I Just Finished – The Free Thoughts Podcast – Washington’s Five Tricks

So this is a bit political, though not “I hate the giant orange / I hate the scary hag” political. I listen to this podcast regularly. It’s produced by libertarianism.org and the Cato Institute, and I always find it informative and thought-provoking. I don’t always agree with everything I hear, which is a good thing, but, when I listen, I feel I’m listening to highly intelligent, highly educated people talking about things that actually matter. And by “things that actually matter” I mean pretty much nothing that most people are bringing into current political discourse. Russian collusion? Yeah, I believe it may have happened. I also believe it, or things like it, have been happening for a long time. If they upset you, stop voting for candidates who are involved with them.

Most people won’t do that. So they’ve chosen to live with this idiocy, and I’m not really interested in hearing them wallow in it. Continue reading

I Just Finished – The Venus Belt by L. Neil Smith

Once upon a time, science fiction wasn’t only published to gently massage the psyches of readers who are politically left of center. L. Neil Smith is an unashamedly libertarian author, best-known, sadly, I think, for writing the Lando Calrissian adventure novels back in the early 80s. (Which novels, by the way, I reviewed for SeqArt’s upcoming third volume of Star Wars essays.) Possibly his best-known original work is a novel called The Probability Broach. It’s a tale about alternate universes and traveling between them, and it establishes a world called The American Confederacy, a place where one word made all the difference in what happened to the nation that formed when the colonists revolted and broke away from England in 1776. That word was “unanimous.” In the American Confederacy, government power depends on the unanimous consent of the governed. You can imagine not a lot gets done by government in that America, which is exactly what libertarians are after. The Probability Broach also delightfully offers a solution to the question of nature vs. nurture. Its answer? Free will wins over them both.

This novel, one of several set in the American Confederacy is not as eye-opening as The Probability Broach. That bar was set pretty high. It’s solidly entertaining, though. For me, it’s just so nice to read a story where the villains are named “Hamiltonians.” If you didn’t know that I deplore Alexander Hamilton, you probably don’t know me very well. It offers one of the more creative comeuppances I’ve seen for the vile villains at the end, too. The title derives from the project the heroes undertake in the book—doing a little solar system re-engineering by turning Venus, a not particularly useful planet, into a second asteroid belt which can be mined for resources. Smith’s hero, Detective Win Bear, reflects on the morality of such a drastic change to the environment:

“But, hell, all life has environmental impact, just by nature of its being. Intelligence manipulates its environment, purposefully, instead of the other way around. [Dissenters] to the contrary, to do less is to resign from being sentient. To denounce it is to renounce intelligence.

“Which, I suspect, was their point all along.”

A Different Kind of “Bully!” – Hillary, Teddy and the Quest for Leadership

23158392405_d3e3b60cb8_o teddy_laughingSo the story goes like this:

  • Donald Trump is the Anti-Christ. If he is elected, America is over.
  • Hillary Clinton is the only other option. If you do not vote for Hillary, America is over.

I do not agree with either of these points, but, for a few hundred words, let’s live in a world where they are gospel truth, divinely revealed, handed down from the mount, and, of course, thoroughly fact-checked and proved bullshit-free.

While it astounds me that American citizens would complacently accept such a reality (addressed in my post here), it is the narrative for about half of us, it seems.

So I have to ask, if Hillary Clinton really is the competent candidate I’m told she is; if the Democratic Party really is the friend to The People that it claims to be; if Trump’s nomination really is proof that the GOP has lost cohesion and isn’t going to be with us in any form we recognize…

Then why isn’t our one candidate trying to adapt and make herself more palatable to the entire electorate? Why run an adaptation of Bernie Sanders’s socialist-inspired platform, munged with W. Bush’s imperialist agenda, at such a time? Why make extremism our only option?

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Check Your Premises, Not Your Privilege

I try to keep an open mind about different world views. That just seems reasonable to me. Like the five blind men and the elephant, we each see a different piece of the truth. It would be a bit silly for me to stand here, screaming “I have scientific proof that an elephant is just like a snake!” while I hold its trunk and you hold its ear, and neither of us sees the whole animal. It would be just awful if I then added that you are evil and a threat to our society because you were part of the “elephant-is-like-a-carpet” set, and thus a snake-denier.

Yet that’s just the kind of thing that’s happening right now in the United States, as a loudmouth, a gold digger and a senile idealist walk into a primary. (God, I wish that was the opening to a joke! If it is, the joke is on the American people.) People are just being nasty to each other.

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Freedom’s Blood – Part 5 of 5

FreedomsBloodAnd, being the liberal sort I am, I asked him how he wished to die. All at once? Over days? He thought for an hour, while he surfed the Internet. (He was amazed that a vampire would go on the Internet. Of course he would, I explained. He wants to prowl, and wants to keep up with the world. Being alienated, he wants to have the control over his information intake that the Internet allows. Besides, it can be great fun to go in a chat room and tell someone you’re a vampire, prowling for your next meal…)

Having thought, he announced that he would like to die over the course of a few sessions. That should have forewarned me. No one who really wants to die wants to do so slowly. We began that night. I drained two pints or so from him. I told him I would drink from him again within a day, thus not allowing all of his blood to replace itself.

Two days later, having passed the point of no return, he threw a curve at me.

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Freedom’s Blood – Part 4 of 5

FreedomsBloodNow what? I wondered. Would he bolt from the room, announce my presence to all and sundry? I could escape easily enough. The boy’s claims would be dismissed as the result of his injury. He had a bandage on his forehead, so I know he’d been injured. A head wound was the perfect type, too, but… dammit! I’d been sloppy.

Still, an expedient exit was best. I prepared to transform, tuning out, as I did, whatever potential inanities would utter forth from his lips, should he recover his voice. I catalogued them all for myself, inside a second:

“You’re a vampire!”


“Get away from me!”




“Sorry, I didn’t know this room was taken.”



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Freedom’s Blood – Part 3 of 5

FreedomsBloodI began this missive by telling you I was in a moral quandary. Here it is: I’d drained a victim to the point of no return – he wasn’t going to live, no matter who intervened, but he wasn’t dead yet. He’d asked to die, and now he’d changed his mind. Tough luck, you say? There’s nothing I can do for him, you say? Ah, but there was something I could do for him, and he knew exactly what it was.

I didn’t want to do it. Not on a bet.

* * *

It was early August, and I was in San Diego. I’d been having a very nice time. I’d come early to see the sights, before attending the Cato Institute’s summer seminar. By design, I’d missed their events for the last few years; but this year, American libertarians seemed to have recovered from most of their September 11-th inspired tendency to encourage war. I was glad, for I really wanted to be among thinking people again.

I’d spent the early dusk hours in an Irish pub in the Gas Lamp district, flirting with an outspoken bartender from Boston and sipping Guinness. No, I never drink wine; but Guinness is something you never outgrow, even when you don’t grow any longer. It doesn’t affect me at all, and the taste is totally altered by my condition. I still just like the experience of sipping the odd Guinness in the odd Irish pub.

As I attempted to make my case to this opinionated young woman, who simply would not believe that Killian’s Irish Red was, in fact, brewed in Colorado, a bulletin about a traffic accident came on the omnipresent television. It was nearly ten, and the traffic reports long over, but it seemed that this accident involved enough vehicles that it had actually closed Pacific Highway going northbound. Six people were dead, and medevac helicopters were rushing patients from the scene.

I suddenly remembered I was hungry. As the local news commentator began to interview a spokesman for the police about how undemocratic it was that drivers of SUVs tended to survive more such accidents than drivers of economy cars, I tapped the dummy pager I always wear.

“I have a call,” I told my Celtic sparring partner. “Gotta run.”

“Is it about that accident?” she asked. “You a doctor?”

I smiled. “Among other things.” I tipped her entirely too much, slipped onto the street and into a dark corner, and flew. Literally. You cover a lot of ground as a bat.

In fact, I hadn’t lied to the barkeep. I am a doctor. Studied at the Sorbonne, in the late 1890s. I’ve kept up my knowledge via books and medical journals. I’m not licensed to practice anywhere. How could I be? Licensing requires that someone know who and where I am.

But being a physician in fact, if not by law, does allow me to assess the condition of a subject, to know when death is imminent, and, in many cases, to ease the suffering of those I’m dealing with. (Occasionally, I’ve increased the suffering, but only occasionally. Perhaps you could force yourself to be impartial and gentle with, for instance, a mother who murdered her children in order to catch a husband. I am not so saintly.)

The scene of the accident was, as expected, grisly. I did not count the vehicles involved, as such details don’t help me in any way. Nor do they help most people, other than to indicate magnitude of damage, and give an idea of how long it will take for the roadway to be cleared. Unless a family member is involved, or you need to travel that particular road, I have no idea why you would want to read about or see footage of a traffic collision. Or any calamity with an airplane, train, or other conveyance. If you are not directly affected, or can use the story of the occurrence to increase your own personal safety, I do not see why you would want to know.

Perhaps I am hard-hearted. Strike “perhaps.” I know I am. But I see no virtue in reviewing and sharing the pain of people you don’t even know. It is a false compassion you feel, if your feelings go anything beyond “that’s too bad, I hate to see that happen to anyone,” or “I would hate for that to happen to myself or my loved ones.” The media works very hard to convince us that these events do affect us, and that we should feel the same loss that the victim’s old mum does. It’s good for their business, but it’s very bad for our peace of mind. It often damages our ability to set our own priorities and attend to the needs of those to whom we do owe our compassion.

By the time I arrived, a seventh patient had died, thus becoming useless to me. Most of the more critical cases had been transported to the hospital already. One helicopter was preparing to take off, just then. After a quick scan of the other injured, all but two of whom were standing on their own power, I decided I would accompany the patient in the ‘copter. Its blades were already spinning. A problem for me. A bat cannot easily approach a grounded helicopter when its blades are generating air currents. A bat doesn’t weigh enough to resist. A mist would blow right away. A dog would attract too much attention. I was forced to assume my own form – for a moment. Once I was at the ‘copter, I misted myself and floated in. One young paramedic did see me, out of the corner of her eye. I made sure I was not there for her second look. My ghostly appearance and disappearance frightened her. I heard her pulse race. She didn’t stop working on her patient, however, and I didn’t hear her mention it to her cohorts. People don’t like to discuss any sign that they are hallucinating. That is a powerful weapon in my arsenal.

As a bat, I snuggled beneath an equipment bag at the rear of the cabin. I watched. The victim being transported was an adult male. He looked to be in his mid-forties. I could tell by the sound of his chest cavity that he had sustained severe internal injuries. My hearing may just be a better diagnostic tool than ultrasound or MRI. If my people ever do become accepted in human society, I intend to make another fortune working as a diagnostician. I’ll merely have to solve the problem of how to make my enhanced senses switch on without alarming my patients. It takes the smell of fresh blood to do it. This poor man had much fresh blood on him and coming out of him.

He wasn’t going to live. Not even an hour was left to him.

I felt hunger pangs. They weren’t in my stomach – ours never are. Hunger, for us, is a chill in the blood. Our skin is always cold. Folktale informs you of that fact, doesn’t it? Still, our body temperature does vary. It’s just always colder than yours… while you’re living. When we have fed, the warm blood warms us throughout. Our system operates at peak efficiency, digesting and recirculating. We don’t feel hunger again until we have processed what we’ve taken in, and our body temperature lowers again. No fuel to keep the furnace going.

The paramedic stayed with him, checking vital signs, attempting to keep him stable until they arrived at the hospital. There was no way I could feed without being seen. Some vampires would have leapt at the chance to wreak havoc at this juncture. I could have resumed human form, likely causing the girl before me to urinate in terror. I could have feasted on the dying man, then on her, then on the pilot. I could have sent the ‘copter on a downward plunge, with a terrific explosion to destroy all of the evidence of my visit. I could have easily escaped all of this unharmed.

I was not about to do it. These people had done nothing to deserve such a fate. Even at my hungriest, I had not broken the code I’d developed in Baltimore. So, hunger or no hunger, I had to wait until we landed, and I had a better opening. I crept quietly along the floor to the base of the patient’s stretcher, which would stay with him all the way into an operating room at the ER. Nestled under the vinyl flange of its cushion, I pulled my bat’s wing over my head and took a nap.

* * *

The restrained jolt of the stretcher being lowered to the ground awakened me. Tuning out the chatter as the patient’s condition was recited to a physician, I listened for his vital signs myself. They were ebbing quickly. He might not live to reach an operating table, and my waiting would be for naught. Still, I had no choice but to ride this out. If he died too quickly, well, it was a hospital. Food could not be far away.

They never even operated. Time of death was called immediately upon examination, and the body was left in a darkened cubicle for pickup. There were many other patients from the same accident to be seen. The ER staff did not waste time.

Fortunately for me, they did miscall the time of death. Human doctors often do. That’s not to say that they so often abandon patients who could be saved. I merely mean that the actual death – the moment when the blood becomes useless to me – often comes seconds or minutes after they have declared it to be passed. Just as often, they will attempt to save a patient who has passed that threshold already.

In this case, I was left in a darkened room with a potential corpse. It was dinner time. I shifted to my human form. No one from the hospital would come in here until the chaos without had quieted. The victim’s family would be some time arriving. The roads were still backed up from the accident.

I hadn’t counted on the morbid tendencies of some teenagers.

The boy didn’t burst in on me. He was very quiet, actually. He slowly opened the door, and gave his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dark. I must have been distracted. I could have shifted to a less visible form in the blink of an eye, but I didn’t. I didn’t notice he was there until he’d seen me.

And he saw me. Blood on my chin and all.

“Oh my god,” he murmured vaguely, something akin to surprise – but less intense – behind his eyes.

To Be Continued

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Freedom’s Blood – Part 2 of 5

FreedomsBloodI arrived in Baltimore later that same day, ravenously hungry. I drank a bum. Killed him, of course. That was what my sire had done with his victims, myself excepted. I was merely continuing as he had taught me. Besides, the bum was near death anyway. He’d polluted his body to the point that his liver was about to fail. It was one of the worst meals of my life, to that point and to this day. Still, I was sated, and had time to be choosy with my next meal.

On the evening of my second solo kill, I went where most of the city went for food – to the market. Lexington Market, in this case. Only I had no interest in the fresh fruits and vegetables arriving by wagon from remote farms. The meats caught my eye, but then my nose assessed them, and I was shocked by my revulsion. They were dead. Since my change, I could no longer bring myself to consider dead flesh. It stank to me as spoiled food would to you.

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Freedom’s Blood – Part 1 of 5

FreedomsBloodby Steven H. Wilson

I thought it might be nice, me being a fiction writer, and this being Hallowe’en, to actually share a story on the site. This, by the way, was podcast a long time back. But I’m betting a lot of my readers aren’t necessarily listeners. So here ya go…

I knew it was a bad idea all along. Well, all right, I should have known. I’ve been kicking myself for weeks now, because I should have known. I’ve successfully avoided this kind of situation for over 250 years.

Any idiot knows that a person contemplating suicide is, by definition, not in the best frame of mind; but I really believed the kid when he said he wanted to die. He was going to get what he wanted out of the deal, and I was going to get what I needed. Isn’t that what makes a fair contract?

Perhaps I should back up a bit and give you the particulars. To understand the quandary I got into, and how I got into it, you first have to understand what I am.

I am a vampire. That’s right – vampire. Blood-sucking. Undead. Turn into a bat and everything. Perhaps you expect a disclaimer about how I actually can walk in sunlight (can’t touch the stuff) or how I’m not actually supernatural but just maladjusted and blood-loving. Nope. Drink it. Gotta have it. Live forever as long as I do – well, if I stay away from wooden stakes and get back to my coffin by curfew. I am not myth. The blonde kid on TV that makes vampires disappear in a cloud of ash? She’s your myth. Never met the human who was my equal. Rarely have I seen one of my kind get staked. Certainly not while they were awake and could do something to prevent it!

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Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say…? School Monitoring of Social Media

I’m not sure how I feel about this. Or this.

Basically, the Orange County School System in Florida has started using a software package to monitor the social media posts of all students and staff. The software, SnapTrends, would harvest posts (presumably after a list of names or user IDs is uploaded into it by the School System) and filter for certain words like “kill, knife, or gun.” If it finds them, school personnel will presumably investigate further to see if a student is a threat or needs mental health services or both.

Indeed, per the article above, they’ve already identified at least one student who was making suicidal threats, and sent officials to investigate. The article tells us this in support of the assertion, “The district said it has already prevented incidents.”

But is the incident loosely described proof of a prevented incident? I’m not saying you should talk to a student who is threatening suicide. I’m not saying you should not take every such threat seriously. I am saying that the threat is not the act, and you cannot claim you have “prevented an incident” simply because you followed up. You took steps to try and prevent a potential incident. You have no proof that your actions changed the course of events.

The rallying cry of proponents is, “Who cares? It’s all public information anyway.” This was certainly the opinion of the Today show staff when they aired the story.

It (the set of all posts by students) is public information, nominally. It’s also “public information” that I drive a certain way to work every day. I can’t disguise the fact that I do, and, legally, I have to display an ID number for my car where everyone can see it. Anyone who knows me knows what car I drive. If I think people can’t track my movements, I’m dreaming. A similar statement is made about people who think their Facebook postings are “private.”

But if you start following me everyday and taking notes on my actions, you’re a stalker.

“Oh, but a police officer is justified in following you and taking notes.”

Um… Maybe. If he or she has reason to consider me a person of interest in an investigation, certainly. But if I’m not? If a cop just feels like following me because he or she wants to know what I get up to? Courts have ruled that a police officer may follow a car 24/7 without establishing probable cause. Similarly, courts have ruled that a police officer may, secretly and without warrant, GPS tag a car parked on a public street.

I still think that’s stalking, but it’s legal. But a cop is a cop and a school administrator is not a cop. There’s also a question of scope. Cops physically couldn’t GPS-tag every resident of a single community, or actually follow them around in a car. The day they try, United State v. Pineda-Moren will go down in flames. Lawmakers tend to suck at thinking about scope.

I think the same is true of mass surveillance of social media. Watching one person based on probable cause is a good safety practice. Watching one person without probably cause is legal, but creepy, and probably won’t stand the test of time as a defensible behavior. Watching everybody? In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Aw hell no!” (I can’t prove he said it, but, hey, he was a redhead. We know he had a streak of rebellion in him.)

I have no objection to a private investigator, a school administrator or a police officer checking the Facebook posts of a kid who’s made threats to which they’ve been tipped off. That’s probable cause and grounds for investigation. Such tactics have resulted in the unearthing of credible threats. But watching the Facebook accounts of every single kid and teacher in a school?

That’s completely counter to the spirit of the law, which maintains we are all innocent until proven guilty.

“But safety is the most important thing. As long as we’re keeping the children safe, does it really matter if we’re infringing on people’s rights?”


Franklin, John Adams and Jefferson. You note that Adams looks a bit distracted. He was probably thinking ‘Inalienable’s not really a word, is it?’ Painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris.

I refer you to the late Mr. Benjamin Franklin on that one. He really said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

(There are some who claim that Franklin’s quote does not mean what we now say it means. Maybe I’ll tackle that in a future blog…)