understand the consequences of the chaos they are seeking.

November 05, 2015

Making a difference

I am getting really disgusted by people on social media passing around pictures of idyllic country settings with a silly caption such as "For $1 million would you live here for one month without internet or cell phone?"

I don't care how addicted you think you are, in all my journeys around this great big world of ours I have never met a single person who would refuse such an offer, which is exactly why such an offer will never be made.

This, however, is an offer that is easy to find, if you have the courage to accept it and the discipline to follow through:

And just to get you started, here are five places that will happily point you in the right direction to use your current skills to make a real difference in the lives of children growing up in our world's poorest neighborhoods:
Teach English in Africa
97 Trusted Volunteer Projects
Traveller's Worldwide List of Volunteer Organizations
Hints for Teaching with Limited Resources

So if you really want to challenge your ability to live without daily necessities while drawing a pay check and making a difference, now's your chance.

Photo source: Votavo

October 30, 2015

The Quiet Apocalypse

I don't think we need to worry about a zombie apocalypse, although to some extent one has already begun. Reports of individuals who strip naked, find a victim and begin munching on their victim's still living body because they are high on "bath salts" or some other modern designer drug seem to have become a weekly occurrence. At this point in time there is so much chaos in the world that a Biblical Apocalypse, if it arrives, might prove to be more of a salvation than a fearsome day of judgement. Recently we've been through near misses from world-ending meteors, Ragnarok, close of the Mayan long calendar, and a dozen other prophetic end times, but none of them seem to have been very spectacular. Even the Muslim world is convinced their own final judgement is about to fall upon us. One of the driving factors behind the dramatic and bloody increase in terrorism is the widespread belief the "12th Imam" has already arrived somewhere on Earth and is preparing to lead the world into a glorious Islamic utopia. In order to hasten that day, many fundamental Muslims leaders believe they have a sacred duty to encourage the spread of violence and chaos directed at "infidels" within both the Muslim world and the greater world that surrounds them.

In contrast to the horrific fire and ice visions of most apocalyptic seers, we have entered a very real apocalypse that every single day is drawing us closer and closer to a world without people, or at the very least, a world with only a handful of people scavenging among the ruins of modern civilization. This apocalypse has not been announced with trumpets or rising oceans, but has instead shown up as curious, disbelieving footnotes scattered here and there among the Kardashians latest meltdown, the newest American Idol, and the American Women's Soccer team winning the World Cup. The clearest hint of this quiet apocalypse is the cataclysmic fall in birthrates throughout most of the world:
Japan Times: Fertility Rate Dips Again
The Guardian: Europe's Demographic Disaster
Market Watch: America's Falling Fertility Rate
Washington Post: China Abandons One-Child Policy

Another hidden aspect of the very real apocalypse we are facing is one that few people are comfortable discussing. Pornography has driven the growth of the internet and in many ways, has become the leading source of both technical and social innovations in our world. Hidden with the shadows of this world of sex cams, amateur video sites, and adult dating communities, a startling new technology has arisen and gone largely unnoticed. Thanks in large part to a company called, True Companion, sex bots have arrived and sales are booming. As you can see in the video above, Real Dolls the number one producer of realistic silicon sex dolls, is not far behind and will be offering their own sex bot in the very near future.

In case you missed it in between your morning espresso, your evening reality television show, and your late night sexy video chat, more and more young people are avoiding the divorce gravy train by simply opting out of marriage. As the LGBT movement becomes more normal than heterosexuality, divorcees become players or cougars, and young people simply stop creating new families, alternatives to procreation are rapidly becoming mainstream culture, even though no one is willing to acknowledge it. Feminists spread hatred of men, men reject modern women as "psycho", and suddenly a robotic companion is not only a possibility, but an absolute preference. Birth rates fall, and instead of panicking over the demise of the species everyone celebrates having avoided a dystopian future of massive overpopulation, starvation, and cataclysmic levels of industrial pollution. In our race to save the Earth we have doomed humanity and absolutely no one has awoken to this dire trend. Men and women are so busy hating one another's imperfections, trying to control one another's daily behavior, and arguing over reality television, that they have stopped having children. In another generation or two, perhaps three if we are really lucky and birth rates in the Muslim world hold steady as they abandon fundamentalism and develop their own version of modernization, people will become an endangered species. The extinction of humanity is upon us and not only have we failed to recognize it, many of our political and academic leaders are celebrating it.

Over the past year I am finding fewer and fewer internet sites dedicated to dating or finding a life mate. There are still some, but they are falling by the wayside. The core social movement I am seeing is a proliferation of "social networking" sites dedicated not to bringing people together, but to providing forums for countless voices that have completely given up on finding a life mate, having children of their own, and continuing humanity's march into the future. The prevailing trends are toward virtual sex, casual sex, replacement sex (dolls, toys, robots), and the proliferation of same sex couples seeking to adopt children from impoverished nations in order to "give them a better life". Young women who find themselves pregnant are more inclined to abort their child, or simply take an abortifacient the day after either casual sex or unwanted sex. Rape victims are now routinely given abortifacients, and victims of date rape can simply request them at the local pharmacy counter. For some reason the modern world has learned to abhor both procreative relationships and children themselves. Many young people now see children the way young people of my generation looked at cats, namely as, "wonderful creatures, provided they belong to somebody else because I don't need one".

October 25, 2015

The limits of digital enhancement

A camera lens, whether digital or traditional, refracts the light as it passes through. In some areas this refraction is so small is it not noticeable to the human eye. These are the areas we think of as "focused". If you blow the picture up large enough or zoom in close enough, you will quickly see that even in perfect focus, at a high enough resolution the image blurs.

This is a picture of a street in Koenji, Japan. For this article I have reduced it to 372x250, but that is the only change. As you can see, it is quite detailed with different fabrics in the store display and so on.

For example, here is a 372x250 area cut from the center of the picture at the original resolution.

Now watch what happens when I take this cropped portion, enlarge it to the same size as the original, and then take a 372x250 crop from the enlarged image.

It does not matter how expensive your camera and lens are, or how high the resolution of your digital image, at some point the result will be the same. If you enlarge the picture enough, it is reduced to a meaningless blur. Digital enhancement can help, but it cannot replace data that does not exist. The less well-focused the original image is, the greater the likelihood digital enhancement will have no impact at all.

Yes, I know, that's not how it works on your favorite crime drama. Such is the advantage of fiction over reality.

The natural refractive qualities of the lens and limits of the resolution of your recording media (whether digital or traditional) result in "circles of confusion" where the recording media simply cannot correctly record the light. These circles of confusion can be small and compact, creating a focused image, or loose and malformed, creating an unfocused image. It does not matter how good your photo enhancement software is, there is no substitute for a clearly focused original. At best, the software can increase contrast between each circle of confusion creating the illusion of sharper focus. The smaller and more compact these circles are, the better the end result when the software increases contrast.

A hundred years from now, things might be different. Resolutions will be high enough and substitution algorithms smart enough that the digital enhancement software will someday be able to create an image from a blurry mass, but those days are a long way off and even then, there will be inaccuracies.

Last but not least, here is the original image at the full resolution. (You'll have to click on this thumbnail to see it.)

October 12, 2015

Adventures in photography

A couple of weeks ago I got drawn into a Q&A site called, "Quora". I read around a hundred photography questions and answered several of them, although I'm not sure how many. In reading through dozens of different questions and hundreds of different answers I was struck by how little mention was made of something I consider to be a fundamental skill for any serious photographer: vision.

Photography is all about capturing light. When you photograph a scene, you aren't really capturing the scene itself. After all, once you click the shutter, the scene is still right there in front of you, so you haven't taken anything away from it. A photograph, whether digital or film, captures a tiny slice of the light reflecting off the scene and back to the photographer. This is important to realize because whereas a physical scene can sometimes be very difficult to manipulate (ever tried moving an elephant?), the light that is reflecting back to you is extremely easy to bend, shape, color, blend, remove, add to, or otherwise manipulate in millions of different ways. But to recognize the light, first you must develop your vision.

This is a temple in a park in Tokyo on a sunny spring day when the cherry blossoms were about 50% of peak bloom. This is how everyone sees the scene. This is how most people photograph the scene. A photographer, on the other hand, needs to see that this one scene contains countless possible photos. Some of those photos will be quite dramatic, some of them will be quite boring. This first, general photograph, as you can plainly see, is rather boring.

Look at the light. Not the temple, the light. The light reflecting from the tile roof is very harsh, washing out most of the color. The light in the foreground vegetation is very dark, reducing much of the shrubbery to a dark emerald mass. The light from the pond surface is a gradient shifting naturally from dark green to almost pure white. Some of this is easier to see if we reduce the scene to monochrome.

By reducing the scene to shades of gray it immediately becomes apparent what the problem is: there is too much contrast in the temple, too little in the water and shrubbery. There is so much gray water and shrubbery the temple itself has nearly vanished! The walls are so dark they have no character at all, while the roof is almost completely washed out.

This is why many photography courses encourage students to begin their study by taking pictures in black and white rather than color. When a photograph is reduced to shades of gray, it is much easier to recognize what it is you are actually seeing. Your vision is forced to recognize the degree to which your subject is or is not clearly visible and dramatically presented.

So what is it I am trying to capture in this photo? Is it the wall of shrubbery? Is it the sweeping lines of the roof? Is it the stately temple? Is it, perhaps, the cluster of turtles on a rock in the middle of the pond? Perhaps what I am really trying to photograph is the pond itself and the way it shifts from nearly black near the temple to very light gray at my feet? All of these are possible, each of them has the potential to be dramatic and stirring, but what is it about this scene my mind's eye has been drawn to and I am seeking to record?

Every serious photographer who looks at this scene will seek to emphasize something different. They will compose and expose their photo in a way that goes beyond simple reality and transforms the reflected light into a metaphor that can carry their emotion to the people who later see the photo. Learning to see the real subject you want to convey is the first step in this process. It is not something easily taught, but it is something easily learned.

You learn to see by taking the time to experiment with seeing. The first time I stood in this spot and took this photo was in 1986. I was using a Pentax K1000, a simple fully manual 35mm camera with a fixed 50mm lens. I was still new to photography and I used two 36 exposure rolls of film just on this one scene trying to figure what exactly it was I was feeling and seeking to communicate. Many years later, in March of 2012, this was the first picture I took:

In 2012 I had practiced enough and developed my vision well enough that I could see in my mind the exact picture I wanted. The fresh colors of spring, the renewal of life, the permanence of the temple contrasted with the effervescence of the still only half bloomed cherry trees. That was what I was seeing. That was what I wanted to capture and share.

I went on to take about two dozen photos of the same scene. The first one captured the emotion of the scene, the others provided me a context for the scene to help me remember why this little slice had been so important to me. The key lesson that I learned in all those years from 1986 to 2012, was to find in any given scene those elements which captured the real vision in my mind.

I had to learn how to see what was in front of me in order to more clearly photograph the emotion I wanted to convey to others.

October 02, 2015

The NRA Represents My Interests

I do not want to be writing this post. I need to vacuum my apartment. I have two novels and a short story collection to develop. I have friends to send comforting messages to. My wife is coming home from a business trip in a few hours. I need to get things ready for her arrival. But here I am, once again, defending my inalienable, God-given right to self-defense from lies and vicious innuendo delivered with profound emotional drama by the leader of the free world in a blatant attempt to humiliate and degrade a group of honest, law-abiding people whose rights he seeks to curtail. And I thought George Bush had the makings of a tyrant! This man makes Bush's attempts to rule by decree seem clumsy and childish.

Let me start with a couple of extremely important facts the President of the United States went on television and deliberately lied about to the American people. That's right. He lied! He stood in front of the nation's news media and with a straight face told the people false "facts" and imaginary "logic". In order to advance his agenda of taking yet another step down the road to disarming the American people, he lied straight into the camera and through the camera into living rooms all across our nation. He knows these things are not true, and yet, he repeats them every single chance he gets.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report and the CDC National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the three most violent states in the nation in terms of crime, including gun crime, are Maryland, Illinois, and California. These three states also have some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. The only two places with stricter regulations are Washington D.C. and New York State. So, the simple reality of the situation is that those states which have the longest waiting periods, mandatory background checks at every firearm transfer (closing the so-called, "gun show loophole") and the harshest penalties for illegal possession of a firearm or use of a firearm in commission of a crime, also have the most violent crimes by both gross totals and per capita rates. They also have the most crimes and suicides involving a firearm. The situation is so bad that if you remove those three states from the figures, America jumps from the 26th safest nation in the world to the absolute safest nation in the world by a huge margin. California, Maryland, and Illinois also have the longest history of successive Democratic Party controlled State and local governments. Everybody from the governor down to the dog catcher either is a Democrat or was a Democrat until very recently. The fact is, Democrats and gun control breed crime like a housing project breeds rats. The reason is simple, if enough voters depend on the government to feed their families and pay their bills, then the people cannot remove the controlling party from power because if they do, they will no longer have access to tax credits, subsidies, and supplemental incomes that make it possible for them to survive from month to month. This is true slavery. These three states are a textbook example of a peasant population completely dependent on an established elite who are protected from revolt through an exclusive monopoly on tools of violence.

Oregon is not far behind the top five in terms of gun control laws and a population that depends on government patronage to survive. If it were not for Oregon's many rural communities whose livelihood depends on farming, hunting, and fishing, it probably would have followed California and Washington State down the merry path to tyranny a long time ago. This shooting took place in one of the states that has implemented at the state level every single aspect of the gun control laws the President and his supporters would like to secure at the national level. Oregon already has in place all of the gun control Obama wants to pass and yet Oregon is the place where this shooting has occurred. Did the President mention this simple fact in his passionate call for more "common sense" gun control? Of course not. He ignored the real facts and stated unequivocally, "The states with the least restrictive gun control laws also have the highest rates of gun crime."

He lied. There is no way to sugar coat this. It was a deliberate and intentional lie.

It does not surprise me that the President wants more gun control. He reversed himself on that issue not ten minutes after the results of the November 2008 election were finalized. What disturbs me greatly and prompted me to spend time on this blog post rather than getting done the things that are far more important to me personally is the way he could stand there in front of the nation, and really, the entire world, and lie about the facts. Lying about his position I expect, but facts are facts, you can't mold them and change them and make them up just to suit your position. He knows the facts. He has the facts hand delivered with his morning coffee every single day. Yet, somehow he can stand there with a perfectly straight face and pour out lies and imagination without even blinking an eye or dipping his head. The man truly is a master deceiver. Either that, or he believes his own lies, in which case he is delusional. One or the other must be true. If he can lie like that with the entire world watching him then he is either a grand liar or a delusional maniac. Of the two, I'd much rather believe he is a pathological liar. Delusional and big red buttons is a really bad combination.

I don't know what triggered this shooting. Knowing how our media works, I probably never will know. At least, not until long after the facts of the case are closed and someone has written a book about it. I do know a very strange rumor popped up a few hours after the gunfire died down and the ambulances rolled away. This rumor claimed that "an eyewitness at the scene" had seen the shooter line people up against a wall and demand to know what religion they followed. If they were Christian, he shot them in the head. If they were not, he either shot them in the leg are passed right by them. I have been online a very long time. I know these kind of rumors and conspiracies always flare up after a tragic event. Nonetheless, it began to be repeated by select news services that are more reliable than most when it comes to internet reporting. So I went digging. Unless she has taken it down, the result of my search is the Tweet at the top of the page. This is where the rumor started. A young woman posted a Tweet saying that her Grandmother who was in the room where the shooting took place saw the shooter do these things. Since it would be easy for her to remove the Tweet, I will quote it below.

5:32 AM - 2 Oct 2015

The shooter was lining people up and asking if they were christian. If they said yes, then they were shot in the head. If they said no, or didn't answer, then they were shot in the legs. My grandma just got to my house, and she was in the room. She wasnt shot, but she is very upset. She tried to perform CPR on her friend, but it was too late. I hope nothing like this ever happens again. #UCCShooting

While it is true that this is a secondhand report and eyewitnesses to an event can be mistaken about what they see or hear, I don't think either limitation applies here. This strikes me as an honest retelling of an event in simple, straight-forward language. I believe this is what happened inside that room as the shooting unfolded. I don't know why this man had such a deep hatred of Christianity that he felt compelled to go out and kill unarmed Christians in a local college. I only know that according to at least one eyewitness, that is exactly what happened. For reasons of his own, he loaded up his guns along with a good supply of ammo, drove to a local college, walked into a classroom, and began demanding to know who the Christians were so he could kill them. Anyone reading this blog can certainly understand the possible ramifications of this Tweet. Clearly, this shooting has nothing to do with firearm ownership, legal or otherwise. This was a lone individual with a deep-seated hatred of a particular religion. If he had not had firearms he simply would have whipped up a homemade bomb, mixed up some ammonia and bleach, or used one of the hundreds of other simple ways there are to create and deploy a weapon of mass destruction. Since this shooting took place inside a classroom, either a homemade bomb or a homemade chemical weapon would have had an equally devastating effect and might even have killed more people than he managed with his guns.

In a very real sense. This shooting was not your normal violent crime. This was, in point of fact, an act of domestic terrorism aimed at a particular group of people with the intention of killing as many as possible and striking fear in the others. Likewise, the shooting at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston a short while back should probably also be classified an act of domestic terrorism. Both of these events were targeted attacks on a particular group with the intent of inspiring terror and additional violence. The fact that both attacks targeted Christians is very alarming. Two attacks a few months apart which both target members of the Christian faith might be coincidence, or it might be the beginning of a rising trend of violence directed at Christian Americans. If this is a trend that continues, then the faith of Christians in America is about to be challenged in ways that it has not been since the very founding of our nation. Hopefully, this will remain two isolated events that share a single, horrifying religious coincidence. After all, this is the United States. If you start killing people you're going to wind up killing Christians very quickly. There are scores of millions of Christians in America. We are, literally, everywhere. But if not, if these two shootings turn out to be the beginning of a trend, then it is time for Christian America to take a good, hard look at what they believe and why they believe it. Is your faith a simple magic bauble you use to comfort yourself and twist the universe in ways that favor you or is it something deep and abiding that rests inside your heart and fills your mind? If someone with a gun walks into your school, home, office, or shopping center, points their gun at your head and demands to know your faith, will you panic and sputter out whatever answer comes to mind or will you rest assured that even if he pulls the trigger, all it means is you are finally going home?

My last point today, and as important as any of the others. President Obama and his supporters like to think of the NRA as a faceless, mindless monolith dedicated to subverting the democratic process. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NRA is at least three million and possibly five million voting Americans. I am the NRA, Mr. President. I am one of millions of firearm owners who depend on the NRA to plead our case before Congress and defend our interests in the Supreme Court. The NRA is not some faceless lobby group for the firearms industry. The NRA is me.

August 29, 2015

Magic Lessons Background Information

Shadowalker, Sadhaka, Greyhawk, and Tinpenny
Cover image by Denise Jones

Characters and Plot

"Magic Lessons" is a fantasy novel set in the land of Shandar. Their world is our world transformed by time, war, and natural disaster. At the time this story takes place, the land is fractured into countless city-states, some quite large, others quite small. Trade and commerce flow between these cities thanks in large part to the efforts of a Sidhe mage named "Dreamwalker Blackwolf" who died half a century before the story opens. The two main characters are Dreamwalker's son, "Greyhawk", and a woman named "Shadowalker Wraithkiller", the crown princess of a city named "Moonreach". The story opens with Shadowalker being driven from her home by a conquering army composed of ghost-like commanders whose troops are a mountain people called, "Orcane", or "trolls". She does not know who sent this army and much of her story is concerned with the search to determine who is behind the attack that drove her into exile.

Map of Shandar
Illustrated by Denise Jones

Shadowalker's magic teacher in Moonreach is "Clearheart", a failed magic student expelled from Riverstone Academy ten years prior to the story for refusing to study any spells that were not useful as weapons. When the story opens, Clearheart is cruel and demanding, often striking Shadowalker with an invisible switch. Because he does not truly understand what magic is and how it works, he cannot communicate the little that he does know and blames her for failing to understand. His impatience with his own shortcomings and her perceived inability to grasp his lessons is magnified by his realization that the ghost-like creatures leading the army of Orcane are manufactured from magic. He recognizes in their structure the magical style of a former teacher of his named "Silvertongue". During the brief time Clearheart was a student, Silvertongue was slowly going insane. He treated his students, including Clearheart, with great cruelty, often punishing them with severe magical beatings. Because he healed each student as soon as he finished punishing them, it was impossible for his students to prove the beatings were taking place. After multiple reports, Riverstone began assigning monitors to the classes Silvertongue taught. Naturally when the monitors were present, Silvertongue did not beat his students. However, he began showing up for work clothed only in magical tattoos, which provided the Council of Magi sufficient cause to terminate him and banish him from both the academy and the city. Clearheart was also expelled at around the same time.

Shadowalker battles Icewind while Greyhawk looks on
Illustrated by Denise Jones

After being driven into exile, Shadowalker meets Greyhawk, a Sidhe mage of enormous power and experience. He agrees to teach her and help her free her kingdom from the strange army that has captured it. Unfortunately, not long after they begin traveling together Shadowalker is kidnapped by Silvertongue, the most powerful human mage in recorded history and Greyhawk's most fearsome rival. Silvertongue tries to convince her to form an alliance with him against Greyhawk. When she refuses, he abandons her in the desert. Tortured and near death, Shadowalker is found by a group of humanoid cats who call themselves, "Catkin". They take her back to their home and nurse her back to health. As if being kidnapped, abandoned, and rescued is not enough, just as Shadowalker recovers she accidentally releases an ancient weapon on the innocent and harmless Catkin. A Catkin child vanishes in the chaos that results and the child's mother is badly wounded. Fearing they can no longer trust her power, the Catkin imprison her and begin debating how they should punish her for the harm she has caused.

Ravenwing and Silvertongue
Illustrated by Denise Jones

Meanwhile in the background, Queen Ravenwing of Crystal Shores has allied herself with Silvertongue and together they are plotting to use Shadowalker as bait to draw out Greyhawk, Silvertongue's hated rival and Ravenwing's former lover. Things do not work quite as well as they plan. As one complication piles upon another it very quickly becomes almost impossible to determine who is winning this epic battle of powerful personalities and who is losing.

One of the complications not foreseen by Ravenwing and Silvertongue was the speed with which the Catkin would send out a messenger to find Greyhawk and bring him to their village. Bhora, the runner dispatched to seek out Greyhawk, meets one of the Greyhawk's cousins while on her way to find him. This cousin, known as Secondson, tells Bhora that there are many Sidhe who want Greyhawk to proclaim himself king and lead them in the defeat of the many human city-states that populate Shandar. Greyhawk, it turns out, is one of the last heirs to the throne of the ancient Elven Empire, an Empire that was destroyed by the human's own now long vanished Immortal Empire. This ancient rivalry between the human and Elven empires is one of the principal factors driving Silvertongue in his ambition to bring all of Shandar back under human control. Greyhawk, on the other hand, although he also seeks to unify the broken land, is seeking for all of the different peoples to live peacefully together with no single sentient species in power over all the others.

Bhora meets Secondson
Illustrated by Denise Jones

After Shadowalker is kidnapped by Silvertongue and abandoned in the desert, Greyhawk changes course from Moonreach and heads south to where she has been abandoned. Along the way, he decides to stop and visit a Sidhe maiden named, "Lotusblossom". She is his former colleague from Riverstone, retired now and living on a melon farm. Since her farm is between the place where Shadowalker is taken and the place where she is abandoned, Lotusblossom's farm turns out to be a convenient stopping point. This visit also provides Greyhawk the perfect opportunity to enlist her help in training Shadowalker. Lotusblossom is a Healer of great skill, which turns out to be very beneficial. Not only does Shadowalker desire to learn Healing, the female Catkin who was wounded by Shadowalker is in dire shape and only a highly skilled Healer can save her.

Portrait of Lotusblossom
Illustrated by Denise Jones

Changes Between Editions

The original CD-ROM publication of "Magic Lessons" was 101,400 words. The Kindle version is 84,800 words. There have been far too many changes to list here, but it seems important to at least mention the major ones.

"Magic Lessons" began life as an email story written back and forth between myself and Jeanette Upchurch. We first made acquaintance on the Usenet Newsgroup alt.cuddle where she often came seeking people to pray for her and I often came seeking readers for my more casual writing. She did not like contributing writing to the group, but she wanted to write a story with me, so I sent her the background materials for a fantasy world I had been building for several years. Almost immediately it became apparent that our approaches to any joint story were dramatically different. She was focused on writing romantic fantasy and I was focused on writing adventure fantasy. This caused quite a bit of friction in the early chapters and that friction was reflected in the CD-ROM text. In revising the story for Kindle, one of my primary goals was to smooth over or remove as much of this friction as I could while still preserving as much of the romantic quality as possible. After all, I am as bad at writing romance as she is at writing adventure. There were several erotic passages she wrote for the CD-ROM that I removed during the revision process. Most commercial fantasy writing does not contain erotica. Even worse, in the Kindle store erotica and pornography are both the same classification and I did not want to be forced to list "Magic Lessons" as "Adult Fiction, contains erotica". This was strictly a market-based decision on my part. For anyone who enjoyed the erotic passages on the CD-ROM, I can only offer my most sincere apologies, but this is the reality of the marketplace. Whether anyone happens to like it or not, reality must be recognized and accepted.

Since her erotic passages carried the plot through several critical crisis points, those points had to be completely rewritten. I also added far more descriptions, more details to existing descriptions, and in some cases, added or removed large amounts of dialogue. Because the original manuscript was written through email over a period of about two years, there was a great deal of information in the latter half of the book that had no foreshadowing and no relationship to the first half. As a result, a major part of this revision process was going back through the first half multiple times adding material necessary to build, maintain, and improve the internal coherency of the story. This building up of internal coherency was by far the most difficult part of the revision process and necessitated multiple passes through the manuscript from beginning to end. All of this cutting and adding also meant that during the revision process the manuscript went from 101,000 words to 150,000 words and finally settled at the current word count of 84,792 words. The new version is tighter, far more internally consistent, and I hope, far more believable than the CD-ROM version. The final judgment, of course, rests with the readers. Ultimately, they are the ones who will decide if I succeeded or failed in creating a better story.

East Shandar where most of the story takes place
Illustrated by Denise Jones