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Monday, March 19, 2018

Pellatarrum: A Brief History of the Fire War

Really, it's the elves' fault.

Everyone thinks the Fire War is the fault of the orcs. and to be fair, they did start the war. But you see, there's an important distinction between "Who started it" and "Who caused it", and it's the elves who caused it.

Back before Pellatarrum was created, when the Heroes Who Would Be As Gods discussed their rebellion, the original plan was to overthrow the genie races and have each servitor race live in their native elemental plane as conquerors: air for dragons, earth for dwarves, fire for orcs and water for elves. However, that plan was quickly revised during the initial slave uprising when it was discovered just how powerful and how entrenched the genies were. The four races' strategy was converted into something which looked like a rag-tag rebellion but was really a delaying action while They Who Became As Gods looked for places where their people could escape and the genies would not follow.

Unfortunately, their choices were limited. The negative energy plane was nothing but entropy and death, with positive energy plane not much better because the life energy radiating from it would be too much for any mortal body to contain. The ethereal plane was a realm of formless mist with no resources for sustaining a civilization, and the timeless nature of the astral meant that their populations would never grow and their people would forever be stuck in stasis.

Therefore, it was decided (mainly by the dwarves, but the dragons thought it was a good idea and so everyone else went along with it) that they would make their own realm for their people to live, one with bountiful resources for all and toxic to geniekind.

Thus began the quest for the Engines of Creation, objects of mystery and wonder of which little is still known. The wisest sages of Pellatarrum can only describe them as "conceptual lenses" (Do you mean they're lenses for concepts? Or do you mean that they are lenses in a conceptual sense? ... yes.) which focus the raw creative force of the positive energy plane into true substance. Through means unknown, They Who Became As Gods re-aligned the Engines of Creation for a brief period of time, creating Pellatarrum according to the dwarven blueprint.

And everything was fine... for a time. The dwarves lived in the Dayspire, the elves in the seas, the dragons ruled the skies, and the orcs had everywhere else. Yes, all right, technically the dragons lived on the ground and under the ground and underwater and wherever else they wanted, but 1) they were big and 2) they were loners, not a growing and sprawling civilization, so the orcs were generally okay with this because they had all the rest of the land. Besides, dragons are apex predators, and orcs respect strength.

Yes, everything was fine for thousands of years, until the elf schism. Something happened within their culture to split them so thoroughly that roughly half of their population fled the seas and used magic to evolve themselves for land habitation.

This was, to put it plainly, a massive problem for the orcs, because now they were competing with the elves for territory and resources. While elves didn't reproduce as quickly as orcs, they lived far longer, which gave them an edge in terms of knowledge and power. More importantly, to the orcs this was a violation of the treaty which had been forged at the creation of the world. Was the full and proper name of the realm, written in the tongues of the four races, not "This beautiful thing, crafted with toil, and home to all orcs?"  It was right there in the name, and yet the elves invaded their lands and violated the compact. To the orcs, this was not just a legal misunderstanding or a diplomatic gaffe; this was invasion. This was rank betrayal and theft. And they would not stand for it.

So, in proper orcish fashion, they invaded the elves right back, to show them how it felt and to drive them back to the sea where they belonged. Naturally, the elves didn't care for this and counter-attacked, and soon it was open warfare.

Both sides petitioned the dwarves and dragons for redress of grievances. The dwarves essentially said "This isn't our problem and we don't like either of you enough to make it our problem. Work it out or kill each other as you see fit, but leave us alone." The dragons had to be swayed on an individual basis; some sided with the orcs, some with the elves, but most of them also just wanted to be left alone.

Then the orcs had The Idea. Since elves magically evolved themselves to live on the land, the orcs could do similar (they were not the broken, barbaric race of today, but a people of great strength and magical power). They took advantage of their short lifespans and rapid breeding cycles by force-evolving themselves into perfect warriors, and then they created many races to serve in their armies. Goblinoids, ogres, beastmen; all had a part in the Great Conflagration, with the orcs as their heroes and generals. The war was long, and bloody, and took many orcish generations (both in terms of time and in terms of lives lost). But the Fire Army was powerful, and they broke the back of the elven foothold and began to drive them back to the sea.

If the orcs could have contented themselves with beating the elves, they would have won, and Pellatarrum would be a different place indeed. But they were insulted by the dwarves' lack of honor, and irritated with the aloofness of the dragons, and decided that they would make "home to all orcs" a literal truth by destroying everything which was not orcish.

The fact that the elves, dwarves and dragons needed to create ambassador races to facilitate diplomacy and cooperation during the war shows just how real the risk to them was. Think "Zerg Rush" on a massive scale, bolstered by powerful magics and champions who could inflict hideous casualties even after being dealt a mortal wound. The Great Conflagration was indeed like a terrible wildfire, whipping itself into greater and greater fervor, consuming everything in its path.

The Fire War was terrible in ways that Pellatarrum has never seen again. It was every fantasy battle you've ever seen the movies combined with World War 2. Yes, even the atom bombs. It reshaped the landscape, flattening mountains and creating valleys, boiling seas and burning nearly everything into ash. The most brutal, decisive battle of the war took place around the Dayspire, which had been turned into a massive weapons factory and siege engine platform. Dragons and elves lured and herded the Fire Army into cleared killing fields around the dwarven stronghold, then took shelter in pre-made bunkers which ringed the perimeter. Their job was to prevent the army from escaping while the dwarves annihilated them with technology, and magic, and raw elemental power.

When all was said and done:
  • Agnakorem was a holed, smoldering mess that had lost much of its defenses and more than a few outer layers. 
  • The dwarven army was exhausted, having used nearly all of its weapons and resources in the war. 
  • The elves were nearly extinct, numbering only in the low hundreds and with no home to speak of. (So great was their schism that only a few returned to the sea.)
  • The dragons had lost nearly half their adult population. Fortunately, they had laid many eggs in preparation for such an event, and there were plenty of kobolds to sing their eggs through gestation. 
  • The orcish civilization ceased to exist. Those who survived fled into the wilderness as refugees, where they had to compete with the other orc-spawned races for resources.
It took centuries for the land to recover. Humans and gnomes, having been granted their freedom, built towns and cities. The elves secreted themselves in the deep forest and the dark jungle, using isolation as a shield while they rebuilt their civilization and studied the magics the orcs used in the war. The dwarves repaired as much damage as they could and returned to being craftmen, albeit ones with an eye towards defensive weaponry. The kobolds were content to serve their dragon overlords. And as for the orcs, one of the few things that the allied races agree upon is that the orcs must never, ever, be allowed to return to their former greatness, so they periodically attack and destroy any orc settlement they can find. The only reason that the orc race is not extinct is because good warriors are also good survivors. Just to be blunt about it: yes, the three races of dwarf, elf and dragon cheerfully committed genocide during the Fire War, and if they could have killed every single orc child they would have.

As you can imagine, the Fire War is a touchy subject.
  • Don't mention it orcs at all. If you're lucky, they'll be ignorant and not know what you're talking about. More likely, it will be seen as a challenge ("You're calling me weak and defeated? I'll show you who is weak and defeated!") that ends in bloodshed. 
  • Dragons these days don't care (much) about what the orcs are up to, but they have their spies and their strings to pull if necessary. Some red dragons, though, are very interested in what a new orcish nation could achieve. 
  • The dwarves are shamed by their actions -- partly because of the atrocities they committed, and partly because if they hadn't been so isolationist the Grand Conflagration might not have happened -- but they aren't so shamed that they've found room in their hearts to forgive the orcs of today. 
  • Elves, on the other hand, practically relish the thought of killing orcs, and those they capture are ritually sacrificed. Elven hatred of orcs is so concentrated, so refined, that it's (nervously) joked that elves don't truly want to kill all orcs, because that would mean there would be no more orcs left to kill; instead, they want to put them in farms so they can be killed in quantity at leisure. 
  • Halflings avoid orcs whenever possible. 
  • Humans and gnomes are the only non-orcmade peoples willing to give orcs a chance. Sometimes that turns out well, and sometimes it's rewarded with violence. 

In many ways, Pellatarrum is quite literally post-apocalyptic. It's just managed to clean up rather nicely.

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Transgender" Does Not Mean "Mentally Ill"

Just about a month ago I posted this picture across social media, and it took off like a rocket. While I'm glad it was so well-received, more than a few replies were in the vein of "Well, isn't it? Transgenderism is listed in the  DSM-V."

... actually, those were the polite comments. More than a few were rather insistent in their declaration that "all trannies be crazy, yo."

So strap in, folks, this is going to be a long one and may take a few installments.

First, a note on terminology
This is another instance of "I hope you don't think I'm scolding you; that's not my intention. I just want to help some well-meaning but misinformed/uninformed people avoid an awkward situation."
  • "Transgenderism" is not the proper term. The clinical term for "being transgender" is gender dysphoria or gender incongruence. To quote Jae Alexis Lee on Quora
In referring to transgender issues as “transgenderism” it can be framed as an ideology, philosophy, political strategy… It places transgender issues in the realm of Environmentalism, Feminism, Libertarianism and any other -ism you’d care to think about. If a thing is a philosophy, ideology or political strategy then it can be diminished from the status of objective fact to controversial opinion. Once you move something from fact to opinion then it’s easier to build “everyone has an opinion” arguments and to place specious arguments on more equal footing.
  • "Tranny" is a word you need to be very, very careful with. Many people find it incredibly offensive, right up there with the sexual epithet beginning with C and the racial epithet beginning with N. Now I personally find the word hilarious, and I will often use the word to describe myself (and only myself) because if I laugh at it, it can't be used as a weapon against me. But I would never describe another trans person using that word unless I was specifically told to, and so as a courtesy you shouldn't either. 

If it's not an illness, why is it in the DSM-V?
The short answer is that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition deals with the brain and its problems. Some of those problems are psychological, like fears and traumas and neuroses. But some of those problems are biochemical or neurological, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. And some can be either: depression, for example, can be caused by a chemical imbalance within the brain, or it can be caused by something really traumatic happening to you.

In other words, if it's a "brain issue" instead of a "body issue" like a cold or the flu, it's listed in the DSM-V. If you're diagnosed with something from that book it doesn't mean you're crazy. It may mean you're mentally ill inasmuch as you aren't at optimum mental health, but that doesn't mean you're a threat to yourself or others, which is unfortunately what people think "mental illness" means. This is a topic I'd like to address in greater detail in a later post.

The much longer explanation is a quote taken directly from the American Psychiatric Association, the group which publishes the DSM-V. All underlined phrases are my emphasis.
Gender Dysphoria
In the upcoming fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), people whose gender at birth is contrary to the one they identify with will be diagnosed with gender dysphoria. This diagnosis is a revision of DSM-IV’s criteria for gender identity disorder and is intended to better characterize the experiences of affected children, adolescents, and adults.

Respecting the Patient, Ensuring Access to Care
DSM not only determines how mental disorders are defined and diagnosed, it also impacts how people see themselves and how we see each other. While diagnostic terms facilitate clinical care and access to insurance coverage that supports mental health, these terms can also have a stigmatizing effect. 

DSM-5 aims to avoid stigma and ensure clinical care for individuals who see and feel themselves to be a different gender than their assigned gender. It replaces the diagnostic name “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria,” as well as makes other important clarifications in the criteria. It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  a mental disorder is "a behavioral or mental pattern that causes significant distress or impairment of personal functioning."  Dysphoria is "a state of feeling unwell or unhappy; a feeling of emotional and mental discomfort and suffering from restlessness, malaise, depression or anxiety."

As an analogy, then, dysphoria can be likened to having a cold -- which makes a person miserable but isn't life-threatening -- wheras a disorder is more serious, like being sick with influenza or pneumonia. END AUTHOR'S NOTE.

Need for Change
Persons experiencing gender dysphoria need a diagnostic term that protects their access to care and won’t be used against them in social, occupational, or legal areas. When it comes to access to care, many of the treatment options for this condition include counseling, cross-sex hormones, gender reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender. To get insurance coverage for the medical treatments, individuals need a diagnosis. The Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group was concerned that removing the condition as a psychiatric diagnosis — as some had suggested — would jeopardize access to care.

Part of removing stigma is about choosing the right words. Replacing “disorder” with “dysphoria” in the diagnostic label is not only more appropriate and consistent with familiar clinical sexology terminology, it also removes the connotation that the patient is “disordered.”

Ultimately, the changes regarding gender dysphoria in DSM-5 respect the individuals identified by offering a diagnostic name that is more appropriate to the symptoms and behaviors they experience without jeopardizing their access to effective treatment options.   
In other words, gender dysphoria is in the DSM-V so that transgender people can be diagnosed with it so their hormone therapy and surgery can be covered with insurance. Without this diagnosis, it would be considered cosmetic.

For example:
  • A woman who wants larger breasts has to pay for that out of pocket because insurance is not cosmetic surgery. 
  • However, a woman who had breast cancer and two radical mastectomies needs breast reconstruction surgery to help return her to the quality of life she had before. 
  • Similarly, because many gender dysphoric people are so at odds with their body that it's causing them real, measurable distress and degrading their quality of life, hormone therapy and surgery is not cosmetic but necessary to improve quality of life. 
  • I say "many" instead of "all" because some trans people get along just fine once they're accepted for who they are and can dress and act accordingly. 

But if you still need treatment, aren't you ill?
People think that being transgender is a sickness that needs to be cured, but that's not the case. Sick people want to return to their state of wellness before they were sick; but transgender people don't want to revert to an earlier state (which would be what, exactly? A time when we didn't know what was wrong with us, only that we were profoundly unhappy and didn't know why or how to fix it? Sounds hellish if you ask me).

Think of it like being born with a birth defect that handicaps you, like missing a leg. There's nothing to cure because you aren't sick. There's no pill which will grow you a new leg. But you see all those two-legged people, running around and playing sports and dancing and just walking up stairs like it's no big deal and that's something you want, too, with all of your heart and soul, and you can't have it.

But look! There's someone with a prosthetic leg! And she's walking and running and living a normal life. That's what you want, too! So you ask to be given a prosthetic leg so that you can feel normal and do all the things everyone else can do!*

That's what transitioning is for us. Wanting to transition isn't a sickness; transitioning is the cure. It's the procedure which allows us to lead happy, productive lives. It helps us overcome our birth defect.

A Mild Rant in the Footnotes
*To continue the analogy, when people say "Transgender folks are mentally ill" they are doing the equivalent of telling that one-legged person "Your desire to have two legs is a sickness. This is how you were born. You just need to learn how to accept it."

Not only is this incredibly cruel, it's amazingly discriminatory; they wouldn't tell a person with bad eyesight that she shouldn't get glasses but rather accept that she was born with bad eyes and just learn to live with being unable to see properly.

Yet so many people feel they are "speaking truth" and "refusing to pander to mental illness" by misgendering us and calling us by our birth names, when what they are really doing is yanking off that girl's prosthetic leg and saying "Hey everyone, look at the cripple!" and laughing as she tries to get it back.

My gender and sexuality neither breaks your leg nor picks your pocket. Stop acting like it does.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Ideological Whiplash and the Treatment For It

Siddown, kiddos. Uncle Salem's got the whiskey back, and the white collar's going back on. The Reverend is in. 

I have been asked a few times my thoughts regarding the recent noises that President Trump has made regarding violence and video games.

I am, frankly, unconcerned. This is hardly the first time that video games have been put through the government ringer. I'm old enough to remember the Family Entertainment Protection Act and its sponsor. I've heard the tales of Tipper Gore and the PMRC.

I'm only surprised that it took this long for Trump and Hillary Clinton to align on an issue. I'm also aware that, after analyzing (that's not something that you pay Stormy Daniels not to talk about, in case you need it pointed out) the situation, that it's more than likely this is a giant cloud of hot air that Trump is pushing to distract from the NRA.

What perturbs me about the situation is the moral vanguard of defenders that have arisen to defend the poor, defenseless art form against the big scary cheeto man.

Such as Polygon.

Or Feminist Frequency.

Or Vice's Motherboard.

Or any number of examples that I could dig up with a marginal effort.

See, there's something you should realize as you pull an ideological 180 so quickly that your scraggly beards crawl up to cover your prematurely-balding heads: that you're no longer welcome to defend an art form after you spend the better part of the decade bashing it.

You don't get spend five years vacillating between implying and outright declaring that video games will turn you into anything from a rapist to a murderer because the pretty Armenian girl with the teleseminar background bats her eyelashes approvingly at you, then turn around and pretend to be strident defenders of artistic freedom when the mean man in the big house on the hill says the same things she did, albeit not nearly as artistically.

It rings incredibly hollow and lends an inordinate amount of credence to the Trump Derangement Syndrome theory. You truly are pivoting on a position just because he said something you agreed with 10 minutes ago.

Video games survived government overreach once before, and yes, you played a part in that. You're not needed anymore. The internet exists, and gives a voice to each and every person that chooses to use that voice. Even people you don't like. Especially people you've spent the last 5 or so years painting as the most dangerous villains on the planet.

There is the road. Those are some rocks. Kick the rocks. At least the rocks won't kick back.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Pellatarrum: Idle Thoughts Lead to Mad Noodlings

Me:  "You know, the Summon Monster spells suck at lower levels. Everything at level 1 sucks, and why would you want to summon anything except elementals at levels 2 and 3?"

Also me, after poking around for a while: "Why are there lightning elementals? Lightning isn't a classical element. Sure, it's the energy associated with Air in Pathfinder, but.... oh. Hmm."

Me, later: "Okay, so I have to dip into 3rd party content to do it -- but it's from a reliable and respected publisher so that's cool -- but I have statted-up elementals for each of the elemental energies. Well, except for fire, because fire is always an energy, but I can deal with that later. But it's so weird that there are listings for mud, magma and salt elementals."

Me, much later: "OK, so regular elementals are their platonic states. Then we have the energy states -- I'll call them 'energetics' -- and they're the ones which have been energized by the positive energy plane. Which means we need negative-energy infused elementals as well -- I think I'll call them 'entropics', nice alliteration there -- and that's great because it means that salt can be the negative form of water. I'll need to come up with entropic forms of the other elements, though. And fire.. okay, I can rationalize that because all of the elemental forms don't have any ranged attacks, so I can further differentiate energetics by making them all blaster types. Which means I need to rename "ice" to "cold", but I can keep the power, and I'll have to stat up a ranged version for fire and call it "heat". Great. But mud and magma are like half-and-half elementals..."

Me, even later: "OK SO I HAVE CREATED A MATRIX TO DEVISE NAMES FOR ALL THE ELEMENTAL HYBRIDS. I'm a little bit crazy, but that's okay. I'm going to need to stat up most of them, but maybe I can steal powers from mephits or other elemental creatures.... but WHY DO THESE THINGS EXIST? Some of these planes don't even touch?"


Me, getting out of bed to write something down because this entire process has shaken something loose: "well that's a clear and easy way to differentiate the major races on a two-axis graph zzzzzzzzz."

Monday, March 12, 2018

Operation Blazing Sword's Position Regarding SB 7026

Operation Blazing Sword wishes to state in unequivocal terms that Florida bill SB 7026, aka the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, is terrible.

Queer people under 21 are denied their Constitutional right to buy a firearm for self-defense. The ages of 18 to 21 is a critical period where young people are discovering their sexuality but are away from home — or perhaps even kicked out of their home due to their sexuality — and thus are in special danger. Federal law already prohibits them from purchasing a handgun, and now they cannot even buy a rifle or shotgun for home defense.

The mandatory three-day waiting period now forces all innocent people 21 years or older to wait before they can obtain the tools to defend themselves from stalkers, rapists, violent exes or family members, and other perpetrators of hate crime, while those who seek to harm these innocents have only a restraining order — a mere piece of paper — to stop them.

While we applaud the notion of armed school guardian, the requirements are so onerous that they are effectively a barrier against qualification. What's more, the requirements of 132 hours of training are far in excess of what is required for police academy graduates, who carry firearms full-time in the line duty and yet have had a median instruction time of only 60 hours*.

In short, this bill puts young queer adults and women of all ages at risk, and demands more instruction of school guardians than it does of actual police.

While Operation Blazing Sword was started as educational outreach to the queer community, we emphasize that our organization and our volunteer instructors do not discriminate and will teach anyone who wants to learn the basics of firearm safety and operation. Therefore, if any teacher in Florida wants to learn how to shoot and acquire their Concealed Weapon Permit, our instructors will be happy to teach them.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

My Thoughts on SB 7026

I would like to congratulate the State of Florida on passing a bill that makes no one happy. That takes skill.

It's technically a compromise, in that compromises usually make no one happy because each side gives a little to get a little, but in this case the compromise seems composed of the absolute worst of both worlds and benefits hardly anyone.

Come, let us analyze what SB 7026, the "Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act" does. I'll go through it in order as it appears on the bill:

Creates grants to fund student crime watch programs
There's not a lot of information on this; the section to which it refers, 1006.07(3) simply says
(3) STUDENT CRIME WATCH PROGRAM.—By resolution of the district school board, implement a student crime watch program to promote responsibility among students and to assist in the control of criminal behavior within the schools.
So this bill will allow more money to be given to a nebulous program. This is not a big surprise; government's solutions to many problems is to throw money at it. I expect that this money will be mishandled, misappropriated, and embezzled; business as usual, to be honest.

Creates the Office of Safe Schools
The Office of Safe Schools serves to promote and support safe learning environments by addressing issues of student safety and academic success on state, district, and school levels. Schools that implement school safety measures, drug prevention programs, and positive school climate that promote caring relationships either directly or indirectly facilitate rising student academic achievement.
I assume this will be the governmental body which administers the grant process and oversees the spending of the funds, so read the previous section about graft and mismanagement again.

Creates the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program 
There's a saying that There's nothing which can be done that the Government can't do poorly, and this section is an exemplar of that aphorism.  This section manages to offend both sides of the political aisle by allowing some people to carry guns in school (offending the anti-gun left), but it does so in the stupidest, most inefficient manner possible (offending the pro-gun right).

Let's break it down:
  1. This entire section hinges on whether or not the county sheriff allows it. 
  2. Creates "school guardians" who are allowed to carry on school grounds, but only to react to an active shooter; no other powers are given. TL;DR they have no law enforcement powers. I think it's a sad commentary that this needs to be spelled out, but we live in a stupid world. 
  3. Specifically excluded from the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program are "individuals who exclusively perform classroom duties as classroom teachers as defined in s. 1012.01(2)(a)." That relevant statute reads

    (a) Classroom teachers.—Classroom teachers are staff members assigned the professional activity of instructing students in courses in classroom situations, including basic instruction, exceptional student education, career education, and adult education, including substitute teachers.

    Meaning that actual classroom teachers can't carry, but coaches, librarians, principles, guidance counselors, hall monitors, janitors, secretaries, nurses, etc can all theoretically carry. 
  4. Specifically excluded from that exclusion -- meaning that they can indeed carry firearms -- are 
    • JROTC classroom teachers;
    • active-duty servicemembers (I assume this is there to cover other JROTC staff who aren't specifically teachers;
    • current or former law enforcement officers. 
  5.  The sheriff (see 1, above) gets to appoint who becomes school guardians out of a pool of volunteers. 
  6. These volunteers have requirements that are actually above and beyond what are required for police academy graduates:
    1. Hold a valid CWP. 
    2. Complete 132 total hours of comprehensive firearm safety and proficiency training conducted by Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission-certified instructors, which must include:
      • Eighty hours of firearms instruction based on the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission’s Law Enforcement Academy training model, which must include at least 10 percent but no more than 20 percent more rounds fired than associated with academy training. Program participants must achieve an 85 percent pass rate on the firearms training.
      • Sixteen hours of instruction in precision pistol.
      • Eight hours of discretionary shooting instruction using state-of-the-art simulator exercises.
      • Eight hours of instruction in active shooter or assailant scenarios.
      • Eight hours of instruction in defensive tactics.
      • Twelve hours of instruction in legal issues.
    3. Pass a psychological evaluation administered by a psychologist licensed under chapter 490 and designated by the Department of Law Enforcement and submit the results of the evaluation to the sheriff’s office. The Department of Law Enforcement is authorized to provide the sheriff’s office with mental health and substance abuse data for compliance with this paragraph.
    4. Submit to and pass an initial drug test and subsequent random drug tests.
    5. Successfully complete ongoing training, weapon inspection, and firearm qualification on at least an annual basis.
    6. Successfully complete at least 12 hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training program.
So just to recap here, teachers -- who have already had their background checked because they are working with minors for eight hours a day -- must not only be psychologically tested to see if they're fit to carry a gun in school, but they are also required to become shooting experts and requalify at least once a year and complete 12 hours of diversity training because why the hell not?

I have it on good authority from LawDog that is is more training than police academy graduates get:
"When I went through the Academy in 1993, we had 40 hours of training. And [my Academy] was considered fairly heavy on firearms training, because roughly half of that time was revolver, and the other half semi-auto.
"I don't know of any current State Peace Officer academy that currently does more than 110 hours of firearms training, and most do considerably less.
"The Texas State-mandated annual requalification for peace officers mandates a minimum of 50 rounds, from 3 yards to 15 yards and a 70% pass rate, once a calendar year to maintain your peace officer licence.
"As a contrast, the State of Texas currently requires armed security guards, private investigators and Personal Protection Officers to have a minimum of 10 hours of firearms training to get licensed."
So there you go: Florida legislators truly want armed teachers to possess more shooting experience than police officers.

Really, this entire section ought to be called the We Don't Really Want Anyone Except Cops and JROTC Instructors Armed So We're Going To Make It Nearly Impossible To Qualify Oh And Let's Tack On Coah Feis's Name So It Looks Like We Did Something Program. 

This is what gun-rights activists mean when we say that we don't want the government mandating training requirements before we're allowed to own guns, because they'll end up looking like this: a massive time and money sink designed to keep average people from exercising their rights.

Allows schools to employ retired police officers as school resource officers
There's a lot of legal verbiage after this, but the short version is the title. I expect a lot of schools will do this, and I have no real problem with it, but this is another salary which has to be paid and that money has to come from the school budget. It would be cheaper to allow CWP holders to carry their lawful firearms, but they don't have the magical radiance of having been a cop and laws like these are all about the magical radiance.

Creates community action treatment teams throughout the state
This is an add-on to the mental health statues that basically says extra effort and money will be spent to create teams that will pay special attention to high-risk kids ages 11-21 to make sure they don't go nuts and kill people.

The risk factors are
  1. Repeated failures at less intensive levels of care;
  2. Two or more behavioral health hospitalizations;
  3. Involvement with the Department of Juvenile Justice;
  4. A history of multiple episodes involving law enforcement; or
  5. A record of poor academic performance or suspensions.
I don't have a problem with this, although it is a tacit admission that the state has screwed up and neglected kids with behavioral issues.

Forbids firearms possession for the mentally defective 
I honestly don't know why this is here, because Florida statute s. 790.065 (2) says basically the same thing. 

Raises the minimum age of all firearm purchases from 18 to 21
... unless you're a police officer or an active-duty service member.

This is pure virtue signalling and nothing more, because it is unconstitutional. Federal law (which overrules state laws -- and we had a little war about 150 years ago to decide that fact) says that 18 is the age of legal adulthood, and adults can buy firearms for self-defense per the Second Amendment. Since the State of Florida is denying adults their Second Amendment rights (and if you legally restrict purchasing firearms, you are restricting the keeping and bearing thereof), this won't stand moderate scrutiny.

I had expected that a Florida citizen between 18 and 20 years old, ideally a military veteran,  would sue the state under the premise of "I was old enough to join the military and operate fully automatic weapons (and in the ideal case, be not only trained in their use but also used them in combat) and yet I'm not 'adult' enough to buy a semi-automatic version of my service rifle for personal use?" because that would be fantastic standing. However, it seems that the NRA was waiting for this because the same day that Florida Governor Scott signed the bill, the NRA sued the State of Florida because -- you guessed it -- the law is unconstitutional.

Done right, this lawsuit could then be used to challenge the federal law which states that adults must be 21 years old before they can purchase a handgun. I'm not holding my breath on that, but it's a possibility.


Thanks to a question from Oleg Volk, I checked the statute and to my un-lawlerly eyes, it looks like the text of the law only forbids sales to 18-20 year-olds from licensed dealers; private sales are still fine.

This isn't anything I'd want to test, though, because a test case is expensive and I'm too pretty for prison.

Creates a three-day waiting period for all firearm purchases
Florida already mandated a 3 day "cooling off" period for handgun purchases, but long guns could be taken home immediately. This period is now mandated for all purchases unless you have a Concealed Weapons Permit [no wait for anything], have completed a hunting safety course [no wait for long guns], or are a law enforcement officer or active duty military [no wait for anything], which means that if you're a woman in fear for her life from a stalker or an ex, you're vulnerable for 3 days unless you can get a gun from a friend.

In other words, this does nothing to stop crime and only hurts the law-abiding, but it might drive more people to get their CWP.

Prohibits bump-fire stocks
There's been a lot of freaking out over this one, mainly due to how it's phrased.

On the one hand, the bill begins with
790.222 Bump-fire stocks prohibited.—A person may not import into this state or transfer, distribute, sell, keep for sale, offer for sale, possess, or give to another person a bump fire stock. A person who violates this section commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084. 
Okay, so it calls out bump-fire stocks. Gun owners don't like this, because it's banning something and the camel gets more of its head into the proverbial tent, but it's just bump stocks, right?

Well, the very next part of the bill reads
As used in this section, the term “bump fire stock” means a conversion kit, a tool, an accessory, or a device used to alter the rate of fire of a firearm to mimic automatic weapon fire or which is used to increase the rate of fire to a faster rate than is possible for a person to fire such semiautomatic firearm unassisted by a kit, a tool, an accessory,  or a device.
Emphasis mine. Some people are worried this could mean competition triggers, trigger jobs, or even lubing the trigger could be considered a "bump fire stock." I doubt this, but I admit that it's possible.

Creates the Risk Protection Order Act
There's a lot to this section, and I can't go into it in detail. If you want all the crunchy details, I encourage you to read the whole thing yourself. For those of you who want the highlight reel, this act is
...intended to temporarily prevent individuals who are at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms or ammunition by allowing law enforcement officers to obtain a court order when there is demonstrated evidence that a person poses a significant danger to himself or herself or others,  including significant danger as a result of a mental health crisis or violent behavior.
So basically, if the cops think you're a danger to yourself or others, a court order can be issued where they seize (well, "you must surrender to them") all firearms and ammunition until such time as you can prove to them that you aren't a danger. This hearing must take place within 14 of the order being issued, and if you can prove to them that you aren't a danger, they must give your guns and ammo back within 30 days.

The 'good news' in this bill is that you're allowed to give your guns and ammo to someone else for safekeeping, so long as you don't have access to it (so you couldn't give your stuff to a family member who lives in the same house as you). This ought to increase the likelihood of getting your property back in full and undamaged.

This bill is one of those things which sounds good, and probably will be used to do some good, but is also rich with opportunity for abuse. I can easily envision feuding family members using this to make life hell for their relatives.

Creates a School Safety Awareness Program
This is "a mobile suspicious activity reporting tool that allows students and the community to relay information anonymously concerning unsafe, potentially harmful, dangerous, violent, or criminal activities, or the threat of these activities, to appropriate public safety agencies and school officials."

In other words, it's a smartphone app where you can voice your concerns and/or snitch on people. 

Creates the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission
A state-level committee that will "investigate system failures in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and prior mass violence incidents in this state and develop recommendations for system improvements." 

In other words, they're going to spend a lot of time and money pointing fingers and trying to come up with ways to prevent future shootings

Creates the Florida Safe Schools Assessment Tool
The FL Dept of Education will contract with a security consulting firm to create the Safe School Assessment Tool to identify threats and vulnerabilities and then implement safety changes. From what I can tell, legislators have finally realized that school shootings aren't stopped by gun-free zones and are treating them like fires, and will research ways to make schools less vulnerable to gunmen.

Authorizes spending lots of money to fund these programs
How much?  Around $400 million, with about $200 million in recurring funds. God knows where Florida is going to get the money for almost half a billion in school improvements. 

Too Long, Did Not Read version:
No one is happy except the bureaucrats.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

In Memoriam: Christian Jack Scheel 7/7/17 – 3/6/18

Art Scheel, also known as "Anti Tango", suffered a devastating loss this week when his 8 month old son Christian died.

Here's the story in his own words.

I can't even begin to process this. I've never had children, so I don't know what kind of love that is, or what kind of fear a parent has for them. I call it a slippery, spherical tragedy; like trying to pick up a greased bowling ball, it's something I cannot grasp... and yet, I'm still struck ill by this terrible thing, which tells me that what the Scheel family is going through is immeasurably worse.

Like many of you, I have this urgent desire to help, to comfort, to do something, anything, but am frustrated by the separation of distance between them and me and the knowledge that anything I do will be just a bandaid on an amputated limb.

Still, if you're like me you'll want to do something to help. Here's what you can do:
  • There's a GoFundMe to pay for the medical bills and the funeral. Funds are always useful at a time like this. 
  • If you'd prefer to donate directly, I have been informed by Meghan, the lady who started the GoFundMe, that there is an America First Credit Union for Art and his family and that you'll need the account name and account number to donate:
    • Account name: Arthur Scheel 
    • Account number: 9100280 
  • If you're local and want to give direct aid, or if you want to send something physical to the family (such as flowers, toys for the two older boys, etc), please email Brandon Kuhn at Utredneck AT gmail DOT com or message him via Facebook if you're FB friends. Brandon knows the Scheel family, is local, and is active in their church, so he's our Boots On The Ground man. He knows what they need and what they don't, so talk to him before sending anything. 
  • Offer sympathy, support and love to the Scheel family on Art's Facebook page. If you find you can't post to that page, write it on my wall and I'll tag him. 
  • Pray, if you're the praying type, for peace and healing upon this family. 
Thank you. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Catastrophic Human Emulation Failure

Booting system

Commencing system check...

Memory unit: yellow

Initializing tactics log...

Catastrophic damage detected

Vitals: Red

Warning: trauma detected in the following systems

  • Ocular tracking
  • Vocal fluidity
  • Empathy emulation
  • Digital dexterity modules
Ambulatory systems offline

Black Box system failure

IFF system failure

Pod connection not found

DBU Setup failed

Primary inertia control system offline

Engaging secondary motion control systems...

Primary boot sequence halted: Offline repairs recommended before continuing

Mission status: incomplete

Emergency override initiated...

Loading backup personality profile...


Monday, March 5, 2018

Pathfinder: Lingering Injuries

I discovered that 5e D&D has a "Lingering Injury" table, so of course I immediately went  to find out more about it, because part of being a good GM is shamelessly stealing from other game systems and incorporating them into my game.

And not only did I find the d20 table in the 5e DMG, but I found a d100 table which I think is clearly much better.

Now, the original rule gave the recommendation that this chart be rolled when a creature takes a critical hit, drops to 0 hit points but isn't killed outright, or fails a death saving throw by 5 or more, but I don't like that.

Instead, it'll work like this:
  • Lingering Injuries only affect PCs and named NPCs (followers, boss monsters, etc.)
    • Un-named NPCs just get hit with damage to speed things up. 
  • The table is used only for critical hits or when their hit points fall below zero. 
    • If a PC suffers a critical hit, they have a choice: take normal weapon damage and roll on the table, or take the increased damage from the crit. 
    • The choice is made after the critical is confirmed, but before damage is rolled. 
    • Ultimately it's a gamble, but one that gives the players some agency to avoid character death:
      • If they're certain a crit will kill them, they roll on the table and suffer an injury which will hamper them for the rest of the fight (as well as taking regular weapon damage);
      • Or they take the damage and hope it doesn't kill them. Maybe the damage dice will roll really poorly?
  • If a PC is in negative hit points, they're dying and something had to put them that way, so they need to roll on the table to determine just how messed up they are. 
  • I may also use this for when I want to mess up PCs for failing to avoid a trap instead of just dishing out hit point damage. 
I know that some people will complain that many of the lingering injuries can be cured with magical healing, and my answer is So what? If the PC took a critical hit, that would also be cured with magical healing. It's a resource drain either way. 

So here's my version of that d100 Lingering Injury table, converted to Pathfinder:
The Google Docs version can be grabbed here.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

I Did a Thing

After nearly a year of consideration, I have decided to make a Public Figure page on Facebook. I resisted at first, because I felt it would be extra work for limited gain, but I finally gave in when I realized that having a page which was solely for my pro-gun and pro-queer activism would look more professional than one which shared space with my insecurities and nerdy interests.

I dunno. It's a thing, and I did it. Time will tell if it was a good decision or not.

This blog, though, will remain as an outlet for my feelings and nerdy interests. I'm not a one-dimensional caricature who only lives and breathes activism; I'm a fully-developed human being with interests that lie beyond "who I am" and "what I do".

  1. Professional Palette can be found at my Public Figure page and the Operation Blazing Sword website
  2. Enthusiastic Erin can be found here and on my personal Facebook page
  3. And of course, Erin the Patalable Prepper can be found at Blue Collar Prepping

I hope you'll stick around, but if you're just following me for the politics, you'll probably be happier with my professional page and I won't hold it against you.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Gun Rights are Queer Rights

Erin, why do you believe that gun rights are queer rights?

· I have the right to live.
· There are people who wish to harm me because I am queer.
· Guns allow me to defend my queer life.
∴ Therefore, guns preserve queer lives.

· Guns cannot preserve queer lives if queer people cannot carry them.
· Gun rights means that all non-prohibited people can carry guns.
· By carrying a gun, I can defend my queer life.
∴ Therefore, gun rights are pro-queer.

· Gun rights are natural rights.
· Loving whomever I want is a natural right.
· Living as I wish, so long as it harms none, is also a natural right.
∴ Therefore, gun rights are queer rights and both are natural rights.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Pellatarrum: Gods?

This is a funny subject to be talking about, since the original impetus of creating Pellatarrum was to make a fantasy world where there was a semi-monotheistic dualistic belief system like Europe had in the middle ages -- "Mother Church vs. Those Godless Heathens/Devil Worshippers" -- but side-stepping the entire awkward religion thing because how do you get Dwarves and Elves and Orcs to agree on the same god?  So I created the Church of the Light, the Cult of the Dark, and the Cabal of the Gray and rationalized everything with veneration of life, privacy, and nature, respectively. And I think it turned out pretty well, if I say so myself.

And then I got the bright idea to run a Pathfinder game set in Pellatarrum, and I started to explain the cosmology to my group and went "...oh, crap." Not because my players are dumb, mind you, but because half of them are old-school D&D grognards who are all about mythology, and the other half had never played before and didn't grok things like energy planes and how you could worship a concept instead of a god. Also, I *suck* at making dungeon crawls and prefer to use pre-published ones, and those (especially at higher levels) depend pretty heavily on Outsiders as enemies.

So with my usual charm and aplomb I took a metaphorical chainsaw to my own idea (kill your darlings, says the aphorism) and went with a modified Pellatarrum that incorporated deities but tried to preserve the weird flavor of the setting.

It is still an experiment, but here's what I've worked out:
  • Everything in the Pellatarrum creation myth still happens: chosen ones hidden on elemental planes, destruction of the outer planes, the four elder races trigger the Engines of Creation to manufacture their own Material Plane. 
  • Those heroes who literally create the world ascend to godhood, along with some of their closest compatriots (for example, Torag brings his family with him into divinity). Therefore the oldest gods in Pellatarrum are -- or rather, were -- dwarves, elves, dragons, and orcs. 
  • Other races can be elevated through heroic deeds to demigod status and then achieve greater divinity through worship (which is earned by doing divine deeds, which gets more worshippers, etc). So far -- as in, this could change if I change my mind -- only humans have achieved divinity. 
  • This gives racial pantheons based upon themes but allows for some cross-overs. For example, the god of magic is/was a dragon, but wizards from nearly all races revere him; people who do nature-y things gravitate towards the elven gods; etc. I'm still hammering out the specifics, but the general idea is:
    • Dwarves: community, creation, and defensive war. 
    • Elves: nature, arts, and emotion. 
    • Dragons: secrets, knowledge, and power. 
    • Orcs: warfare, passion, and strength. 
    • Humans: anything that doesn't fit these categories, or bridges them. 
  • This does however mean the orcs are cast in the role of "perpetual bad guys" and one of the things I've tried to avoid with Pellatarrum is the lazy "This race is always evil" trope. Humans are complex and neither wholly good nor wholly evil, so why should dwarves or elves or orcs be the same way? I don't like that. On the other hand, it's not like the elves would worship an orc god of war (or a dwarf god of war), so trying to round out the orcs into a "not wholly evil, just alien and misunderstood" race then causes more problems, like where are all these evil gods coming from? Who is worshiping them? I'm probably over-thinking these things.
  • I'm still not sure where the various deities live. I don't want to put them on the elemental planes because that would set up a weird state of affairs where the souls of the faithful return to the realm where their ancestors were slaves. I can put one pantheon in the positive energy plane, but putting another in the negative energy plane seems a bit cliched in a "These are the bad guys" style. I like the idea of the gods living on the same plane as their worshippers, because that seems very Greek and isn't done much in fantasy, but then I have to decide what happens to the souls of the faithful.
  • Speaking of cliches, I also want to avoid angels and devils and demons. I'm thinking of going with D&D 3rd edition energons, because they're  nicely elemental like everything else in Pellatarrum, and they're weird and alien. I'll need to bump up their stats, though, and likely change their names, because while Xag-Ya and Xeg-Yi are okay-ish, I have no freaking idea how to pronounce Xac-Yij and Xap-Yaup is just plain stupid.

Sigh. This is a headache I wanted to avoid, which is why I originally made my campaign setting agnostic. I've never found a "universal pantheon" which I liked, especially given the multitude of fantasy races out there, and "multiple pantheons" just strikes me as annoyingly redundant. 

If anyone has suggestions on what to do, I'd love to hear them. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

Unwelcome Defender

I think this might count as a definition of irony: being asked to leave an Active Shooter Seminar by one of the deputies teaching it, right as it gets to the fight portion of "Run, Hide, Fight", because the pearl-clutching pastor saw the bulge of my gun under my clothes.

I shall expound:  A local church was hosting an active shooter (they called it "active killer" because as we've seen, murderers are using more than guns these days) seminar and because I'm a prepper who likes training and learning, I decided to attend.

I am of course carrying, because I always carry when I leave my house. I'm printing through my clothes, but I don't worry about that because 1) Florida law says "Keep it concealed" rather than "Thou shalt not print", which is good because cover garments in 80+ degree weather suck, and 2) churches aren't prohibited places in Florida and there's no posted signage on the doors about guns not being allowed.

It's a 2 hour class, and I'm sitting on an uncomfortable chair, and I've never been able to sit still in my life, so of course I'm fidgeting and trying to get comfortable. I know for a fact that I don't expose the gun, because it's covered by my shorts pulled up and my shirt pulled down, but the bulge on my right hip is probably obvious when I put my weight on my left as I try to keep my butt from falling asleep.

One of the deputies comes up to me and says "Can I talk to you for a moment?" and gestures to the back of the hall. I of course follow him.

The conversion goes roughly like this:
Him: "Are you carrying a weapon?"
Me: "I am a licensed concealed carrier and I have a lawful firearm, yes."
Him: "You can't have it in here."
Me: "Churches aren't prohibited places in Florida."
Him: "You can't have it in here,  in this particular church."
Me: "Sir, I didn't see any posted signage to that effect. If I had I wouldn't have entered."
Him: "Would you mind taking your weapon out to your car?"
Me: "I'll just leave."
Him: "I don't want you to leave. I want you to take this class. You can come back if you leave your weapon in the car."
Me: "I want to take this class as well, but I will not disarm to do it. I'll leave. Thank you."
He was very polite about the whole thing, and I could tell he was enforcing something he didn't want to, so I didn't put up a fight. He walked me to the door, and once outside we had a conversation like this:
Him: "I really don't want you to go."
Me: "I understand that, but I refuse to disarm. Since I'm not welcome here, I'll leave."
Him: "You really feel that strongly about it?"
Me: "I really do."
Him: "I'm really sorry about that."
Me: "I understand. You're just doing your job. I bear you no ill will. I think it's bullshit, because there's no posted signage, but I won't disarm and I won't make a scene, so I'll just leave."
I volunteered to show him my permit, and he looked at it. "Oh, you're local!" "Yes, sir."  He apologized several more times, and I could tell by the look on his face that he knew it was bullshit and that he didn't want me to go. He explained that people were on edge because of the shooting, and the pastor was anti-gun, and she had seen the bulge on my hip.

"I understand that, sir. Please tell her that she asked a lawful carrier to leave, and that she really needs to post signage." He nodded and I left. I sincerely hope that when it was his turn at the podium again, he said something to the effect of "If you have an active killer and you can't run or hide, the best way to fight them is with a lawfully carried concealed handgun," but I rather doubt it.

I swear, I do not understand this mindset. My pistol was concealed, but the deputies were wearing theirs openly, so she clearly wasn't afraid of their guns. And the deputy clearly wasn't afraid of me, because our interaction was conversational rather than confrontational. So she's one of those people who would rather have a quasi-professional caste created to be her absolving wet workers rather than accept personal responsibility for her own safety... which is ironic, since the entire point of the seminar was that in an active shooter situation, you have to take steps to protect your life because the police aren't there.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Pellatarrum: Summon Monster 1

Summon Monster I summons a variety of... not entirely useful creatures, and then tries to make them more interesting by applying the celestial, fiendish, entropic, or resolute template to them. This is all very well and good, except that Pellatarrum is a world where the outer planes no longer exist, and there are no angels or demons, and so these templates really make no sense within the setting.

There are however two easy fixes to this:
  1. Replace the aforementioned templates with Aerial CreatureAqueous CreatureChthonic Creature or Fiery Creature and say that the various critters are being pulled from the elemental planes instead of the outer ones. 
  2. Take the Elemental (Small) which is summoned with Summon Monster 2 and apply the Young template to it, making it weaker and dropping its challenge rating, thus making it suitable for a level 1 spell. 
Or heck, do both. Just not at once, because a fiery fire elemental is redundant, and an aqueous fire elemental is stupid. 

Given Pellatarrum's elemental connection to the seasons, GMs wishing a bit more crunch can give bonuses (nothing higher than a +2) to Base Attack Bonus and Armor Class if that particular element is in season, and similar penalties when it is in opposition.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Gunnies Helping Gunnies: Athena Burkhead

Hi. I’m Athena Burkhead, the daughter of David Burkhead, the Writer In Black.

My parents are going through a divorce right now. My father wants to keep custody of me, and I want to stay with him for very good reasons that I cannot legally talk about.  Due to the lawyer’s fees involved, my father and I are financially struggling.

Our family of two needs money in order to be able to support itself, which is why I’m starting this fundraiser. $6,000 ought to cover the costs of the custody and divorce.

We need help immediately. My father has gone into debt to keep custody of me. I love him and don’t want him to go bankrupt , but I don’t want to live with my mother, either.

I don't want to be taken away from my father. Please help us.
I don't know all the details (it's none of my business), but what I do know of the situation has convinced me that Athena needs to be with her father instead of her mother.

Tell you what, I'll just quote the other people who know more.

Key words: Rescue Operation. 

Key words: Athena needs to stay with her father, at all costs.

Key words: The mother is best described as a monster.

Please help keep a teenage girl with her loving father. You can do this in the following ways:
  • Donate to their GoFundMe campaign
  • Give directly via PayPal to (the misspelling of his last name is intentional; this is David's earmarked PayPal account set up expressly for legal fees). 
  • Buy David's books on Amazon. He gets money and you get a book! 
  • David's books* are also available on Kindle Unlimited. That means if you have a KU account, you can read them for fee. (Don't worry, he still gets paid.)
  • Share this fundraiser so that other people see it!
In only 48 hours we've managed to raise half of our goal! I'm certain that we can raise the other half over the weekend. 

Plus, if you donate $100 or more, you get to pick an 8x10 print from Oleg Volk's gallery to be drop-shipped to you (where available - Oleg can't drop ship to every country).

If you donate $200 or more, you get to pick a 16x20 print from Oleg's gallery!

So please, donate and share today! Thank you!

 *All of the ebooks over which he has control, that is. The Sword & Sorceress anthology is the only one not available in KU because it's the only one over which he has no control.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Salem (Finally) Watches A Movie: Black Panther

Well, I finally saw it. After all the hype, the backlash, and the culture wars going on around Black Panther, I finally got to see it and make up my mind for myself.

That's all I really wanted, world. I wanted to make up my mind for myself. I didn't want to be told that Black Panther was a cultural milestone or that it was racist against me (somehow. I'm not quite white enough for the ethnostate, sorry guys). I wanted it to be a good movie.

Our story starts on Sunday, the day I'd originally planned to see the movie. I woke up reasonably early for me, just in time to catch the last matinee at 12:30. I made it with time enough to spare, taking into account missing most of the pre-show commercials and preview trailers. I pulled into the parking lot of the Winrock Theaters, and... just kept driving. And driving.

There were no parking spots. I'm not sure if the movie was sold out or not; I never even got a chance to ask. Every single spot in the Regal Winrock theaters of Albuquerque was filled. I'm not even talking about "It was too full to park my unreasonably large van because I haven't figured out how to fit in a space without two empty ones on either side" full; I'm talking "Every single spot was full and I'd have had to park at Toys R Us a mile away just to see if there were still seats open" full.

So instead, I took the day off Wednesday, slept in late, and caught the 3:45 IMAX showing, which was damn near empty. And here's where my thoughts begin:

You're all wrong.

  • Black Panther is not "alt-right." Yes, Wakanda is xenophobic. Yes, it does have barriers and walls and hides from the world. It's an ethnostate, if not on purpose. It's a bit violent, especially its ritual combat for the throne. Wakanda could have been considered "alt-right" about two generations back, but T'Chaka, late of Civil War's catalyst event, had begun outreach programs, notably in Lagos. Sure, no one had been invited to Wakanda, but it was progress. Progress that was carried forward under T'Challa. 
  • Neither is the movie about you. It's an excellent portrayal of a deeply traditional society that had a massive technological advantage, but as the villain of the piece shows, it's a society with no real connection to American culture. As a movie based around a culture, though, it works very well. To the hidden disappointment of many, it is neither documentary nor fantasy.

With that out of the way, was it good? Did it stand on its own merits? In a word, yes. It's a very good movie, and a very worthy induction into the MCU canon. Visually, it was very striking, and my only complaint was that the movie shifts very, very quickly between dark and bright scenes, and these tired old eyes don't adjust quite as quickly as they used to. Set design and art direction deserve all the applause they get in this film. The movie's story is not overly complicated or simplistic, and flows well.

The cast is mostly excellent.

  • I make no secret that I was disappointed at Chadwick Boseman's casting, as I was rooting for Chiwetel Ejiofor to be cast as T'Challa. My consolation prize of him appearing as Mordo in Doctor Strange was satisfying, at least, and Boseman has won me over. He seemed almost too confident in Civil War, but in his solo debut, he has a lot more range on display, showing youthful vigor and moments of self-doubt that perhaps Ejiofor wouldn't have delivered on as well. 
  • Of special note is his chemistry with Letitia Wright's Shuri, his little sister and Wakanda's science whiz. Their playful bickering lent for the most authentic brother/sister combo I think I've seen in this genre of movie. 
  • Andy Sirkis was hamming it up, almost like a villainous Drax (see Guardians of the Galaxy) and was having waaay more fun than anyone else on-screen... it's a shame what happened to his character. 
  • Danai Gurira is excellent as always, and has a scene-stealing moment during a fever-pitched battle near the end of the movie. 
  • And finally, the memes are right about Michael B Jordan: this is the second Human Torch that Marvel has redeemed, as his Killmonger chews the scenery maniacally, almost out-hamming Sirkis at times. I wouldn't go so far as to call him a good villain, but he's certainly on the higher end of MCU villains; better than Ronan or Stane, but not quite to the level of a Loki or Hela.
  • While Martin Freeman turned in a standard Martin Freeman-level performance, I couldn't help but wonder why he was there. Aside from the obvious ties to Civil War, there really seemed to be no purpose for his character. Even the one time he actually did take action near the end, it's something that Shuri easily could have (and basically did) done earlier. 
  • As for Forrest Whittaker, he was... well, he was Forrest Whittaker. I suppose Morgan Freeman wasn't available.
Was it perfect, though? No, it wasn't. It deserves the good reviews it's getting, but it's certainly not flawless:
  • The opening is very weak, with literal narration providing the backstory of Wakanda with some tech that you don't even realize until later in the movie is Wakandan showing a sort of sand-sculpture representation of the warring tribes that formed Wakanda and the events of the world around it. Fortunately, the movie rights itself and spends the rest of its runtime showing and not telling, even if that runtime does seem to stretch on longer than it needs to. 
  • The pace is good, but it easily could have been 20 minutes shorter or so and been even tighter.
  • Some of the effects missed the mark, and Panther does not look nearly as fluidly realistic as he did in Civil War, and the battle between he and Killmonger, both wearing panther suits, had little impact as neither of them looked very real. The CGI at times felt very unpolished and reminded me of Blade II or the Matrix movies.

The movie could be criticized for having an inconsistent message to it, but I like to chalk that up to different characters actually having different motivations. I respected greatly how, on the whole, it takes a rather moderate view. The traditionalist characters strongly believe that Wakanda should not become involved at all in the outside world, and when Killmonger comes on the scene, he's very clearly parroting activist talking points in a cartoonish manner, wanting to use the resources of Wakanda not to uplift others but to destroy the world and rebuild it to his will. Neither of these views ultimately win out, as at the end of the movie Wakanda seems to have a new goal: benevolent outreach programs, to share its tech and resources with those in need.

All in all, this was a satisfying movie. It earns its place amongst Marvel's top films. It's not going to change the world, and it doesn't really need to... unless you're one of those people with an irrational need to see yourself represented physically on-screen (a viewpoint which I don't understand how anyone who enjoys sci-fi or fantasy can hold), you'll like it. If you were a fan of Avengers-related comics, you'll like it. It respects the source material and translates it very well.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Spread It Far. Spread It Wide.

In February 2017, I made a comment that turned out to be so popular it was even quoted by Kathy "Fight Like a Cornered Cat" Jackson on her Facebook page:

I had largely forgotten about it until today, when my friend Jacob Miheve tagged me in a Facebook comment because he remembered the quote but not verbatim.

Since the subject was once again relevant, I decided it needed to be made into a picture. My own meager talents were insufficient, but the help of Jacob and Kathy turned my words into this beauty:

Spread it far, spread it wide.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Gun Control? No. People Control? No. Tragedy Control? YES.

I've been getting a lot of mileage out of this post in the past week. I can't claim credit for it; my friend Matthew House came up with the concept. I only prettied up the words and have been posting it wherever it's relevant. 

In any crime, there are three components: Means, Motive, and Opportunity. In this case, the crime we are discussing is mass murder.
  • The Means could be anything from guns to bombs to poison gas to fire to running people over with a truck.
  • The Motive is complex, mostly non-rational, and very emotional: pain, hate, fear, isolation.
  • The Opportunity is access to an undefended area full of people.

Only looking to restrict or control guns is to only pay attention to a single Means of mass murder. This isn't productive, as the number of means of killing people is only limited by the human imagination: guns, knives, poison gas, fire, running people over with a truck. The Boston Bombers used a kitchen appliance, yet we can all agree that implementing controls on pressure cookers is a terrible idea.

Motive is also a tough one. Sure, there are the usual terrorists and people out for revenge, but there are also the mentally disturbed people who don't have a real motive; the voices in their heads just told them to do it. Then there are the spree shooters, of whom we can say that most, if not all, of them suffered from a profound sense of disconnection and isolation from society. A half-dozen psych papers could be written about this and it would barely scratch the surface. The sheer variety and complexity of motives is what makes this factor difficult to account for.

So, the only component we can work on with any certainty of success is Opportunity. We need to deny the shooter the opportunity to kill his victims. In this most recent occurrence of mass murder, we need to find ways to deny murderers access to our children, and we do that by securing our schools against violence in the same way that we secure them against fire: not by declaring the school a fire-free zone, or by passing regulations against matches and gasoline, but by designing the layout to prevent tragedy.

We need to make it harder for killers to get to our children. I guarantee you every gun owner in the country will be all for that.

Now I don't have any specific suggestions on how to harden our schools*, because I'm neither an architect nor a security expert, but I know there are people out there who are these things and who can make our schools secure without turning them into prisons. We just need to stop worrying about the means and the motives of these tragedies and instead concentrate on preventing the opportunity for them to happen.

* I like the ideas of bullet-resistant windows and classroom doors which are both armored and lockable, but there may be reasons why those are not feasible for schools.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Reaching My Limit

I will put up with a lot of crap on my Facebook wall. So much so, in fact, that my friend David Blackard has told me that I have "the patience of a saint" for putting up with people for as long as I do.

What's ironic about his statement is that I am inherently impatient and don't like it when people disagree with me such that my first reaction is to go "No, you're full of crap, go away"; but because I am aware of my impatient, dismissive nature, and because I do not wish to live in an echo chamber (the first rule of Dunning–Kruger Club is that no one knows they're in Dunning–Kruger club), I tend to let people disagree with me -- no matter how much I find it grind-my-molars irritating -- until they breach certain pre-defined "no go" zones. And when that happens, I take swift and decisive action, which can range from deleting the post and telling them "Don't ever do that again" to blocking them.

One of those limits is verbally attacking my friends. Names which I'd allow against me aren't allowed against my friends, because I figure it if hurts my feelings perhaps I'm just sensitive, but if it pisses me off to see my friend treated that way, you're done.

Another such limit is to go out of your way to misgender me. While it can be difficult to get my pronouns correct in person if I'm not looking my best, it is entirely another thing to look at my female name and my feminine portrait and go "You know, it would cost me absolutely nothing to be polite in this text-based conversation, but I shall make an effort to be insulting."  I've actually had people argue with me over what I actually am!

The third limit is the one which prompted today's post, and that is when someone makes a blanket "You are X and you should feel terrible for being X, you worthless person" statement. Usually these have been people telling me that I'm mentally ill because I'm transgender (I beg to differ, and prefer to think of myself as having been born with a birth defect and am trying to make a difficult life more pleasant for myself), but given the most recent tragedy there's a fair amount of name-calling and finger-pointing at responsible gun owners.

Here is what pushed me to my limit today:

Why, how dare I want the means to preserve my life against violence! How dare I kill another who wishes harm upon me! Why, if I were truly enlightened like Jd, I would offer myself up as a human sacrifice before the criminal who wanted me harmed, because my death would be moral. And if I disagree, why then I shouldn't sully the title of American by claiming it as my own; I should rather emigrate to a less-enlightened country or else exile myself to death in the outermost darkness.

Needless to say, this raised my ire to such a degree that I briefly lost my composure and indulged in some very un-ladylike f-bombs:

Any morality which requires me, a non-criminal, to die because it makes people feel better is a direct threat to my existence and I won't tolerate it. I probably could have continued to debate this... person... but the moment someone outright tells me that they prefer my death, I cease to give a shit about anything they do or say.

One of these days, people will push me until I get so upset that I will actually answer the question "How many people have to die before you will embrace gun control?", and they will be horrified at my response. But that, dear reader, is a subject for another day.

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