Did Japan lie about North Korean nuclear testing deaths?

When I was thirteen years old, I carried a hammer, a bucket of rusty nails, and a bunch of scrap wood deep into my backyard, and then proceeded to build the most epic treehouse imaginable. It was three stories high, with each ascending level slightly smaller than the one below it, the third being simply a lookout perch, with just enough room for one person to stand and keep watch. The lower level had a roof, to keep the rain off me when I decided I needed to be able to spend the night out there on occasion. Railings were only for show, of course. Who needs them when you’re thirteen and invincible?

This treehouse, or tree fortress really, was my legacy, and I was so proud of it.

When my dad got home, he helped me tear it down.

It was my mom’s fault, really. She told on me. She didn’t know what she was talking about, of course, but naturally my dad took her side. The treehouse was “unsafe.” Rusty nails and 2x4s are not structurally sound enough to support a person’s weight over time, allegedly. And three levels is just too high off the ground, and completely unnecessary. Such BS.

Instead of junk wood and rusty nails, my dad helped me build a single-story treehouse in its place. He used 2x6s and large lag screws to secure the boards to the trees. No fortress was this, but rather a safe and secure platform that even my little sisters were comfortable perching on. In other words, it was useless to me.

If you’re reading this, you probably understand that in my eyes as a thirteen-year-old, the tree fortress I had built was amazing. But you also understand that my parents were certainly correct when they made me tear it down. Because a thirteen-year-old doesn’t have the wisdom to see the big picture—to see the nails that had already begun to work their way out of the tree trunks, to see the dangerous bending of the boards as he walks across them, to foresee the possible dangers of a stumble and fall from 20 feet up. A boy who can’t actually fathom the possibility and finality of death or the likelihood of an accident can’t foresee the dangers of his construction. And, without any background in building, construction, physics, or architecture, he can’t see the eventual and inevitable structural failure of his mighty creation.

What does this all have to do with North Korea? Well, I think the press wants us to look at Kim Jong-un as a petulant thirteen-year-old who can’t see the big picture, and can’t fathom his own mortality, or the strength of his rivals.

The media loves to feed this perception, using terms like “hermit kingdom,” “madman,” and “isolated recluse.” If you spend time studying Kim Jong-un though, you’ll realize that these things just aren’t true. Kim is the head of a government. That means he has the resources of a government behind him, backing his decisions and his thought processes.

It’s easy to envision him as Lord Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, eating a plate of greasy chicken while getting vague, fourth-hand reports from a few select advisors, making ill-informed and misled decisions based on faulty intelligence.

But this isn’t the case. Kim Jong-un has a full Intelligence Committee that reports to him. While they do rely heavily on open-source information, they do a fantastically thorough job of gathering and analyzing that intel. And make no mistake, they have a full network of spies doing human intelligence gathering throughout Asia at the very least. While they may not have the capability and resources of the CIA or MI-6, they are committed and dedicated to giving Kim Jong-un accurate and current data about the United States and our allies.

I read a report by Robert Carlin on 38north recently that stated that North Korea believes it’s nuclear forces have reached a level where the United States no longer has the means to counter them. Here’s an excerpt:

One problem not well understood is that the North Koreans believe recent developments in their nuclear weapons program have boosted them to a level of invulnerability, and that as a result, Washington—whatever it might say—is without options to counter them.

In fact, Pyongyang is so convinced that its strategic position has fundamentally changed for the better that it has recently suggested there may be no need for it to continue building up its program. Since two successful ICBM launches last July, the North’s position is that it has reached the “final stage” in bolstering the nuclear force. It has even explicitly laid out a final goal, a “practical equilibrium” with the United States. What that means exactly we do not know, though presumably Pyongyang has something specific in mind.

This is ridiculously misleading. In order to believe that Kim Jong-un thinks his country is strong enough to be invulnerable to a U.S. attack, you have to believe he’s like thirteen-year-old me. Naïve and lacking knowledge to the extent that he can’t fathom his vulnerability. Secure in the hubris of youth and misinformed, or uninformed, to the extent that lead young me to conclusions of security that couldn’t be justified by the actual facts.

This would mean that Kim Jong-un’s network of intelligence analysts are either too stupid, or too scared to give him accurate information. And this is almost certainly not true. North Korea has to know their missiles and nuclear weapons have not been tested thoroughly enough to be reliable. They have to know their arsenal is not sufficient to disable the United States and prevent a counter-attack. They have access to the same internet that you and I do, and we know this information. It’s their jobs to know it, and to pass it up the chain to the Great Leader himself. They have to know the military might of the world would descend upon them in the event of an attack. They are not stupid, they are not naïve, and they are not thirteen and lacking in life experience.

If North Korea is boasting that they’ve reached the “final stage” in bolstering their nuclear force, they are doing that only as misdirection, IMO. Confusion and uncertainty is their primary weapon after all. It’s almost certain that the west has no human intelligence operatives in North Korea, and that we rely on open-source intelligence and satellite imagery for our knowledge of their activities. That makes it fairly easy for North Korea to misdirect and attempt to confuse us.

So, what should the conclusion be with regard to the statements made by Pyongyang regarding their invulnerability to attack? Perhaps they want the United States to believe that they believe that. And, if U.S. intelligence agents think like Robert Carlin thinks (and hopefully they don’t), then I guess North Korea has succeeded.

If Pyongyang can get Washington to believe that they believe they’re invulnerable to attack, then Trump will believe that any attack on Pyongyang will result in a full and complete war, possibly to the extent that nuclear weapons are involved. And if he believes that, then he’ll be less likely to want to take steps that might lead to that type of confrontation—all bluster notwithstanding.

If Kim can get Trump to back down from his confrontational outbursts, then North Korea will buy time to continue their nuclear program without hindrance, and that’s their actual goal. They want to eventually actually be invulnerable to attack, or to at least have the ability to bite back and inflict serious damage if attacked.

And they’re still a long way from having that ability, despite the fears the media wants to project.

Speaking of projecting fear and uncertainty, on October 31st, Japanese news station Asahi TV reported that a tunnel collapse at the North Korea nuclear test facility inside Mount Mantap on September 10th, had killed at least 100 people, and a further 100 had been killed by another collapse during a rescue attempt. They claimed this collapse could cause nuclear fallout to spread throughout the region. This story was picked up and re-broadcast by such heavy hitters as Newsweek, Fox News, USAToday, and MSN. All of them quoted the Asahi TV story as their source, with no confirmation to back it up, blaming the most recent nuclear detonation from September 3rd for destabilizing the terrain and causing the cave-in.

And it might have all been a lie.

According to 38north.com, there is absolutely no evidence to support the story that a tunnel collapse occurred, or caused any deaths. Although satellite imagery was unavailable due to cloud conditions between September 8th and the 17th, analysis of satellite imagery after the clouds had cleared, showed no signs whatsoever of any equipment or new debris piles that would have indicated a rescue attempt had been performed. Although it is possible North Korea could have removed any sign of such rescue efforts during that period of cloud cover, there was also no seismic activity registered on September 10th in the area. Such seismic activity would almost certainly have been present during two major tunnel collapses of that nature, and the Japanese report claimed an earthquake from settling of the mountain due to the nuclear testing had been the cause of the collapse.

So, why would they make up such a story, and why would nearly every major western news organization pick it up without any confirmation?

North Korea officials claim that the story is an attempt by Japan to subvert their nuclear testing program. They blasted Japan through their state-run news agency, KCNA, calling the attempted misinformation “slander” of their nuclear program.

The big part of the story was the report that such collapses could open a vent in the mountainside that would cause nuclear fallout to spread throughout the region. There were reports from Beijing that any nuclear fallout reaching China would be considered an act of war. And it’s possible that the entire story was completely false to begin with.

I think news agencies have reached a dangerous trend where they don’t try to confirm stories prior to posting them, and these stories can have consequences. Instead of confirming the stories, they simply put a small disclaimer in there, “We have been unable to independently confirm these reports,” or something of that nature. And it’s lazy and negligent reporting at its finest.

Of course, I’ve given up on the news media doing the right thing. They’re far too concerned with ratings and exclusives, and seemingly completely unconcerned with accuracy and integrity.

It’s Fake News at its finest, and it’s disgusting, destabilizing, and potentially dangerous. And it’s only going to get worse going forward.

Gunslingers wanted; inquire within.

On Sunday night, October 1st, 2017, I was playing poker at Encore in Las Vegas when my phone rang at 10:50pm. It was my daughter, Meghan, and she told me she was scared. She was at a club at the Wynn Casino and they’d just closed the club and kicked everybody out, telling them there were multiple active shooters on the strip and everybody needed to leave.

I knew what she was talking about. It had been on the news in the poker room for the last fifteen minutes. By now, everybody knows about the Route 91 Harvest Festival mass murder. We know it was just one active shooter, firing from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. At the time though, the reports were conflicting. One active shooter for sure, with reports of several others. Except there are almost never other shooters in these situations, even though there are ALWAYS reports of multiple shooters. I told her that. I then told her to stay calm and to walk over to see me. Luckily, Encore is attached to the Wynn and you can get there without going outside. She could have been at any club in town and I could have been playing poker at any poker room, but we happened to be right next to each other.

Unfortunately, when she got to me, I could offer only emotional support and comfort to her. I could offer little in the way of protection as I was unarmed this night. I was unarmed because Wynn and Encore do not allow firearms in their hotel and casino. Believe it or not, most strip casinos do not have rules against carrying firearms, and I’m almost always armed when I’m playing poker. I have a permit to carry concealed in Nevada, and I nearly always do.

Tonight, I’d decided not to carry because I’d been caught carrying a concealed firearm by Wynn security a few months earlier. They’d seen the slight bulge under my shirt and had asked me if it was a firearm. When I’d admitted that it was, they’d asked me to please check it with security, this time and in the future. I’d done that a few times, and it’s quite a hassle. I know it’s possible if they catch me with a firearm again, there’s a reasonable chance they’ll ban me from the premises since they’ve already warned me, and I’m not willing to risk that, so I always comply with their rules and check my firearm while I’m there, despite the hassle. Tonight, I’d decided not to go through with that hassle and to leave my firearm at home, something I was now regretting. It was the first time in quite a while that I was unarmed on the strip, and there was an active shooter.

Why do I carry a gun on the strip when I’m playing poker? There are a couple of reasons. If you’re a tourist, you may not realize that Vegas is not a very safe city. There are a lot of murders, a lot of shootings, and a lot of armed robberies in these casinos, and on and around the strip. It’s also a target rich environment with constant crowds of clueless tourists stumbling around half in the bag, pockets full of cash. I have a lot of firearms training, from top-notch instructors, and I’ve been through a lot of simulated shoot/don’t shoot scenario training. I’m a good guy with good training, and I think it’s important for good people to be armed in this world where the wolves rarely have to concern themselves with the sheep. More on this later.

Now, to be clear, being armed against this particular active shooter would have been worthless. From his perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, nobody was going to be returning fire. In fact, had there been armed and poorly trained people at the concert, it might have done more harm than good. Imagine if they’d decided to return fire? Firing upward with a pistol from 1500 feet away…exactly a zero percent chance of hitting the shooter and a near 100% chance of their bullets slamming into the side of the Mandalay Bay, possibly hitting innocent people in floors well below the shooter. That would have been a disaster. (Although, pistol rounds from that distance would have been unlikely to have enough velocity and kinetic energy to penetrate the hurricane glass.)

 

There have been many situations in the past though, where a well-trained and armed person might have been able to prevent a tragedy, or at least to lessen the extent of the tragedy. A few that come to mind are Sandy Hook, Columbine, Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the church in Charleston, and at Virginia Tech.

There have also been many situations in which an armed civilian has stopped a mass murder from happening, or at least lessened the carnage by confronting the shooter. We hear about these far less frequently than we do about the incidents where the shooter kills many, and the reason is obvious. It’s not as newsworthy when something doesn’t happen as it is when something does. Nevertheless, these incidents do get reported on, just to a lesser extent. Here’s a list of many recent ones. https://crimeresearch.org/2016/09/uber-driver-in-chicago-stops-mass-public-shooting/

So why don’t we encourage more people to carry guns around all the time?

Well, there are a lot of problems with that, which I’ll get into. But first, I want to talk a little about gun control.

I was having a conversation at the poker table the other night with an Israeli. Of course, the subject of the Route 91 shooting came up, as it was just one day in the past. He talked about mass shootings in America and legitimately wanted to know about gun control. I mentioned there were a lot of problems with implementing stricter gun control policies in the United States, one of which was the ease of availability of guns here. I mentioned how Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, yet has one of the highest gun crime rates. At that point, another player spoke up, “What do you do, just quote Fox News stats? Don’t you have any original thought?”

Um, no, asshole, I don’t. And neither do you. Gun control debate has raged in this country for decades. Nobody has any original thoughts on the subject at this point. If they did, they’d be on every news channel discussing them. And, by the way, thanks for inserting yourself into my conversation with your generic, canned and useless response.

The country is sharply divided. Liberals want all guns confiscated, banned, and destroyed, and conservatives want their second amendment rights to own whatever gun they want protected. Gun advocates say the actions of criminals shouldn’t cause their rights to be infringed upon, and gun control proponents argue that the writers of the constitution could have never anticipated the firearms of today.

And, they’re both right.

Anybody who thinks they should be able to own any kind of gun they want, with no restrictions and no government oversite simply because a 200-year-old document doesn’t specifically allow for restrictions, is a dick. And anybody who thinks that guns can just be “rounded up” or confiscated from law-abiding citizens is also a dick. Not only that, they’re a moronic, incapable of critical thinking or logical common-sense dick, which is pretty much the worst kind of dick you can be.

One of my favorite things to hear is how Australia rounded up all their guns and now they have no more mass shootings. I love to hear the champions of the green felt talking about how Australia is soooo advanced and so enlightened, and they discuss it as if the Australians came forward, guns in arms, tears in eyes, and held hands singing softly while the pile of guns burned in the middle of the town square.

That’s not quite how it happened though.

The Australian gun ban came about in 1996 after what’s known as the Port Arthur Massacre. 35 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on a crowd using two semi-automatic rifles. The Australian people were horrified, (obviously) and the National Firearms Agreement was enacted.

Before we get into those laws, it’s important to note that the gunman in the Port Arthur Massacre obtained his guns illegally. Australia already had tough gun laws, and permits were required to purchase semi-auto rifles. The gunman bought his illegally from a licensed dealer, without the permits.

The National Firearms Agreement bonded together the gun laws of each of the Australian states under one federal law. It provided for a buyback program under which 650,000 firearms were purchased back from the citizenry at a cost of $230 million which was paid for by tax increases. It also created a national firearm registry, a 28-day waiting period on firearms sales, and the requirement of a “genuine reason” for wanting to own a firearm.

So, how well did this work? Well, proponents of this law note that between its enactment in 1996 and 2016, there were no mass shootings in Australia. That sounds significant, but we need to dig a little deeper to see if it really is.

In 1996, Australia had 69 gun homicides, not counting the Port Arthur Massacre. In 2012, that number was down to just 30 gun homicides. That sounds like a remarkable decrease, and it is, until you look at the overall number of homicides. A study by Dr. Jeanine Baker and Dr. Samara McPhedran in the British Journal of Criminology found that there was little effect on the overall homicide rates during the decade following the National Firearms Agreement. It would appear that murderers were still killing, they just weren’t using guns as much.

So, what about the mass shooting effect? Another study by the same two doctors compared the incidence of mass shootings in Australia and in New Zealand. After standardizing the data to a rate per 100,000 people because of population differences between the two countries, they found that between 1980 and 1996, both countries experienced mass shootings at the same level, with no statistically significant difference. Between 1996 and the time of the study in 2007, NEITHER country experienced a mass shooting event despite the fact that gun laws in New Zealand didn’t change—semi-auto rifles continue to be legal and available in New Zealand. The authors conclude the following:

“the hypothesis that Australia’s prohibition of certain types of firearms explains the absence of mass shootings in that country since 1996 does not appear to be supported… if civilian access to certain types of firearms explained the occurrence of mass shootings in Australia (and conversely, if prohibiting such firearms explains the absence of mass shootings), then New Zealand (a country that still allows the ownership of such firearms) would have continued to experience mass shooting events.”

Now they don’t seem to state what reason they might attribute to the absence of shootings in both countries, and that’s a bit concerning with regard to the thoroughness of their study, but what they’re stating is that you can’t jump to the conclusion that the National Firearms Agreement is what was responsible for the decline of mass shootings. After all, a 2013 report by the Australian Crime Commission states that there are (conservatively) more than 250,000 semi-auto rifles and 10,000 semi-auto handguns available on the black markets in Australia. If somebody wanted to get a gun and commit a mass murder, they’d seemingly still be able to do so relatively easily, though not quite as easily as it would have been pre-1996.

So, let’s say that these studies are flawed and the National Firearms Agreement is working flawlessly in Australia. (Even though that’s doubtful.) Can we implement that same idea here? Well, let’s look at what that would mean.

The first problem is that our firearm laws are protected by our constitution where Australia’s were not. So, the first step would have to be changing the second amendment, and it doesn’t matter where you stand on firearms laws, nothing significant can be changed without adapting the constitution to repeal the second amendment, which reads,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

However you want to define what a “well regulated Militia” means, the Supreme Court has ruled numerous times that the important words in this amendment are “shall not be infringed.”

To change the constitution, a two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Representatives, and the Senate is required. Then, the amendment has to be ratified by three-quarters of the states. That’s tough nearly impossible to accomplish, but let’s say we’re fed up with all the deaths and we can actually achieve that. The next step would be determining what exactly we’re going to ban.

The first thing would probably be “assault rifles.” The problem here comes in determining just what an assault rifle is exactly. There’s no clear definition because it’s not a real term. Most guns that are considered to be assault rifles are things like AR-15s and AK-47s, and nobody seems to be quite able to figure out what exactly makes it an assault rifle. It’s not the caliber of the bullet, AR-15s typically come in .223 or 5.56mm calibers (which are basically the same thing, in fact, the ammo is interchangeable.) The problem is, these guns are not that different from standard hunting rifle calibers. The .223 or 5.56mm is a small round, similar to the .22 rifle many boys grew up firing. The AK-47 shoots 7.62x39mm rounds which is the same thing as a .308 round, a common deer or elk hunting caliber.

What makes these guns different, and what some consider makes them assault rifles, is high capacity magazines and semi-auto capability. So maybe we could ban those?

There are many problems with this, problems well beyond the scope of this blog, but let’s just look at one of them. You’re never going to be able to ban and confiscate all semi-auto rifles without providing compensation. This is America, we can’t take things away from our citizens without compensating them for them. So how much would this cost?

Well, Slate.com estimated in a 2015 article that there are 3.75 million AR-15 rifles in the United States. That’s out of a Washington Post estimated total of 357 million total guns, which means that represents just around 1 percent of the total US private arsenal of firearms. Let’s say we could get half of those guns back from law-abiding citizens who duly turn them in. We’d have to buy back 2 million (rounded up) guns at an average compensation price of probably around $1500. That’s $3 billion dollars, and it would get just over one-half of one percent of all guns off the street. It would also still leave more than 1.5 million AR-15 rifles on the street, all in the hands of law breakers, (because only the law-abiding citizens turned them in, right?) and that doesn’t even take into consideration the tens of millions of other assault-type weapons, and the hundred million plus semi-automatic handguns.

If we wanted to outlaw all semi-automatic guns of any type, we’re talking somewhere around 200 – 250 million guns. If half those guns were turned in, that would be 100 million guns, and let’s say we completely stomped on everyone’s rights and only offered $500 per gun, regardless of true value or cost. That’s just $50 billion dollars spent, rights trampled upon, and 100 -150 million semi-auto weapons still roaming the streets, 100% of them in the hands of what would be, by definition, criminals.

With all the other problems, including the cost and logistics of such an effort, it seems to be becoming quite clear that outlawing guns and implementing buy-back programs just won’t work. And the fact is, voluntary gun buy-back programs that have been implemented in various locales have mostly been a complete circus. You have most people turning in their absolute junk, non-firing, jamming-prone pieces of scrap metal, and criminals turning in guns used in crimes (no questions asked!!) for real money. You have hawkers working the lines, offering more money than the buy-back program for the few good guns people are trying to turn in, and you have criminals out there burglarizing houses and stealing guns to turn in for easy cash with no questions asked. It’s usually just complete chaos.

So, getting guns off the street, which would seem to be a simple solution, is anything but. There are just simply too many guns in America to effectively rid our society of them. There are more guns than people in this country! I would love it if we could actually rid our society of guns. I own a lot of guns and I would happily turn them all in if all guns were completely eliminated from the planet. But this is an absolute pipe dream, and if you don’t see that, if you say things like, “we should just ban guns!!” then you are part of the problem.

The fact is, I would love to see gun control if it were even remotely possible to effect it without making it such that all the law-abiding citizens comply and all the criminals cheer and rampage. And comparing Australia, Canada, or any other country’s gun control policies to the United States is ludicrous. Put 300 million plus firearms in those countries and let’s see them implement any kind of successful gun control policy, constitutional protection or not. It just flat out won’t happen, and any implication that it can be effectively implemented is nothing but fairy tale thinking. So, what is the solution?

What if we could get more guns on the street in the hands of good guys like police officers?

I don’t think any reasonable person has a problem with police officers having guns, on or off duty. Officers are exempt from most gun laws in most states, allowed to conceal their weapons without a civilian license, and able to carry them nearly everywhere, including courthouses, federal buildings, bars, schools, airports, even onto airplanes in the case of federal law enforcement officers like the FBI and the DEA, and regular police officers with special training and permission. Even the Secret Service doesn’t prohibit cops from carrying guns while they’re sitting next to the President of the United States. Why do we allow and even encourage the carrying of guns by officers in these places where we abide no others to carry?

 

The only reason the law allows cops to carry guns in these places is because we trust them. We trust them because they’ve gone through thorough background checks and extensive firearms training. That’s the only reason. Cops are not superhuman, they’re not immune from mistakes and bad decisions, or even from animosity and criminal actions in some rare cases. They are, however, far less likely than the rest of society to stray from the perfection we desire of them.

Cops go through a thorough background check prior to being hired. This usually includes interviews with references, family members, neighbors, and previous employers. They take psychological tests, a polygraph test, and a medical exam. Then they get hired and they go through the academy where they get firearms training, have to qualify in a range setting, and have to show good decision-making skills through shoot/no shoot scenarios. Once they’re on the street, they still have to qualify with their firearms twice per year at the range and attend ongoing scenario training.

It’s this training and background scrutiny that makes us feel comfortable as a society with having cops off duty, carrying concealed firearms into our most sacrosanct places such as our schools, planes, and courthouses, as well as our venues such as stadiums and concerts where most civilians are forbidden from bringing firearms. We want these officers out there as a deterrent to the criminals who would cause us harm. The problem is, there just aren’t enough of them.

Hiring cops is expensive, and the truth is, we don’t actually need police officers in order to put more guns into the hands of citizens with police officer-like training and credentials.

I have two concealed firearm permits, one for Washington State, and one for Nevada. These two permits allow me to carry concealed firearms in 32 states because of reciprocity agreements. In Washington, I had to go through a background check and a mental health check. In Nevada, I had to go through a background check, attend an 8-hour class, and qualify at the range. States that require all of those things combined, have permits that are honored in more states than my two permits, despite the totality of qualifications of my two permits being the same as their one.

Both states have different laws pertaining to where I can carry my concealed weapon, and each of the 30 reciprocity states have their own laws as well, which means I need to be careful when I travel that I’m facile in all these different laws. For instance, in Washington, I can’t carry my gun into any place where the minimum age to enter is 21. In Nevada, I can carry into bars and casinos as long as I’m not legally intoxicated while carrying. In neither state can I carry on school property, however, Utah, which accepts my Nevada permit, allows me to carry a concealed weapon at a school. Some of these restrictions can get confusing, especially if you travel a lot with your firearm.

But, if I was a police officer, I could carry my gun anywhere. If Encore security saw the bulge under my shirt and asked me if I was carrying a firearm, I could have shown them my badge and they would have told me to have a nice day. They would have known I was trained and trusted to carry a firearm, and they would have likely welcomed my armed presence on the premises. After all, the day after the 1 October shooting, they hired outside, armed security to work their doors, persons carrying guns who have probably less than half the training and background scrutiny of a police officer. They’re fine with guns on their property in general, they just want to know those guns are in the hands of competent and trusted people.

I mentioned earlier that it would be great if we had more cops carrying guns on the streets, but the truth is, we don’t need them to actually be cops. They don’t need to know how to drive fast, how to enforce the law, or policies and procedures for dealing with domestic violence incidents. They don’t need to know how to write a ticket, how to clear a car during a felony stop, or how to search a building after a burglar alarm. They don’t need to know civil service procedures, how and when to take a child from an abuse situation, or how to investigate and gather evidence from a robbery. They don’t need to know 99% of the things a police officer needs to know.

All they need to know is how, and particularly when, to use a gun. And of course, they need to undergo the full background check that a police officer goes through.

Background checks aren’t cheap. Depending on the applicant, a full background check can take dozens of hours to complete. Even with a young applicant with relatively little work or life experience, it can take 8-10 hours to interview family and neighbors and to check references. Then there’s the psychological evaluation and the polygraph test, each of which can cost around $500. And, on top of all that, you have the firearms training. Some applicants require more training than others, but the average is probably around 30-40 hours in the classroom and at the range. The total cost of all this runs well into the thousands.

If we estimate the average background check at 20 hours, and we say the investigator responsible for this probably needs to make $40 per hour, the background investigation likely costs $800. We’ll say $500 each for the psych and the polygraph testing, so now we’re at $1800. Then, let’s say we need 40 hours of initial firearms training for each person, however, it doesn’t need to be one-on-one training, you can have, say, 5 trainees per trainer. If the firearms instructor makes $50 per hour, we’re talking about another $400 per person for firearms training. On top of that, maybe we need 8 hours of situational simulation training which would all be individual, so there’s another $400. That’s a grand total of $2600 to get a person through a full and complete background investigation, and to get them fully trained in firearms usage and scenarios. Add some money for paperwork processing, the application process, licensing costs, etc., and maybe we’re up to $3000 per person.

If we could spend just $3000 per person to put a fully qualified, armed person on the street, licensed to carry a weapon everywhere a police officer can carry, and in every state, we could stop many of the mass shootings we’re seeing nearly every day in this country.

If teachers and principals were some of those people, it would be the same as putting more cops into the schools. If judges and lawyers were some of those people, it would be the same as having more cops in courthouses. If pilots and flight attendants were some of those people, with additional training because of the extra dangers involved in shooting a firearm on a plane, it would be like having more air marshals. And none of these people would be drawing salaries for providing these services.

How many people in this country do you think would like to have the ability to carry a firearm without restriction? How many would like to have the training and be one of these people? How many would be willing to pay the $3000 themselves to have this ability?

I’m one. And I’d bet there are tens and maybe hundreds of thousands like me.

This isn’t exactly original thought, it would effectively be the implementation of a national concealed carry permit. The difference, and what should make my idea unique and significantly more palatable to those states that currently have the strictest gun control laws, such as California and New York, would be the background scrutiny and training. Right now, even the most stringent of concealed carry permits requires only a criminal history and domestic violence check, a check to see if you’ve ever been referred for a mental health evaluation, and 8 hours of classroom and range qualification training.

Can you imagine the difference that could be made if there were 100,000, or 500,000, or more armed citizens with police equivalent firearms training and background scrutiny? And if those hundreds of thousands of people were not banned from carrying their firearms into casinos, schools, stadiums, concerts, and courthouses? The difference would extend far beyond stopping many mass shootings. There would be fewer robberies, murders, and violent crimes of all types. Criminals would hesitate to commit their public crimes, knowing the increased odds that one of the citizens they’re attempting to violate may be carrying a weapon they’re thoroughly trained to use.

Understand, this wouldn’t actually put a lot more gun-toting people on the street in general. I suspect a huge number of these people would be current concealed carry holders. But this would allow for them to carry their weapons at all times, without fear that they may need to go somewhere their weapons aren’t allowed currently. In fact, applicants would be encouraged to carry their firearms at all times, similar to how most police departments encourage (or even require in some cases) their officers to carry while off-duty. This would allow them to travel to other states with their guns, to carry them in places that currently forbid guns, places like Disneyland, NFL games, and concerts—all target rich environments, as we saw on October 1st. Now, again, this wouldn’t have stopped this particular tragedy from happening, but it would have potentially stopped many others from the recent past, and some of the inevitable future mass murders.

In my opinion, it’s either implement something like this, or go on the way we’ve been going, continuing on in constant fear of the evil of the type that just descended upon Las Vegas. Because nothing else seems to be a viable option. There are just too many guns in America to ever actually effect any meaningful gun control laws. Enacting the harsh penalties that would encourage more people to give up their guns would only worsen our overcrowded prison system, and we’d be filling it with people who’ve truly done nothing wrong, people who never had any intent of using their firearms for wrong.

“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…” This is how the second amendment starts, and I believe what I’m proposing would be exactly that—a well-regulated militia. A well-regulated and well-trained militia of civilians responsible for the security of our free state, a state that is under attack by bad people who want to perform atrocious acts of murder and mayhem upon innocent civilians. I don’t believe strict gun laws—even the strictest of gun laws—can work in a country that has more guns than people. I don’t believe the sheep should have to disarm so that the wolves can do their evil work free from fear with victims who can’t bite back. I believe nothing will get better until we embrace that our society is a gun society, and until we embrace that in order to regulate a gun society, we need gunslingers. We need people who are competent and capable and willing to carry a weapon and fight back.

These civilian operators, regulators, militia, gunslingers, whatever you want to call them, would be subject to oversite from a review board. They’d be accountable for their actions, licenses subject to suspension or revocation. They’d have to re-qualify with their firearms every six months, attend update training and scenario training. They’d be trustworthy and competent, and they’d be free of charge. They’d draw no salary, and I believe the costs of any regulatory agency would be happily paid by gun owners in the way of a tax increase on firearms and ammunition. The general public would bear no costs but reap the benefits. Crime would suffer while quality of life skyrocketed.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

The Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter theory – part one

If you live in a city, you might only rarely see a sight like this. But if you ever get away from the lights, into the darkness of the countryside, you’ve likely looked up and marveled at the number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy. You’ve maybe even tried to count them, wondering at just how many there are. Which is a great question. Just how many stars can you see out there?

If you’re in the darkest area on the planet, devoid of all light from the city, on a moonless night, with clear air and an unobstructed 360-degree view of the horizon, the answer is right around 4500 stars. That’s under the most ideal conditions. In places out in the countryside, the places where many people get out of the city to marvel at the blanket of stars, places where it’s dark enough to just begin to see the stripe of white that makes up an arm of the Milky Way, the answer is between 2000 and 2500 stars.

That’s still a lot of stars, and if you’ve stared up at the sight of all those glimmering points of light and considered that each of them represents a solar system, with many, if not most, having planets that orbit them, you’ve probably wondered about the possibility of alien life. Once you realize that for every star you see, there are approximately 100,000 stars you can’t see, just in the Milky Way galaxy alone, you realize how impossible it must be for us to be alone in the universe.

Think about the numbers here for a minute. Just in the Milky Way galaxy alone there are an estimated 200 billion stars. When we look up at the sky on those dark nights and marvel at all of the stars, we are seeing only a fraction of a percentage of our own galaxy. Like, one hundred-millionth of the stars in our galaxy alone. For every star we can see on a dark, clear, moonless night, there are around one hundred million stars we can’t see, just in the Milky Way galaxy. Think about that the next time you’re looking up at all those stars.

The furthest stars we can see with the naked eye are about 1000 light years away. The Milky Way galaxy is 100,000 light years across, which means we can only see around 1% (with regard to distance, not quantity) of it with the naked eye. All the stars we can see with the naked eye from Earth are the brightest stars within the little red circle in the picture below.

All of those stars in our galaxy, and we’re just one galaxy out of many in the universe. How many? Take a look at this picture taken a few years ago by Nasa using two different telescopes.

Every one of the points of light in this picture is a GALAXY. All different sizes, all different shapes, ranging from an estimated 50 million stars, to 100 trillion stars in size. There are approximately 10,000 visible galaxies in this photo, the most distant, nearly 13 billion light years away. And here’s the most amazing thing:

This picture represents an area of space the width of about 1/10 that of the full moon. A tiny, minuscule, fractional, sliver of space in our view plane and it contains at least 10,000 galaxies! The reason astronomers chose this area of space to train the telescopes, letting them gather all available light for days to get the image, was because it was the darkest area of space visible from Earth, where nothing could be seen with normal telescopes. And they found 10,000 galaxies hiding there. It’s hard to fathom that, and when you extrapolate those figures to the remainder of the universe, which is symmetrical and consistent in all directions, it’s estimated that there are somewhere between 200 billion and 500 billion galaxies in the observable universe. (Some scientists think it might even be as high as 1 trillion galaxies)

How many stars is that?

It’s typically estimated at between 1022 and 1024 stars. 1024 is this number:

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

That’s 1 septillion stars. A trillion-trillion stars.

To put that in another perspective, the estimated number of grains of sand on every beach on planet Earth is 1021.

That means for every grain of sand on every beach on Earth, there are 1000 stars in the universe. Think about that the next time you’re laying on the beach and decide to wipe the sand off your feet.

Even if we take the lower number of the total star estimate, 1022 stars, that’s still 10 stars for every grain of sand on every beach on Earth. 10 sextillion stars in the universe. That’s not a septillion by any means, but still kind of a lot.

Astronomers’ opinions about the number of Earth-like planets that might orbit these stars varies, with some saying it’s as low as 20% of stars that contain an Earth-like planet, and some saying it could be as high as 50%. In addition, not all stars are even capable of nurturing life as we know it—white dwarfs are small and hot, red giants are huge and cool. Astronomers estimate that the number of stars that are sun-like, with regard to size, temperature, and luminosity, might only be 10%-20% of all stars.

If we take a middle of the road approach…actually, let’s take a low-end approach, we’ll look at the bottom of the range of estimates for all three figures. We’ll say there are 1022 stars and 10% of them (1021) are sun-like, and 20% of those (2×1020) contain planets that are Earth-like, in the habitable zone, or “Goldilocks Zone” as it’s known, (not too hot, not too cold, juuust right!). That leaves the possibility of 200,000,000,000,000,000,000 – 200 quintillion – or 200 billion-billion Earth-like planets in the universe.

Okay, let’s put this in more reasonable numbers by getting rid of all the other hundreds of billions of galaxies and just focusing on our own Milky Way galaxy.

We’ll take the low-end numbers again and we’ll give an estimate of 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which is the lowest estimate I’ve been able to find. (The high range is 400 billion.) If 10% of those are sun-like, that’s 10 billion suns in the Milky Way. If only 20% of those contain Earth-like planets, that’s 2 billion Earths in our galaxy.

How many of those 2 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way might support life? Now we have to move from educated estimates to speculation. There is an equation for determining the number of intelligent civilizations that exist in the galaxy, known as the Drake equation, conceived by Dr. Frank Drake. The problem with the equation is it requires a number of pure guesses and speculation to solve, things like the fraction of planets on which life appears, and the fraction of those systems which become intelligent life. These are things we can’t really know, so we have to speculate. We can take some pretty careful and conservative numbers and input them into the equation, but in the end, it’s still nothing but a guess.

So, let’s guess. Of those 2 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way, let’s say that only 1% of those planets form any kind of life whatsoever, from single-celled organisms, to simple life forms, to tool-using mammals with big brains, all the way on up to super-intelligent beings. That would be 20 million planets with some type of life on them. Now let’s say that only 1% of those have more than single cellular life-forms, those that have evolved to intelligent, multi-celled life like fish and even dinosaurs or Neanderthals and other tool-users. That would be 200,000 planets like that. And let’s say just 1% of those advance to a civilization that’s at least as powerful and knowledgeable as human-kind, communicating and sending radio signals out into space. That would be 2,000 super-advanced civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy alone. And remember, this is speculating with tiny numbers. Tim Urban over at my favorite website, Waitbutwhy.com, used rather conservative extrapolation that actually came up with an estimate of 100,000 advanced civilizations in the Milky Way.

So where is everybody?

Welcome to the Fermi Paradox.

In the 1950s, while on a lunch break with several other scientists involved in the nuclear program, physicist Enrique Fermi postulated that question. If the math says there should be thousands (maybe tens or even hundreds of thousands) of intelligent civilizations in the galaxy, then where are they all? Because there has never been one single instance of provable contact or signal from an alien civilization.

When you realize that our sun is very young, it gets even stranger. There are stars in our galaxy that should support Earth-like planets that are hundreds of millions, even billions of years older than the sun. Our sun is about 4.5 billion years old, but the Milky Way is about 13.4 billion years old. For 9 billion years before our sun was even formed, stars and Earth-like planets were galivanting about in our galaxy!

In theory, some of those stars and planets should have created life millions or even billions of years before our planet was even born, while our sun was still a cloud of hydrogen gas floating around in space. There should have been hundreds of intelligent civilizations out there when Earth was just beginning to cool, and then millions of years later, when single-celled organisms were just forming in the primordial soup. By now, hundreds of millions of years later, those civilizations should be so advanced that we might not even be able to fathom their intelligence. They should be advanced enough that they’ve spread throughout the galaxy, colonizing other planets, exploring other stars.

Even if you say, “well, okay, but you’re guessing on those numbers. Life might not evolve at anything near the rate you think it does”, remember that there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe. Maybe as many as a trillion galaxies. We can see galaxies out to a distance around 13 billion light years. That means the light from these galaxies has been traveling to us for 13 billion years. Radio signals travel at light speed. Even if you think my speculation is off by a thousand-fold, that would mean there were 2 intelligent civilizations in all the vastness of the Milky Way, but still hundreds of billions of those civilizations in the universe, many that should have been in existence for billions of years longer than humans have been around. Billions of years for those hypothetical radio signals to travel across the vast distances between the galaxies. Where are those signals? We’ve trained our radio telescopes at many of the galaxies nearest to the Milky Way and we’ve heard nothing.

So where are they all?

In the 1970s, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), a collective of scientific searches for intelligent life was formed to search for radio signals using deep-space radio telescopes like the Very Large Array shown here.

These types of arrays have been searching over the universe for decades and they’ve heard nothing. Not a peep from anything that couldn’t be explained as natural. (Other than this one mysterious signal known as the Wow! signal that we heard in 1977. It’s still unexplained.) In addition, we’ve sent signals out into space, broadcasting to all who might listen that we’re here and we’re looking for our neighbors. Nothing.

Incidentally, many scientists look at these intentional broadcasts into space as the equivalent of standing on the edge of a dark, unknown, and mysterious forest, and shouting loudly into it, (IS ANYTHING IN THERE? I’M RIGHT HERE AND I’M UNARMED!) They think it’s a pretty dangerous thing to do with the lack of knowledge we have, and, as the new kids on the block with regard to interstellar communications and technology, we should probably listen quietly for a while until we understand what might be out there. Of course, these messages will take hundreds or thousands of years to reach the systems they’re aimed toward, so unless a passing alien spacecraft happens to pick them up, we should be okay. Anyway, no response has ever been received to any message.

So again, where is everybody?

Science has a number of possible explanations for this lack of alien evidence. Some are very scary, such as there is one super-predator species out there that waits until a civilization advances to the ability to travel to other stars and then wipes them out, or assimilates them ala the Borg from Star Trek TNG.

Another theory is that advanced civilizations might have a Star Trek-like Prime Directive that enables them to observe us, but not to make contact or let us know in any way that they exist. (Known as the Zoo Hypothesis. We’re all just animals in a giant galactic zoo, folks.) A civilization that has the technology to travel the hundreds or thousands of light years between their home and ours would almost certainly have the ability to hide their presence from us. As an example, when you walk by an anthill, do the ants know you’re there? Do they have the ability to conceive of your presence, your purpose, your technology and intelligence? Civilizations that are millions or billions of years more advanced than humans might very well look at us the same way we look at ants. Their technology might be so advanced that we can’t even conceive of its purpose or its meaning, much like an ant could never conceive of what a car is, or what an iPhone can do, even if the ant was crawling right over it.

Another theorized solution to the Fermi Paradox is that super-advanced civilizations may have trapped all the energy of their home star in a type of hypothetical megastructure called a Dyson sphere

and that we can’t pick up their radio signals because they’re all trapped within this sphere. This theory, as outlandish and sci-fi in appearance as it might seem, could actually have some merit. Scientists have determined that there’s enough mass within the core of the planet Jupiter to build a sort of modified Dyson sphere, called a Dyson swarm, around the orbit of Mars. If we advanced far enough to develop the ability to dismantle Jupiter, we could build this Dyson swarm. Lining it with solar panels would give us the ability to harvest all the energy of the sun – unlimited free energy, allowing us to create a sort of inner solar system that would be completely controlled by us. If we broke up Mercury too, and built a full Dyson sphere, our sun and our radio signals would be completely undetectable to other civilizations that didn’t already know we were here.

There’s been some speculation that astronomers may have actually detected emissions from stars where Dyson spheres are currently under construction. (Or, more accurately, were under construction whenever the light we’re seeing was emitted from the stars, thousands of years ago most likely.) These stars are acting strangely, their brightness dimming periodically in similar fashion to the dimming that occurs when a planet in orbit passes between them and us, but to an extent that the object causing the dimming is way larger than a planet could actually be. You can read more about this interesting mystery here and here.

However, even if a civilization is advanced enough to build a Dyson sphere and hide all evidence of their presence, we still should be able to pick up signs of their civilization. Humans, for example, have been creating radio transmissions and projectile spewing them out into space for decades. Even if we advanced enough in the next hundred years to create a Dyson sphere (an unlikely rate of advancement), we would still have broadcast signals, both intentional and unintentional, for the previous 200 years. Those signals are traveling at the speed of light out into space, and, much like a bullet and a drunken comment, once it’s out there, it’s out there. You can’t retract it.

So, if a star suddenly disappears from our view because an advanced civilization closes up a Dyson sphere, we still should expect to have received some kind of radio signal from them over the last few decades we’ve been listening for them.

There are other theories and hypotheses that attempt to explain the Fermi Paradox, but the most popular one is The Great Filter Theory.

The Great Filter Theory basically states that at some point in the evolution of life, a filter is encountered, a filter that wipes out the advancing civilization, and that the filter is one that occurs for most, if not all civilizations at the same point in their evolution. Some may get through the filter, but most are destroyed by it. If just 1% of civilizations get through the Great Filter, that would mean there might only be 20 advanced civilizations out there, scattered throughout the 100,000 light-year-wide Milky Way, making it much more likely we wouldn’t have encountered any sign of their presence.

Now, the Great Filter is the leading theory at the moment, and many scientists think if there is such a thing, it must be behind us. We must have been one of the rare civilizations that managed to make it through the filter. They point to the asteroid or comet impact that wiped out the dinosaurs, and they say that that type of event could be the filter, that many civilizations may have been destroyed in that way, never recovering. Our planet did recover from that event, pushing us through the Great Filter.

Others, like renowned British professor and director of the Future of Humanity Institute, Nick Bostrom, think the Great Filter might be Nuclear weapons, that many civilizations, once they achieve the ability to harness the power of the atom, basically destroy themselves in war, something we actually came very close to doing in the 1960s. He thinks we might have made it through the Great Filter when we survived the Cold War.

Others think the Great Filter might be the challenge of life itself. That life doesn’t form as easily as we think it does, or that life only rarely passes beyond the zygote stage. Some think cosmic radiation, or chance, or some other factor stops life in the early, pre-intelligence stage, and that Earth, for some reason…luck, chance, or standard variance, faded that early death. As a gambler, I can appreciate the idea that we dodged the variance bullet, but the thought that Earth and our entire solar system might otherwise be as empty and barren as Mercury is a little disturbing.

Whatever the Great Filter is, we obviously have to hope it’s in our past and not in our future. When Viking 1 landed on Mars on July 20th, 1976, many scientists familiar with the Great Filter concept dreaded the idea that we might find signs of life on the red planet. If life had managed to form on two separate planets in this solar system alone, that would imply that the formation of life in the universe was easy and common, which would make the Great Filter theory the most likely explanation for the Fermi Paradox. If there had been signs of an advanced civilization on Mars – for example, the suspected canals that were big news in 1877, that might have indicated that the Great Filter lay in our future somewhere, a foretelling of our impending doom.

There are many people who believe the Great Filter is indeed in our future, and if that’s the case, it’s scary to contemplate, because it would mean we most likely have less than a .1% chance of avoiding the complete extinction of mankind.

I, unfortunately, am one of those.

Of course, I want to hope that’s not the case, and the optimist in me, and in many who write about this, wants to believe the filter lies in our past. After all, nobody wants to really contemplate the worst-case scenario, and it’s easy to believe we’re special, that we’re the chosen species who won the evolutionary Powerball jackpot, and that we’ll be the ones to eventually colonize and rule the universe.

But there’s certainly no evidence to support that hypothesis. It’s mostly wishful thinking.

Now, I certainly wouldn’t state that the Great Filter lies in our future if I didn’t have an idea of what I thought the Great Filter might be. And I’ll also state that the fact we’ve never found evidence of radio emissions from another civilization is pretty compelling evidence that the Great Filter, if it exists, is indeed in the past. However, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be two Great Filters, or even more than two. There may not be one Great Filter, there may be many Medium Filters. Maybe life is subject to extinction at multiple times throughout its evolution, and we’ve managed to dodge the bullets on several filters already. It’s possible that other civilizations have mostly fallen to one filter or another, with only relatively few surviving to where humans are today. Remember, alien civilizations with human levels of intelligence and evolution as advanced as we were in the 1800s for example, would not have thrown off any sign of their presence into the universe.

If there are many filters, then it’s possible that several of them lie in our future, and it might be worth examining what they could be, and when we’re likely to encounter them.

I think there’s a good chance that one of those filters could be Artificial Super Intelligence, and in part two, I’ll be taking an in-depth look into ASI, including exactly what it is, how far we are from achieving it (it’s almost certainly closer than you think it is), and why achieving ASI could be incredibly dangerous to the human race – dangerous enough even to result in our extinction.

An introduction to my new novel, TRANSIENT

When I first had the idea for Transient, I envisaged a series of novellas about a homeless man who was on the run from the police for a crime he didn’t commit. I thought it would be five separate stories, each having its own story arc, with one all-encompassing story arc that would be resolved at the end.

After writing the first two novellas, I came to realize that I liked the story better as a full length novel. So I changed it. I adapted the original two novellas to make them more relevant as a novel, and then wrote the remainder of the story which I’ve just recently finished.

I’m happy with the way it turned out, and thrilled with the decision to turn several novellas into a single novel!

Transient is an exciting suspense novel that tells the story of David Sands, a former police officer on the run from the law and living on the streets of Las Vegas. He’s accused of a heinous crime that he didn’t commit, and his intention is to find the actual perpetrators. One problem though: he’s dealing with enormous emotional trauma, and falling into the pitfalls of life on the street, namely, alcoholism.

Check out a preview of the first chapter of Transient below, and I look forward to being able to share it with all of you sometime soon!

TRANSIENT

Chapter 1

I remember when I saw my first murder.

I say first as though I’ve seen a lot of them. The truth is I’ve only had two happen right in front of me. The first was two years ago and I don’t talk about that one. I remember it—I’ll always remember it—but I don’t talk about it.

The second was about an hour ago.

I take a drink from my beer bottle, the liquid warm and somewhat flat as it slips over my tongue and down my throat. It leaves an acidic and bitter feeling in my stomach as it sits there. I know bitter is a taste, or possibly an emotional reaction and not actually a physical feeling, but I can’t think of a better word to describe the daggers in my stomach as the beer churns in my gut. I haven’t eaten today and that’s probably part of the reason the tepid beer isn’t sitting well with me.

Lyrics from Paul Revere, the old Beastie Boys song, suddenly come unbidden into my mind:

One lonely Beastie I be,
All by myself without nobody.
The sun is beating down on my baseball hat,
The air is gettin’ hot, the beer is getting flat.

There’s a line later in the song about a sheriff’s posse being on his tail. That line is even more apropos to my current situation.

I need to figure out what to do about the murder I just saw.

There are options of course. There are always options. Mine are more limited than yours would be though.

If you witnessed a murder—saw it happen right in front of your eyes—what would you do?

I’m guessing some of you are tough guys and you’re thinking you would have done something to stop it. You would have played the hero; you’d have jumped at the killer and wrestled the gun away from him and then held him until the police arrived.

I snort at that thought, some of the beer coming back up my esophagus, burning my throat as it tends to do. This is the worst part about drinking warm beer. It doesn’t want to stay where it belongs, always bubbling around down there, threatening to rise back up. I read somewhere once that Germans drink their beer warm on purpose. They don’t have a history of good decision-making skills though, do they?

It’s rare that I actually have a good, cold beer, so you’d think I’d be used to the warm stuff. I suppose there are some things a civilized person was just never meant to get used to.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m no hero. I didn’t even consider trying to stop the murder I just witnessed. My life may not seem like much to you, but it’s the only one I’ve got and I’d rather prefer to keep it.

Be a good witness. That’s what the cops always tell civilians when the civilians ask what they should do when they see a crime happening. Be a good witness. Don’t get involved.

Those of you who aren’t heroes—like me—are probably thinking that if you witnessed a murder you would be a good witness, just like the police recommend. You would watch the murder happen, and then take note of the killer’s appearance: his clothing, height, weight, complexion, hair color and style, any facial hair, any noticeable scars or visible tattoos. You’d take note of the gun, filing away whether it was an automatic or a revolver, stainless or blued. Perhaps you’d even notice the make and model of the gun (stainless Beretta 92FS in this case). You’d take note of anything unusual, like the thing he’d been carrying in his left hand, something he grabbed from the car after he fired the fatal shot. I couldn’t see what it was as it was blocked by his body, but it was small and white in color, and if you’d seen that, you would add that to your mental report.

Once you’d filed all that information away in your memory, you’d then pay attention to the killer’s escape method. If he left the scene in a car, such as he did in this case, you’d note the make, model, color, any distinguishing characteristics such as body damage or custom equipment, and, if you could safely get close enough, you’d take note of the license plate number, memorizing it or typing it into your phone so you didn’t forget. And of course, you would note the direction of travel after he left the scene.

Then you would call the police, giving the critical information to the dispatcher so he or she could relay it to the responding police officers. When they arrived on the scene, you would give a detailed statement of what you had witnessed. With your superior powers of observation, there would be an excellent chance of the killer getting caught.

I’m a superb witness and I did everything listed above…with one exception.

I didn’t call the police.

 

A really annoying Facebook trend

I’ve noticed a really disturbing trend on Facebook recently. Although I’ve seen this lots of times over the years, it seems to be getting worse and worse, and it needs to stop!
Here’s what it is.
Random Facebook post whenever someone is within any proximity to a violent act:
 
“Oh my God! (X) happened and I was only (Y distance) away!”
 
or:
 
“Oh my God! (X) just happened at (Y) location! I was just there yesterday at the same time!!
How do these posts make any kind of sense? This person is nothing but a tragedy hijacker. They were not in danger, they are simply trying to get attention. 
 
Here are some examples of actual posts I’ve recently seen:
 
“I was on a layover at Fort Lauderdale Airport just an hour before the shooting happened!”
 
You were on a layover. In a secure and protected area. The shooting happened in baggage claim, in a different terminal. Let’s also keep in mind, you were on a plane at the time of the shooting, not actually at the airport. You were like 400 miles away! You’re commandeering someone else’s tragedy. Stop it.
 
“I was in the parking lot of the Alderwood Mall when that clerk got stabbed!! So scary!!”
 
No. Not scary. You were hundreds of yards away and the assault suspect was after one person in particular. You had hundreds of people and hundreds of cars, and walls and doors and everything else between you and the violence. Unless the knife wielder was on a killing spree and could move at the speed of Flash Lightning, you were not in danger. You’re an attention whore. Stop it.
Even worse than these posters are the people who write the following replies:
“Thank God you’re ok!”
“Oh wow, so glad you’re safe!”
“That’s so scary! Praying for your safety!”
What’s wrong with you? You’re doing nothing but pandering to the attention hijacker. They were not in danger, it was not scary for them, and they sure don’t need your prayers. What they need is an intervention. They’re attempting to make someone else’s bad day their own. You encourage this atrocious behavior by pretending this person was in danger and you’re so thankful they’re safe.
And, the worst of the worst? This guy:
“Are you okay??”
No, idiot. They’re bleeding out but decided to take the time to update their Facebook status instead of applying pressure to the wound.
So why does this bother me so much? I don’t really know. All I know is that the people who do this are usually drama queens looking for a safe space where they can discuss their feelings.
I have to go think about my good fortune. I recently visited Auschwitz where 1.5 million people were murdered just 70 years before I got there. So scary, but thank God I made it out okay and just barely missed the genocide!

Introducing my new novel, CHESAW

It’s finally here…the follow-up to my first novel, DRAWING DEAD is finished and available on Amazon! It’s called CHESAW, and it takes off from where Drawing Dead ended, with the protagonist, Detective Ryan Tyler, wounded and recovering from the two bullets he took in the gunfight at his condo.

Tyler has elected to convalesce at his family cabin in rural Washington State, near the town where he grew up and went to high school. There’s no phone service, cell or landline, no internet, no television…nothing to interrupt his day except the occasional deer that passes by, and the chipmunks playing in the woodpile. He’s content to sit on the porch and drink beer, with a nightly trip into the nearby town of Chesaw for a steak or a burger and a few more beers.

Tyler is enjoying another beautiful summer day when the stillness is broken by the arrival of a vehicle. It’s the Okanogan County Sheriff, an old acquaintance of Tyler’s from high school. He’s heard Tyler is back and he’s stopping by with a request. A man has been found murdered, and Tyler knows the victim–a drinking buddy of his from the tavern in Chesaw. The sheriff wants to know if Tyler is willing to take a look at the crime scene, maybe offer some advice and guidance to the inexperienced homicide detectives taking on the case.

Tyler reluctantly agrees. He visits the crime scene and discovers this isn’t an ordinary murder, not one of the mundane type that typically occur in rural America. This one has the earmarks of a setup, and Tyler immediately realizes that someone has planted false flags to distract the detectives and to hide the true motives behind the killing.

When he finally discovers the true reason for the murder, he realizes that it has implications that extend well beyond little Okanogan County. He’s uncovered something that may have a huge impact on science, and put the little town of Chesaw into the public eye forever.

CHESAW is available now on Amazon, both in ebook format, and in paperback. I look forward to reading your comments and reviews once you’ve read it, and I look forward to writing the next Ryan Tyler book sometime next year!

Guilty until proven innocent

It seems that everywhere I look on Facebook today there is outrage over the recent shootings of two men by police officers. Notice I didn’t say “two black men” because I’ll try to keep this post about police misconduct rather than about race, although I acknowledge that both of the men were black and I acknowledge that this is the primary reason for the social outrage. You’ll also notice I didn’t say “two unarmed men.” That’s because both of the men were armed, or at least that’s what it seems according to the information known and available at the time of this post.

The reason for this blog is because it’s difficult for me to sit and read all the blatantly ignorant posts that I see popping up all over, without responding in some way.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I’m strongly pro-police in most situations. More importantly than that though, I’m strongly “pro-let’s get all the facts before we judge the situation.”

Mostly though, what I want to talk about is the extreme misconception that police officers can do whatever they want without repercussions.

A friend, who I know to be of above average intelligence, made a post on Facebook today that there were 1200 police shootings last year and zero officers were convicted of murder or manslaughter. He then went on to say that if you have a high school diploma (a subtle jab implying that police officers aren’t capable of higher education degrees) and you want a job where there’s no accountability for your actions, you should become a cop.

I will say this much, he’s correct that zero officers have been convicted of murder or manslaughter from shootings that took place in 2015. What he failed to add (intentionally or ignorantly) is that fifteen officers have been charged and are awaiting trial on murder or manslaughter charges, and that many investigations are still open with charges potentially pending. In fact, already in 2016, two police officers have been charged and sentenced to prison for shootings that took place in 2013.

ALL police shootings result in a thorough investigation into that shooting, and, to the best of my knowledge, that investigation is done 100% of the time with an outside agency for impartiality. Many jurisdictions even use a citizen’s review board into all shootings, just so there’s not even a hint of impropriety. That’s right, a board made up of citizens gets to determine if the officer acted appropriately. The fact is, police officers are held to an extremely high standard in everything they do, and use of force elevates that standard even higher.

Philando Castile was shot on a traffic stop in Minnesota and the aftermath was caught on video by his girlfriend who was driving at the time. What we see in that video is a man who has been shot and is dying. He’s seated in the passenger seat, with his seatbelt on, and he’s slumped over, still breathing but obviously struggling. If you’re not used to seeing violence and blood, it’s probably not a pleasant thing to watch. What we don’t see, is what happened. We don’t see what led to the shooting and we don’t see the actual shooting itself because the video is started after it happens. The girlfriend claims that Castile was reaching for his wallet to get his identification, while the police officer (apparently) thought he was reaching for the gun he had concealed (legally, with a permit it seems) on his side.

Is this a tragedy? Probably. Did the officer act inappropriately? Maybe. We don’t know because we don’t have any other information. We don’t know what happened before the video was turned on. Hopefully the officer was wearing a body camera, or had dashboard video and audio because then we’ll have a better idea of what happened. Unless you believe that this officer came on duty that day and decided he was going to kill the first person who gave him any reason to do so, then you have to admit this is going to suck for everybody involved, including the officers, the department, and the community. Because if that officer thought Castile was going for his gun when he was actually going for his wallet, right now that officer is going through a living hell. If he killed a man without cause, after a split-second decision, he will be devastated and will have to live with that for the rest of his life. And he’ll probably be prosecuted and very possibly face prison time for his mistake.

Again, unless you believe the officer set out to murder somebody that day, this is either a justifiable shooting, or a terrible and tragic mistake made by an officer who made a bad decision in a split-second situation. But here’s the point…He will face an inquiry and he will be held accountable for his actions, right or wrong. We CAN NOT judge him or the situation until all the facts have been presented and the investigation is finished, and that will take some time.

The other shooting involved a man who was also armed, and who resisted arrest. The police in this case, responded to a call of a man who presented a gun in a threatening manner (a crime known as brandishing in many locations). Upon arrival, they attempted to arrest Alton Sterling and during that arrest, he was shot. Here, we have a different scenario for sure. We know Sterling was armed and we know that he resisted arrest. Those facts are evident in the video. What’s not evident is whether or not Sterling tried to draw his weapon while he was fighting with the police officers.

Proponents of Alton Sterling on social media will tell you how he was known affectionately as CD man. Even “news” outlet headlines, in an astonishing lack of journalistic integrity, use such headlines as “Police kill man selling CD’s on street.” Opponents of Sterling will tell you about his lengthy criminal rap sheet that includes several felonies and resisting arrest charges. Neither of these are valid points whatsoever. It doesn’t matter if Sterling was a nice guy who sold CD’s and it doesn’t matter if his rap sheet was a mile long. He doesn’t deserve to be killed by the police either way, unless he did something in that moment that justifies their actions. And we don’t know if he did because his actions while he’s fighting with the police do not come through on the video. One of the officers shouts out that he has a gun, the other officer draws his weapon (appropriately), and warns the man that he’ll be shot if he moves. We see one of the officers jump away, falling over Sterling in his attempt to get out of the way. We hear a gunshot of unknown origin, the camera moves away, and we hear more gunfire. Then the camera switches back and the officer is trying to slide away on his back with Sterling immobile and dying. Another officer comes up and removes something from the man’s pocket (that appears to indeed be a gun).

Again, a full inquiry and investigation will be performed here, and if the officers acted inappropriately, they will likely be charged with a felony. We can’t judge them though, without all the evidence, and just based on a partial video of the incident. NOBODY IS QUALIFIED TO JUDGE THESE OFFICERS BASED ON WHAT IS SHOWN IN THOSE VIDEOS.

Neither of these cases even remotely resembles the case of the Michael Slager, the officer in Georgia who shot Walter Scott in the back while he was running away. In that case, the video turns on while Officer Slager is engaged in a physical confrontation with Scott who then disengages and runs. Slager draws his firearm and opens fire, striking Scott several times in the back. He then handcuffs Scott, returns to the scene of the fight where he appears to pick up a fallen weapon (Taser I believe) which he then carries over to Scott and throws on the ground next to him. Officer Slager has been charged with murder, and guess what? He’s probably going to be convicted, just based on the video evidence alone. And I’ll be honest, I have a tough time not judging his guilt, even with my stand that nobody should be judged until all the facts are in, just because the video is so clear and so damning.

But these other two? Nope. Sorry. Not going to judge either officer until we know all the facts, and certainly not based on some crappy video. For those of you who think you can sit and judge those officers, I challenge you to take on what they have. Police communities everywhere are hiring officers; go apply. Go change things from within and go walk a mile in a police officer’s boots and then try to judge them for their decisions. Because the job is a little tougher than all you social media judges might think.

Police officers live in fear of the accountability they’ll be held to every day. I’m not saying they are afraid of their intent being judged. What they’re afraid of is their decisions, often made with partial information and no time to think, being judged after the fact, with full information and disclosure of facts. The fear they live with every day is that they’ll make a mistake; that they’ll be forced to make a decision that will turn out to be wrong and that they’ll kill an innocent man. Sometimes that happens and they’re not charged. They’re not charged because logical people understand the difference between a light-of-the-day analysis of an encounter, and a split-second life or death decision with partial information. But even when they’re not charged, they still have to live with the guilt of a decision that could have been made differently. And they often have to face a civil trial where they can be held financially accountable even if they’re not criminally accountable.

I’m friends with many good police officers, and I dread the day one of those officers is faced with such a decision. Because the average public will never understand the fear that police officers go through every time they have an encounter with a member of the public that doesn’t go smoothly. Every time somebody decides to run or decides to fight. The delicate balance between not using enough force in an escalating situation that results in them getting hurt or killed, and using too much force that results in the citizen getting hurt or killed. It’s not easy and I will not judge based on a few seconds of a shaky camera phone video. Neither should you.

An interesting review of G.O.T.

A Song of Ice and Fire is one of my favorite series of all time and one of only four or five that I’ve read in the Fantasy genre. (The others were LOTR and Harry Potter, so I’m a fame fan at best.)

I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about the A Song of Ice and Fire series but I came across a bunch of negative reviews lately on Goodreads that I thought were quite interesting. Here is an example of one and I’d love to hear thoughts from anybody who’s read the series. (Warning: this review is LONG)

From J.G. Keely on Goodreads  1-star review

There are plenty of fantasy authors who claim to be doing something different with the genre. Ironically, they often write the most predictable books of all, as evidenced by Goodkind and Paolini. Though I’m not sure why they protest so much–predictability is rarely a death sentence in genre fantasy.

The archetypal story of the hero, the villain, the great love, and a world to be saved never seems to get old–and there’s nothing wrong with this story when it’s told well. At the best, it’s exciting, exotic, and builds to a fulfilling climax. At the worst, it’s just a bloodless rehash, and the worst are more common by far.

Perhaps it was this wealth of predictable, cliche romances that drove Martin to aim for something ‘different’. Unfortunately, being different isn’t something you can choose to do, any more than you can choose to be creative. Sure, Moorcock wrote Elric to be the anti-Conan, but at some point, he had to stretch out and find a core for his series that was more than just that–and he did.

In similar gesture, Martin rejects moralistic romance, tearing the guts out of epic fantasy: the wonder, the ideals, the heroism, and with them, the moral purpose. Fine, so he took out the rollicking fun and the social message–what did he replace them with?

Like the post-Moore comics of the nineties, fantasy has borne witness to a backlash against the moral hero, and then a backlash against the grim antihero who succeeded him. Hell, if all Martin wanted was grim and gritty antiheroes, he didn’t have to reject the staples of fantasy, he could have gone to its roots: Howard, Leiber, and Anderson.

Like many authors aiming at realism, he forgets that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. The real world is full unbelievable events, coincidences, and odd characters. When authors remove these elements in an attempt to make their world seem real, they make their fiction duller than reality; after all, unexpected details are the heart of verisimilitude.

When Chekhov and Peake eschewed the easy thrill of romance, they replaced it with odd and exciting characters–things strange enough to feel true. In comparison, Martin’s world is dull and gray. Instead of innovating new, radical elements, he merely removes familiar staples–and any world defined by lack is going to end up feeling thin.

Despite trying inject the book with history and realism, he does not reject the melodramatic characterization of his fantasy forefathers, as evidenced by his brooding bastard antihero protagonist (with pet albino wolf). Apparently to him, ‘grim realism’ is ‘Draco in Leather Pants’. This produces a conflicted tone–a soap opera cast for an existentialist film.

There’s also lots of sex and misogyny, and ‘wall-to-wall rape’–not that books should shy away from sex–or from any uncomfortable, unpleasant reality of life. The problem is when people who are not comfortable with their own sexuality start writing about it, and it seems to plague every mainstream fantasy author.

Their pen gets away from them, their own hangups start leaking into the scene. It’s not about the characters anymore, it’s the author cybering about his favorite fetish–and if I cyber with a fat, bearded stranger, I expect to be paid for it.

I know a lot of fans probably get into it more than I do (like night elf hunters humping away in WOW), but reading Goodkind, Jordan, and Martin–it’s like seeing a Playboy at your uncle’s where all the pages are wrinkled. That’s not to say there isn’t serviceable pop fantasy sex out there–it’s just written by women.

Though I didn’t save any choice examples, I did come across this quote from a later book:

“… she wore faded sandsilk pants and woven grass sandals. Her small breasts moved freely beneath a painted Dothraki vest . . .”

Imagine the process: Martin sits, hands hovering over the keys, trying to get inside his character’s head:

“Okay, I’m a woman. How do I see and feel the world differently? My cultural role is defined by childbirth. I can be bought and sold in marriage by my own–Oh, hey! I’ve got tits! Man, look at those things go. *whooshing mammary sound effects* Okay, time to write.”

Where are the descriptions of variously-sized dongs swinging within the confines of absurdly-detailed clothing? There are a set of manboobs–which perhaps Martin has some personal experience with–but not until book five. Even then, it’s not the dude being hyperaware of his own–they’re just there to gross out a dwarf. Not really a balanced depiction.

If you’re familiar with the show–and its parodies on South Park and SNL–this lack of dongs may surprise you. But as Martin himself explained, when asked why there’s no gay sex in his books, though there are gay characters,‘they’re not the viewpoint characters’–as if somehow, the viewpoints he chooses to depict are beyond his control. Apparently, he plots as well as your average NaNoWriMo author: sorry none of my characters chose to be gay, nothing I can do about it.

And balance is really the problem here–if only depict the dark, gritty stuff that you’re into, that’s not realism, it’s just trying to hide a fetish. If you depict the grimness of war by having every female character threatened with rape, but the same thing never happens to a male character, despite the fact that more men get raped in the military than women, then your ‘gritty realism card’ definitely gets revoked.

The books are also notorious for sudden, pointless deaths, which some suggest is another sign of realism–but, of course, nothing is pointless in fiction, because everything that shows up on the page is there because the author put it there. Sure, in real life, people suddenly die before finishing their life’s work (fantasy authors do it all the time), but there’s a reason we don’t tend to tell stories of people who die unexpectedly in the middle of things: they are boring and pointless. They build up for a while then eventually, lead nowhere.

Novelists often write in isolation, so it’s easy to forget the rule to which playwrights adhere: your story is always a fiction. Any time you treat it as if it were real, you are working against yourself. The writing feels the most natural is never effortless, it is carefully and painstakingly constructed to seem that way.

A staple of Creative Writing 101 is to ‘listen to how people really talk’, which is terrible advice. A transcript of any conversation will be so full of repetition, half-thoughts, and non-specific words (‘stuff’, ‘thing’) as to be incomprehensible–especially without the cues of tone and body language. Written communication has its own rules, so making dialogue feel like speech is a trick writers play. It’s the same with sudden character deaths: treat them like a history, and your plot will become choppy and hard to follow.

Not that the deaths are truly unpredictable. Like in an action film, they are a plot convenience: kill off a villain, and you don’t have to wrap up his arc. You don’t have to defeat him psychologically–the finality of his death is the great equalizer. You skip the hard work of demonstrating that the hero was morally right, because he’s the only option left.

Likewise, in Martin’s book, death ties up loose threads–namely, plot threads. Often, this is the only ending we get to his plot arcs, which makes them rather predictable: any time a character is about to get enough influence to make things better, or more stable, he will die. Any character who poses a threat to the continuing chaos which drives the plot will first be built up, and then killed off.

I found this interview to be a particularly telling example of how Martin thinks of character deaths:

“I killed [Ned (hide spoiler)] because everybody thinks he’s the hero … sure, he’s going to get into trouble, but then he’ll somehow get out of it. The next predictable thing [someone] is going to rise up and avenge his [death] … So immediately [killing [Robb] (hide spoiler)] became the next thing I had to do.

He’s not talking about the internal motivations of the characters, or the ideas the characters represent–he isn’t laying out a well-structured plot–he’s just building up a character then killing them to defy expectation. But the only reason we think these characters are important and expect them to succeed is because of how Martin sets them up.

He treats them as central heroes, spending time and energy on them, but it all ends up being a red herring so he can get rid of them for a cheap twist. It’s like the mystery novels of the 70’s, when all the good plots had already been done, so authors added ghosts or secret twins in the last chapter–it’s only surprising because the author has torn up the structure of their own book, and with it the relationship between author and reader.

All authors begin by writing plot arcs that grow and change, building tension and purpose. Normally, when such arcs end, the author must use all the force of his skill to deal with themes and answer questions, providing a satisfying conclusion to a promising idea that his readers have watched grow.

Or you could just kill off a character central to the conflict and bury the plot arc with him. That way, you never have to worry about closure, you can just hook your readers by crafting a new arc from the chaos caused by the dissolution of the previous one. Start to make the reader believe that things might get better, to believe in a character, then wave your arms in distraction, yell and point, ‘look at that terrible thing, over there!’, and hope your audience becomes so caught up in worrying about this new problem that they forget that the old one never actually resolved.

By chaining false endings together, you can create a perpetual tension that never requires solution–like in most soap operas–plus, the author never has to do the hard work of finishing what they started. If an author is lucky, they die before reaching the Final Conclusion the readership is clamoring for, and never have to meet the collective expectation which long years of deferral have built up. It’s easy to idolize Kurt Cobain, because you never had to see him bald and old and crazy like David Lee Roth.

Unlucky authors live to write the Final Book, breaking the spell of continual tension and expectation that kept their readers enthralled. Since the plot has not been resolving into a tight, intertwined conclusion (in fact, it’s probably been spiraling out of control), the author must wrap things up conveniently and suddenly, leaving fans confused and upset. Having thrown out the grand romance of fantasy, Martin cannot even end on the dazzling trick of thevaguely-spiritual transgressive Death Event on which the great majority of fantasy books rely for a handy tacked-on climax (actually, he’ll probably do it anyways, with dragons).

The drawback is that, even if a conclusion gets stuck on at the end, the story fundamentally leads nowhere–it winds back and forth without resolving psychological or tonal arcs. But then, doesn’t that sound more like real life? Martin tore out the moralistic heart and magic of fantasy, and in doing so, rejected the notion of grandly realized conclusions. Perhaps we shouldn’t compare him to other writers of romance, but to Histories.

He asks us to believe in his intrigue, his grimness, and his amoral world of war, power, and death–not the false Europe of Arthur, Robin Hood, and Orlando, but the real Europe of plagues, power struggles, religious wars, witch hunts, and roving companies of soldiery forever ravaging the countryside.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t compare very well to them, either. His intrigue is not as interesting as Cicero’s, Machiavelli’s, Enguerrand de Coucy’s–or even Sallust’s, who was practically writing fiction, anyways. Some might suggest it unfair to compare a piece of fiction to a true history, but those are the same histories that lent Howard, Leiber, and Moorcock their touches of verisimilitude. Martin might have taken a lesson from them and drawn inspiration from further afield: even Tolkien had his Eddas.

More than anything, this book felt like a serial melodrama: the hardships of an ensemble cast who we are meant to watch over and sympathize with, being drawn in by emotional appeals (the hope that things will ‘get better’ in this dark place, ‘tragic’ deaths), even if these appeals conflict with the supposed realism, and in the end, there is no grander story to unify the whole. This ‘grittiness’ is just Martin replacing the standard fantasy theme of ‘glory’ with one of ‘hardship’, and despite flipping this switch, it’s still just an emotional appeal. ‘Heroes always win’ is just as boring and predictable as ‘heroes always lose’.

It’s been suggested that I didn’t read enough of Martin to judge him, but if the first four hundred pages aren’t good, I don’t expect the next thousand will be different. If you combine the three Del Rey collections of Conan The Barbarian stories, you get 1,263 pages (including introductions, end notes, and variant scripts). If you take Martin’s first two books in this series, you get 1,504 pages. Already, less than halfway through the series, he’s written more than Howard’s entire Conan output, and all I can do is ask myself: why does he need that extra length?

A few authors use it to their advantage, but for most, it’s just sprawling, undifferentiated bloat. Melodrama can be a great way to mint money, as evidenced by the endless ‘variations on a theme’ of Soap Operas, Pro Wrestling, Lost, and mainstream superhero comics. Plenty of people enjoy it, but it’s neither revolutionary nor realistic.

Some have tried to defend this book by saying “at least Martin isn’t as bad as all the drivel that gets published in genre fantasy”, but saying “he’s better than dreck” is really not very high praise. Others have intimated that I must not like fantasy at all, pointing to my low-star reviews of Martin,Wolfe, Jordan, and Goodkind, but it is precisely because I am passionate about fantasy that I fall heavily on these authors.

A lover of fine wines winces the more when he is given a corked bottle of vinegar, a ballet enthusiast’s love of dance would not leave him breathless at a high school competition, and likewise, having learned to appreciate Epics, Histories, the Matter of Europe, Fairy Tales, and their modern offspring, the fantasy genre, I find Martin woefully lacking.

There’s plenty of grim fantasy and intrigue out there, from its roots in epic poetry to the Thousand and One Nights to the early fantasies of Eddison, Dunsany, Morris, Macdonald, Haggard, and Kipling. Then there are more modern authors: Poul Anderson, Moorcock, M.John Harrison, Vance, Susanna Clarke, Neil Gaiman, Mervyn Peake, China Mieville, Phillip Pullman, Howard, Lovecraft, and Leiber.

There seems to be a sense that Martin’s work is somehow revolutionary, that it represents a ‘new direction’ for fantasy, but all I see is a reversion. Sure, he’s different than Jordan, Goodkind, and their ilk, who simply took the pseudo-medieval high-magic world from Tolkien and the blood-and-guts heroism from Howard. Martin, on the other hand, has more closely followed Tolkien’s lead than any other modern high fantasy author–and I don’t just mean in terms of racism.

Tolkien wanted to make his story ‘real’–not ‘realistic’, using the dramatic techniques of literature–but actually real, by trying to create all the detail of a pretend world behind the story. Over the span of the first twenty years, he released The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings, and other works, while in the twenty years after that, he became so obsessed with worldbuilding for its own sake that instead of writing stories, he filled his shed with a bunch of notes (which his son has been trying unsuccessfully to make a complete book from ever since).

It’s the same thing Martin’s trying to do: cover a bland story with a litany of details that don’t contribute meaningfully to his characters, plot, or tone. So, if Martin is good because he is different, then it stands to reason that he’s not very good, because he’s not that different. He may seem different if all someone has read is Tolkien and the authors who ape his style, but that’s just one small corner of a very expansive genre. Anyone who thinks Tolkien is the ‘father of fantasy’ doesn’t know enough about the genre to judge what ‘originality’ means.

So, if Martin neither an homage nor an original, I’m not sure what’s left. In his attempt to set himself apart, he tore out the joyful heart of fantasy, but failed replace it with anything worthwhile. There is no revolutionary voice here, and there is nothing in Martin’s book that has not been done better by other authors.

However, there is one thing Martin has done that no other author has been able to do: kill the longrunning High Fantasy series. According to some friends of mine in publishing (and some amusingly on-the-nose remarks by Caleb Carr in an NPR interview), Martin’s inability to deliver a book on time, combined with his awful relationship with his publisher means that literary agents are no longer accepting manuscripts for high fantasy series–even from recognized authors. Apparently, Martin is so bad at structuring that he actually pre-emptively ruined books by other authors. Perhaps it is true what they say about silver linings . . .

Though I declined to finish this book, I’ll leave you with a caution compiled from various respectable friends of mine who did continue on:

“If you need some kind of closure, avoid this series. No arcs will ever be completed, nothing will ever really change. The tagline is ‘Winter is Coming’–it’s not. As the series goes on, there will be more and more characters and diverging plotlines to keep track of, many of them apparently completely unrelated to each other, even as it increasingly becomes just another cliche, fascist ‘chosen one’ monomyth, like every other fantasy series out there. If you enjoy a grim, really long soap opera with lots of deaths and constant unresolved tension, pick up the series–otherwise, maybe check out the show.”

What does this poem mean?

In my new novel, Reasonable Doubta man is murdered over the following poem…

They say youth’s folly is the pursuit of wealth,

It’s the theif of that which is not slowed.

The most precious thing you own is your health,

And you’ll need it to recover this lode.

 

Your search begins where rocks once grew,

And the music man, he spins through the night.

The pitcher’s goal, in his name replaces two,

The Lincoln Logs of life must give him a fright.

 

Smog without air makes no sense at all,

But adding gold makes him mighty and great.

A place such as this, a home he might call,

‘Lo he ignore the ghosts of those working the freight.

 

Protected from the Arctic’s wet kiss you’ll find,

As you begin the true quest from here.

The stalwart kid of course is kind,

But only trustworthy as far as the mirror.

 

Now a mile is the goal, are your legs burning yet?

Don’t worry, you’ve nearly arrived.

A heavy load, a truly great get,

I was amazed at how they had thrived.

 

Go quickly now, for the end draws nigh,

All great adventures must come to a close.

The entrance you seek, low and yet dry,

The chest in a trunk, protected by a rose.

 

If you’re persistent enough to have come this far,

The gold, I bequeath all to you.

A paragon of honor, I have no doubt that you are,

Though if not, this day you shall rue.

What does the poem mean? What are the clues? Check out Reasonable Doubt on Amazon in ten days and find out!!

Meet the characters of “Reasonable Doubt”: Detectives Monika Sodafsky and Bruce Norgaard

It’s time to meet the characters of my new novel, Reasonable Doubt, due to be published in March.  Next up: Homicide Detectives Monika Sodafsky and Bruce Norgaard.

 

Detective Monika Sodafsky took a sip of her coffee while she stared at her partner over the rim of the cup. Detective Bruce Norgaard was currently engaged in trying to maneuver a huge spoonful of scrambled eggs onto the edge of a toasted cinnamon-raisin bagel that was smothered in cream cheese. She watched as he pushed the scrambled eggs into the cream cheese with his plastic spoon, the cream cheese bulging out around the eggs. A large glob of it fell off the bagel and was about to land in his lap when he whipped the spoon down and caught it. He licked the cream cheese off the spoon and then bit off a huge chunk of bagel, cream cheese, and scrambled eggs.

“You’re disgusting,” Monika said to him, setting her coffee cup down on the table and pulling off a small, bite-sized piece of her blueberry muffin, popping it into her mouth.

Bruce shrugged and chewed rapidly until he had made enough room in his mouth to be able to speak.

“It’s all about ratios, Monika. You see, every item on this plate is, by itself, inedible.” He paused while he finished chewing and then swallowed the food in his mouth. She was grateful for that, at least; his habit of talking while he was chewing was enough to make her want not to eat her own breakfast.

Bruce continued. “Take this bagel.” He pointed down at his plate. “This thing is just barely edible. Sure, it’s got cinnamon in it, which is delicious, and raisins, which are great, but they’re all mixed in with dough that was made in some factory in massive quantities by some minimum wage worker using the cheapest ingredients they can bulk buy. Then the cream cheese. Sure, it’s a type of cheese, which automatically makes it delicious, but you can’t just grab a spoon and start eating cream cheese out of a container. That would be socially unacceptable.”

Monika arched her eyebrows. Did Bruce actually care about whether or not something was socially unacceptable?

“Then we get to the eggs. Look around this place.” He waved his hand toward the kitchen of the deli where they were eating. “Who the fuck knows what happens back there? When do you think an inspector was last here checking on the sanitation conditions? Probably never. Then you have the fact that these scrambled eggs are made from some kind of dehydrated powder with God only knows what in it. The guy back there adds water and cooks it on a stove and then serves it to us calling it eggs, because if he called it ’rehydrated, yellow, egg-like powder with monosodium glutamate and a touch of cockroach carcass‘ nobody would buy it.”

“So why in the world are you eating it then?” she demanded.

Bruce smiled. “For two reasons. Number one, I’m a cop. I don’t make enough money to go to the nice restaurants and eat the good food. And number two, when you put them together in the right proportions, it’s delicious!” He spooned up another heaping load of rehydrated egg-like powder, balanced it on the cream cheese smothered bagel, and took another huge bite.

“Delicious!” he mumbled around the mouthful of food.

Monika sighed and ate another small bite from her muffin. As disgusting as the eating habits of her partner were, he actually managed to stay somewhat trim and in decent shape. In fact, he wasn’t bad looking and in another time of her life, she might have been interested in some kind of romantic involvement with him. As it was, though, she was entirely focused on her career.

Monika Sodafsky was thirty-five years old and had been a cop for ten years now. She loved being a detective and she loved working in homicide, the pinnacle of detective work, at least in her mind. She’d never been married and wasn’t planning on getting married for some time. Companionship was great and she missed it sometimes, but her career came first.

She sipped her coffee and tried to tune out the sound of Bruce eating as she stared out the window at the rain coming down. She had worked hard to get to where she was, and relationships were often distracting. In fact, her motto was Comfort is the enemy of success. She usually applied that motto just to her work, but she had come to realize that it applied to her personal life as well.

She had been in exactly three serious relationships in her life. The first had been during college at the University of Washington where she had dated the same guy for her entire sophomore and junior years. He’d been a soccer player and had decided not to return for his senior year, instead opting to try to make it as a professional. He’d wanted to continue dating, but they both knew it wasn’t going to work and they’d called it off.

The second serious relationship had been during her rookie year as a police officer. She’d begun dating another recruit from her same academy class. She thrived during her field training period, the time after a cop graduates from the police academy when they ride with a training officer to learn how actual police work is done. Her boyfriend, Nate, didn’t thrive. In fact, he struggled and, after six months of field training, he was fired by the department.

She still would have tried to make that relationship work, but Nate was threatened by her success in the same arena as his failure. She’d tried to make it easy on him, commiserating with him about the bad luck he’d had in training officer assignments and trying to make up complaints of her own in an attempt to sympathize with him. The problem was, Monika loved her job and she loved the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. Coming home every day after Nate was fired and trying to pretend she’d had a terrible day became a chore. It brought her down and she knew it was affecting her career.

That was the first time she realized that relationships are bad for a career. She did some soul searching and came to the conclusion that in order to be everything she wanted to be in a cop, she had to lose the baggage. The baggage in this case had a big tag on it that read Nate.

After a nasty breakup, she spent three years being single before giving a relationship one more try, this time with a prosecuting attorney named Jacob who had hit on her relentlessly for months. She had finally acquiesced to his date requests and they’d gone out for the next three months.

The only reason Monika considered this a serious relationship was because she’d told Jacob that she loved him. It hadn’t been true, but what do you say when a guy says, “I love you”? “Thank you. That’s really sweet of you,” just doesn’t cut it. So she’d said, “I love you too,” just like a good girlfriend was supposed to do. A month later, he’d begun talking to her about moving in together and him taking care of her. He was surprised and hurt and angry when she broke up with him. She tried to explain that she’d made the decision to work on her career and that the relationship was doing nothing but interfering with that. He’d made a bunch of accusations that there was another guy (there wasn’t, of course) and had actually cried when she started to leave.

To Monika, that was a manifestation of weakness, something she despised in a man. She knew that some women thought a man crying meant that he was sensitive and that it was a redeeming quality, but Monika didn’t see that at all.  She certainly didn’t cry, almost never anyway, and she could only look at Jacob with contempt when she saw the tears.

That had been nearly five years ago and since then she’d never been happier. She still dated; after all, a girl needs to get laid on occasion, but she never allowed herself to develop an emotional attachment to anybody.

This policy had been very beneficial for her career. She’d made the rank of Master Patrol Deputy after five years on the road, the minimum amount of time required to achieve that rank, and had then moved into Investigations. She’d planned on just a short stint there before testing for Sergeant and moving back to patrol, but she’d discovered she loved being a detective. Moving into Major Crimes two years before, she had been the lead detective on eight homicide cases, nine if you count the case she’d pulled just yesterday morning, and so far she’d achieved a conviction on 100% of them.

The homicide case she’d pulled yesterday didn’t seem like it was going to be the one that would break her perfect record, though she knew better than to give voice to that opinion, lest her words come back to haunt her.

Bruce Norgaard had been assigned to assist her with this one, a random draw in the rotation that all detectives go through. It wasn’t a bad draw either; as detectives go, Bruce was a great one, despite his questionable eating habits. He was intelligent and inquisitive and, unlike a few others in the division, he wasn’t lazy. Monika despised laziness and couldn’t stand anybody who thought it was even remotely acceptable, especially in this business.

She glanced at Bruce who was just finishing his last mouthful. She hadn’t wanted to try discussing the case with him while he was eating, knowing that food in his mouth wouldn’t have kept him from talking, but now seemed like a safe time.

“Now that you’re done poisoning your body, can we talk about the Conner case?”

Bruce smiled. “You have my undivided attention.”

Meet the characters of “Reasonable Doubt”: Franklin D. Richardson

It’s time to meet the characters of my new novel, Reasonable Doubt, due to be published in March.  First up: Defense Attorney, Franklin Daniel Richardson.

***

It was only 9:20am, but Franklin Daniel Richardson was already having a shitty day.

Pulling up to his office, his eyes scanned the street looking for a parking spot. He could have parked in the lot back on Hewitt Avenue, but he was boycotting them because he’d gotten in a fight with the lot attendant the previous week.

The lot was supposed to have in and out privileges, and he’d left for lunch. When he returned, a new lot attendant had wanted to charge him for another day, and nobody was going to screw Franklin Daniel Richardson out of eight bucks. He’d gotten in a screaming match with the lot attendant, got back in his car, and threw rocks and gravel at the stupid little shack they stand in as he burned out of there. His current stand was that he wouldn’t be back unless he got a refund of the earlier charge and an apology. If history was any predictor, that stand would not be a lasting one.

Even if he hadn’t been in full boycott mode, the lot was two blocks from his office, and it was currently raining. Of course it was raining, Franklin thought, it was always fucking raining here, especially in January. And naturally, when it wasn’t fucking raining, it was fucking snowing.

Franklin hated the rain and he hated the snow, but what he hated most was when it was fucking raining or fucking snowing and he forgot his fucking umbrella.

His shitty day, of course, had nothing to do with the rain that was drizzling down. If he allowed the weather to significantly affect the quality of his day, he’d have suck-started a shotgun years ago. You don’t decide to live in the western part of Washington State if rain ruins your day, even though you may hate it.

No, his shitty day was a direct result of a conversation he’d been forced to have this morning with his bitch of an ex-wife who was trying to extort more money out of him. That phone call and the screaming match that ensued with the bitch, had made him late getting on the road to his office, which in turn had made him hit horrendous rush-hour traffic, amplified in magnitude by the relentless rain.

Actually, “Bitch” was too nice of a title for Erica. He had a different designation for her… a word he used with nobody else of course, even though he secretly liked the word and mentally used it to describe a lot of people, both men and women, who pissed him off. He would never use the word out loud though. Except maybe on the rare occasion when his law school buddies got together for drinks and he tipped back a few too many. But there was no harm in yelling it out when he was with those guys; they understood him.

So Erica had her own moniker, though he’d never actually worked up the courage to say it directly to her. It gave him great pleasure to sign off all text message conversations to her with, “C U Next Tuesday!!” even using the capital letters in “Next” and “Tuesday” in case she was too dense to understand the hidden context without them.

Erica never replied to those messages; she always let him get the final word in their text message battles, so Franklin couldn’t actually be sure she did understand what he was implying or if she always thought he was trying to meet up with her next Tuesday.

His eyes continued to search for a parking spot as he turned up Oakes Avenue and approached the courthouse. He could have parked in the small lot right in front of his office, but he wouldn’t allow himself that luxury. He was, unfortunately, a little cash tight at the moment, so his current mode of transportation was a thirteen year-old Honda Accord that had seen better days. There was no way he was going to attract the type of clientele he hoped for, and by that he meant the rich kind with a bunch of legal problems, if this piece of shit Accord was the only vehicle parked in the space in front of his office.

As it stood now, Franklin’s standard response to potential clients who asked, “How come there’s no cars in the parking lot?” was to claim that his Tesla was currently charging at the Tesla service center down the street. The fact that there was no Tesla service center down the street didn’t seem to be a point of contention for any of them.

A few months ago, he’d worked out a deal with a doctor who had an office one block over, to let the doctor park his Mercedes in the lot for free. For a few weeks, Franklin had had a great time claiming ownership of that car to anybody who asked. Then one day the doctor saw him pretending to get in the car while one of Franklin’s potential clients took his own goddamn sweet time driving away after an end-of-the-day appointment. Franklin hadn’t wanted to be seen walking up to his piece of shit Accord that he’d parked in a fortuitous spot on the street one door down from his office. The doctor and his Mercedes hadn’t returned.

Franklin was usually in his office by 8:30am, and that meant he usually had a plethora of parking choices. But today he was late thanks to his C U Next Tuesday of an ex-wife, and now he couldn’t find a goddamn parking spot.

Just as he was about to spin a U-turn and drive back to Hewitt Avenue, he saw the sweet sight of white back-up lights come on in one of the spaces reserved for courthouse parking.

Franklin hit the gas and stopped just short of the car preparing to back out. The jackass was taking his fucking sweet time and Franklin impatiently thrummed his fingers on the steering wheel, muttering under his breath. When the car finally moved, Franklin flipped the driver the bird and then whipped into the spot, killing the engine just as his cell phone started to ring…

An introduction to “Reasonable Doubt”

I just finished writing my second novel and I thought you guys would like to see a quick little preview to get an idea of what its about. Enjoy these first two chapters of Reasonable Doubt!

 

 

PROLOGUE

Heaving the backpack to the ground, Richard Frost sat on a log to catch his breath. Time was short, but he was exhausted and desperately needed a break. He took a great gasping breath that caught in his lungs. Coughing strenuously, he leaned forward, covering his mouth with his gloved hand, a habit ingrained in socially accepted standards, though there was nobody around to take offense. Getting the coughing under control, he looked down at the palm of the glove and paused for a moment staring at the blood splattered on it. Shaking his head, he wiped the glove in a patch of snow, spitting to clear his mouth before opening his water bottle and drinking the last drops.

He took just another moment, enjoying the solitude, the quiet and the beauty of the natural world surrounding him. This is what had sustained him throughout his life, what had allowed him to work so hard for so many years. Knowing the wilderness was always waiting had let him push through the long weeks, looking forward to the one day each week he always set aside to spend in the woods. He was sorry his life was coming to an end like this, but glad he’d found a small path to immortality in the backpack at his feet.

Standing at last, he suffered through one more coughing spell, saying a quick prayer that it was the last or that the next would hold off at least for a couple of hours. He still had a lot of work to do and darkness was fast approaching.

He grabbed the backpack and gingerly picked his way down the embankment to the place he’d chosen so carefully. He’d spent months looking for just the right spot. The conditions he’d set as the standard while searching for the perfect location had required a lot of thought. He had no idea how long it would be before someone came looking for this cache, and it needed to survive years, probably, and quite possibly decades.

He opened the backpack and then leaned into the concealed cavity, dragging out the titanium box, grunting under its significant weight. He felt another coughing spell coming on and he paused while he fought it down. The spells had recently become serious enough that he’d passed out on two occasions, unable to control his breathing, blood spraying in the air as he fell to the ground. A recurrence of that here would be disastrous.

After a brief moment his lungs began to work smoothly and he said a silent prayer of thanks. The danger averted, he swallowed down the small amount of blood that had bubbled up from his ravaged lungs and then returned his attention to the box. He opened it and smiled at the sight; he’d worked hard his entire life and he never tired of looking at the fruits of that labor. He turned to the backpack and, reaching in, removed seven small objects, one at a time. Though small, the objects were heavier than they appeared to be. Each item was perfectly shaped, manufactured to be exact in size and weight.

He added the seven items to the box that already contained thirteen identical objects he had packed up on two earlier trips. He then pulled three small sacks from the backpack. The sacks were made of oilskin which he hoped would protect them for many, many years. He made sure they were closed securely and then piled them in around the twenty heavy objects, pushing the sacks down with his hands so the lid would be able to close securely. It was surprising even to him, a man used to dealing with items such as this, how small a box was required. Someday in the future, somebody would be surprised at how heavy such a small box could be.

Before he closed the lid, he removed a piece of paper from the backpack, the paper laminated and enclosed in a Ziploc bag. He placed it on top of the items in the chest, smiling at the thought of someone reading the words sometime in the future.

There was no point in locking the box, none at all actually, but old habits die hard, and Richard found himself fighting the urge to snap the padlock onto the reinforced clasp. He’d wanted the complex, secure lock when he originally had the box made, but it wasn’t needed anymore. He would have given the padlock a symbolic toss into the lake but, being a lover of nature and a hater of those who would despoil it in any way, he turned and dropped the lock into the backpack instead. He would pack it out, along with any other evidence of his presence, just as he’d done his entire life.

He turned back to the box and, leaning down, put his entire body into it, shoving it back into the place he’d discovered, the place that would keep it safe for as long as necessary.

Moving all of the logs and sticks back exactly as he’d found them, he stood and surveyed the scene. There were definite signs that someone had been here…footprints and drag marks, vegetation crushed, a rock unearthed, but he wasn’t worried about that. It was getting dark and it would snow tonight, covering all signs of his having been here.

Richard Frost picked up the nearly empty backpack and slung it over his shoulders. This part of his life’s journey was nearly over. He’d never see this place again and he took just a moment to enjoy one last look around before he began working his way back to the path that led to his car.

The distance wasn’t far but, in his weakened condition, it had taken him the entire day to make the three trips needed to carry it all here. He smiled to himself as he remembered a time when he would have carried a load like that in just one trip. He missed the days of his youth when nothing had seemed impossible and the world lay at his feet.

Richard worked his way down the slope, finding the trail and following it to his car, arriving right at dark. A few snowflakes began to fall as he unlocked the door. He got in and drove away and didn’t allow himself the luxury of one final look back. The deed was done, the past was the past, and the future belonged to somebody else.

Chapter One

Eight years later

The killer, dressed all in black, looked down at the man tied to the chair. His expression reflected sadness mixed with satisfaction: sadness at what he’d had to do (killing someone was no small feat after all) and satisfaction at what he’d discovered just before he’d pulled the trigger.

The man in the chair moved just slightly, a twitch really, his head lolled over toward his right shoulder, his chin nearly touching his chest. He was dead already, though his body was still trying to fight that finality. The two bullet holes in his chest, a moment before gushing blood, were now releasing just a trickle.

After a few seconds, the man in the chair finally relaxed fully, his body sagging forward, the bonds tying him to the chair the only thing keeping him from falling to the floor. The killer lowered the gun. He was glad the man in the chair hadn’t resisted too much, hadn’t forced him to use measures he’d been willing to use but would have found distasteful in the extreme.

He knelt down and carefully placed the gun into the backpack he’d brought, a few tools rattling around inside as he did so. It wasn’t until then, crouched on the floor by the dead man’s feet, that he finally took the time to look at the piece of paper in his hand.

The man in the chair had hidden it, and the events tonight were a result of that unfortunate decision. Of course, he’d quickly revealed the location and a whole lot more when he’d realized his life was in danger. The decision to end that life had already been determined though. It was only the manner of his death that had been left up to him.

One side of the paper was covered with notes, painstakingly written; cross-outs littering the page, along with question marks, underlines, and circled words.  This was all the work of the man in the chair and the man in black took a moment to admire it.

“I couldn’t have done it myself,” he said quietly to the man in the chair, admitting it for the first time.

He flipped the page over and examined the words written there, words that he was intimately familiar with. The words printed on this page had consumed the last six months of his life, ever since he’d discovered them while reading an interesting news story online:

They say youth’s folly is the pursuit of wealth,

It’s the theif of that which is not slowed.

The most precious thing you own is your health,

And you’ll need it to recover this lode.

Your search begins where rocks once grew,

And the music man, he spins through the night.

The pitcher’s goal, in his name replaces two,

The Lincoln Logs of life must give him a fright.

Smog without air makes no sense at all,

But adding gold makes him mighty and great.

A place such as this, a home he might call,

‘Lo he ignore the ghosts of those working the freight.

Protected from the Arctic’s wet kiss you’ll find,

As you begin the true quest from here.

The stalwart kid of course is kind,

But only trustworthy as far as the mirror.

Now a mile is the goal, are your legs burning yet?

Don’t worry, you’ve nearly arrived.

A heavy load, a truly great get,

I was amazed at how they had thrived.

Go quickly now, for the end draws nigh,

All great adventures must come to a close.

The entrance you seek, low and yet dry,

The chest in a trunk, protected by a rose.

If you’re persistent enough to have come this far,

The gold, I bequeath all to you.

A man of honor, I have no doubt that you are,

Though if not, this day you shall rue.

Seven stanzas, four lines per stanza with alternating rhymes.  230 words, 963 characters, 1166 characters counting the spaces, and one misspelled word. The man in black knew every single detail about this poem, inside and out. He’d studied it, dissected it, looked at it backwards, forwards, upside down and in a mirror. He’d looked up the definitions and synonyms and antonyms of every word. He’d changed every letter to its reciprocal number and tried to find meaning that way. He’d done research with cipher keys, trying to find hidden meaning in the text.

The only thing he hadn’t known about this poem, and really the only thing that mattered, was what the poem meant.

That misspelled word alone had consumed the killer for weeks, trying in vain to figure out why just that one of all 230 words had been misspelled.  Every available hour of every day for weeks, just trying to unravel the meaning behind the spelling of that one word.

For this poem, and in particular for the solution now written on the back and divulged by the man in the chair, the killer had risked much. A calculated risk, but one with potentially dire consequences should he fail.

He carefully folded the piece of paper and tucked it away in a zippered pocket of his black leather jacket. He then bent down to the backpack and, opening a separate zippered compartment, began removing items and placing them on the floor. He had a lot of work still to do and time was short.

Two hours later, the killer looked out the back door, making sure there was nobody watching, and quickly walked through the rear alley. He cut across the golf course to his car which he’d left parked on a street, well away from the victim’s house. Checking once more for any observers, he opened the car door and tossed the backpack inside. Getting behind the wheel, he drove through back streets, following a carefully planned route. As he approached his destination, he picked up his prepaid cell phone and hit a number that was programmed in.

The man with the scar on his face answered on the first ring.

“Go ahead and make the call,” the killer said to the man with the scar on his face.

The phone went dead in his hand. He hit the button to lower the window on his side and carefully tore the phone apart, dropping the battery out first, then the SIM card, and then the two halves of the phone, the parts scattering behind him on the highway.

The deed was done, but the fun was just beginning. The man in black smiled to himself in the rearview mirror as he carefully turned off the highway and headed toward home.