Kinfolk

Richard Skinner

Eighteen years ago today. Actually just about eighteen years ago to the minute, as I sit down to write this.

I had flipped on the television to see what the weather was going to be like; we sometimes have our summer rains well into September.

Standing there. Standing there. Flames roaring out of the side of a skyscraper. Hearing voices on the television, but not comprehending them. Then a plane comes into the frame and rams straight into the other
skyscraper.

That finally shocks me out of that disbelieving space, the this cannot be real, must be the wrong channel, this is a movie space.

Walk out the front door. I’m the only one home, getting ready for work, but I don’t remember to lock it behind me. Get in the car; drive around the corner and up the street, meeting the wife as she is walking back from
taking the two youngest to school.

Slam the brakes on, roll down the window. Scream out of it for her to GET IN! THE BASTARDS JUST ATTACKED US!

*****

Okay, my story is not much different than the stories of anyone in this country (and some others) that are old enough to remember that day, that terrible day. But, of all of those stories, the stories that differ in a
million details, there is one absolutely common thread for Americans, wherever they were, whatever they were doing. THE BASTARDS JUST ATTACKED US!

Not “just attacked New York.” Not “just attacked those rich elitists in their cushy offices.” Attacked US. Attacked OUR kinfolk, OUR brothers, OUR sisters, OUR children — OUR shared nation.

This is what should be remembered most, now, after the horror, the grief, the hot rage has passed for the majority of us. (Not for all; there are still families grieving their lost ones, there are still families watching
their beloveds die from the aftermath.) WE were attacked. ALL of us were attacked.

There are serious divisions in our country today. There have always been serious divisions in our country. But when we are challenged by disaster, whether it is by the evil of those who hate us, or the uncaring of
nature, those differences, for most of us, are burned away by the flames, washed away by the floods.

Myself, I’m a “flyover.” A “deplorable.” A “Trumpkin” (although I didn’t vote for him in the primaries). But I am an American. I remember that the “coasties,” the “snowflakes,” the “woke” — the vast majority of you
are Americans. The walkers in New York that ran away from the boiling wall of concrete, glass, and smoke as the towers came down — and then, pulling their chic shirts over their mouth and nose, ran back into
the settling mess to help those who didn’t run quite so fast, or had too far to go. The boat captains on the East River that cast off and ferried hundreds of people to safety, without regard to any “rules” that got in the
way of doing as much as they possibly could. The firefighters and cops — good union members all — who ran into the buildings, up the stairways, to get the people out — and died with them when time ran out.

You are my kinfolk. Whether you like to admit it or not, I am your kinfolk. Kinfolk don’t have to especially like each other. We can have different ideas about… just about everything. But we are there for each
other when the carp hits the fan.

I implore you, my kinfolk — whether I like you or not, whether you like me or not — remember that day. That terrible day. That glorious day. Never forget. Never allow those who would split our kin into warring
tribes to succeed.

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A Post – Tomorrow

Richard Skinner

This is not the post you are looking for…

Okay, there was supposed to be a blog post today, for Independence Day. Since I seem to get going only on holidays…

That post will be tomorrow (probably). The main reason is that I decided it is more appropriate for the day after the celebration of our nation’s independence. This is a joyous day, not one for a lecture, which is what the post in question is. The other fiddly reasons (excuses) I may or may not detail tomorrow…

In the meantime, a picture shall have to fill in. I am already running late in preparing the altar for its offerings on this most high holy day. (For the unenlightened, non-followers of the USAian sect, that means I need to get outside, light the charcoal in the grill, then come back in to cut steaks and throw them in a quick marinade.) Also in the meantime, pop over to read Sarah Hoyt’s post for today, which will put you ahead of me (yes, that kind of day).

Fireworks!

Picture from http://www.pixabay.com. Contributed by member “10219,” Creative Commons CC0 license.

Regular Visitors Released

Richard Skinner

Update — Regular Visitors is now in the Unlimited Library. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how to enroll in KDP Select before a title is actually published; all of the selections to “promote and advertise” are disabled until then. Sigh…

Three publications now. Regular Visitors (A Tale By The Road) is now (or soon will be) available on Amazon.

This one was two days past my target date, although I had thought I would make it until I got down into the weeds. The cover finally hit the “grudging satisfaction” point very late on Friday night, so I signed off to get some sleep. (The cover was a nightmare, of which saga I may write at a later time.)

Big mistake… When I opened up the manuscript, it was the first draft; notes scattered all through it for absolutely must do content edits. Urk. The afterword was pretty much done except for copy editing, but no blurb, no title page, not ready to start converting.

So content edits were yesterday, copy editing everything was today, and then compiling the Kindle book. On to the release post.

Oh! Wait, I almost forgot something. That dedication, which really doesn’t belong with a short story — but which I did anyway. I meant to provide at least a brief explanation for that…

“Ladmo” was a character on the then independent Phoenix (KPHO) station’s weekday afternoon schedule. Everyone had a local kid’s show then — but, to me, “The Wallace and Ladmo” show was special. I never watched the lady with her puppets. The neighborhood of another show was, frankly, booring…. Every so often, not very often, the Captain would catch my attention. Every weekday at 3:30 PM, though, without fail (unless the family was out of town, or the UHF repeater on the mountain to the west failed), my rear end was firmly planted on the floor in front of the television set.

“Just a kids show” — but it was different from the rest. Never talked down, never sanctimonious, never really tried to “teach a lesson.” Entertainment for children. If you want to understand more, follow the link to the fan site (yes, a fan site, decades after the show went off the air) at WallaceWatchers.com.

On Christmas Eve, Ladmo would always have a little piece, a simple little piece, where he told the story of The Little Drummer Boy. That little piece (YouTube here) was my official signal that it was really Christmas. (Um, yes, that meant a very short time that I was encouraged to be “good.” My mother took what she could get.)

*****

This is the second Tale — agreeing with Orvan’s advice to call the initial one, the introduction, the “zeroth.” It is not really “in sequence,” though; the next one was supposed to be one called “Fugitive.” It has been an extremely long dry spell, however. For many excuses and a few reasons — about which I will probably not write (at least not here). I did want to get out my “Christmas” story this year, though, which I failed to do last year at this time.

As will be the norm for these, it is rather odd — or perhaps Odd — or even ODD! Did The Road see the Virgin Mary as she journeyed to and entered Bethlehem to give birth to the Messiah? If so, what was its perspective on the whole thing? Does it maybe see other things, things that we do not — but could if we opened our eyes a bit more? My mind does wander in strange directions. I try to blame The Muse, but she is shaking her head at me, denying any responsibility whatsoever for these.

Anyway, the cover, which is of course also a link. I’m off to tangle with WordPress to get this published.

Regular Visitors

Even for The Road, there will be an end. Perhaps not, though — as an experience that cannot be explained by cold rationality, but only remembered and contemplated, may indicate that there is something more. Something more for Man and maybe something more for The Road that is his creation.

The Road has been trod by countless many feet, but there was one man, and one woman great with child, that it cannot help but remember every year.

A somewhat different take on the Story of Christmas. Enjoy…

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Richard Skinner

Thanksgiving Dinner Table

I seem to have developed a habit of posting only on holidays — and not even all of those. Sigh…

More about my writing plans later, but first:

A Prayer of Thanksgiving

Dear Lord, on this day of giving thanks, as this family sits once again at this table, we pray that our reflections on the year meet your approval, and receive your blessing.

Lord, we are thankful for a country and a people that provide such a bountiful harvest, day in and day out. Their toils in your fields have given us this table on this day. (We incidentally thank you for reminding the cook to not put sticks in the stuffing!)

Lord, we are thankful for the men and women that defend our country and our people, day in and day out. We are thankful that two of these defenders are here with our family today. We pray you to sustain those who are not able to join their loved ones on this day, and that you will see fit to return them to their homes safely, or take them to your loving bosom if such is not to be.

Lord, we are thankful for your gracious nurturing hand over this family this past year, as you have ensured that we have received all that we need, if not all that we want. We pray that you continue to do so, until each of us is called to rejoin you.

Amen.

*****

Writing plans… only the best laid ones, of course.

I am kicking myself every day (except today, as I am the cook this year) to get a cover done for Regular Visitors, which is a new Tale By The Road. The story was actually written last year, but I failed to get a cover done in time for this Christmas Tale to be published then. I’ll be getting back to work on that one tomorrow (Friday), although I fear that most of the day will be taken up by playing with the Apophysis fractal generation package, which Cedar Sanderson turned me on to. Fascinating and apparently very powerful package — which will mean a steep learning curve for this fumbling non-artist. December 1st is the goal here.

After that, it is back to work on the long-suffering first novel, working title Talons of Vengeance. I spent the last week or so reviewing what I do have done, and “picking up sticks” on the background, which was rather scattered about. If I can keep up the momentum from the last couple of weeks, that novel should be coming out early next year (I am hoping for January — but if the body and computer crash like they simultaneously did last year… This is why I keep a wood bookshelf right next to my desk, by the way!) There should at least be a snippet next month (the first chapter, actually).

NOTEanyone who wishes to volunteer as a beta reader will be much appreciated!

That’s about it for news from here. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

*****

P.S. No, that is not my Thanksgiving table. I’m writing this the night before, but I am going to post it first thing in the morning — right after my own bird gets into the oven. Tonight is the apple pies and other miscellaneous prep work. The image at the top is a photograph by Gabriel Garcia Marengo, which he kindly made available for free on unsplash.com (a new image site that I am slowly exploring).

*****

P.P.S. If you follow me on social media, you undoubtedly know that I am an agnostic. So? I think it is highly unlikely that prayer can hurt anyone — and for all that I know, it may help.

*****

P.P.P.S. Getting ridiculous, but I think this is the last one. If you are new to commenting on my blog, please be patient if your comment takes quite a while to show up. I must approve each new commenter here — and will be busy until this afternoon (and most likely semi-comatose afterwards; I never seem to learn…).

I Still Hear It…

Richard Skinner

A quick update — Sarah Hoyt has since posted her own appreciation of Jerry. Read it at PJ Media. We obviously knew the same man — but she knew him far better than I.

*****

Jerry Pournelle, 2005 NASFICA giant left our vale of tears yesterday. Yet — I still hear a booming voice, echoing from the mountainsides, ringing about the hills, reverberating through my head…

Last night, I cracked open a book. That is certainly nothing new, but I had the need at the time for something that would engage my mind. But only for short periods of time: I really should be doing other things than absorbing myself in a novel, or, even worse, a series.

The book that I pulled from the shelf — an anthology of short science fiction stories, non-fiction articles, and interspersed commentary and essays by the editor — is getting rather worn these days; the pages are yellowed and it’s about time to tape the front cover back on.

Despite a complete lack of psychic powers, though, this book, The Endless Frontier (Volume II), was the best book I could possibly have selected. Because, following my usual morning habit, I popped open Sarah Hoyt’s blog, According to Hoyt, only to see a note above the scheduled article — a note that Jerry Pournelle, that editor, had passed yesterday.

I had to close the browser, after posting a rather incoherent comment (maybe the first reaction there, I haven’t looked back yet to see). Continued with my life; there were bill payments to get out, an errand to pick up a couple quarts of motor oil and see if the grocery store had any lettuce this morning. That voice in the back of my head, though — call it the Muse, or whatever — began composing. I had to think about what this meant, and I had to get it written. Now, today.

So, an entirely unplanned blog post. Please bear with me, although I think I am somewhat more coherent after a few hours of absorbing the shock.

Now, without a doubt, there will be hundreds — thousands — tens of thousands of words written in the next few days about what Jerry meant to the several communities in which he was so prominent a figure. The science fiction community, of course. But also the space exploration community. The personal computer community. The educational reform community. The national defense community, the political community … Jerry was a true Renaissance man in the modern age; anything that caught his interest was soon mastered, and then shared with the rest of us.

In all of those communities, there are people who can and will tell you a great deal about this man. They met him in person, they were his collaborators, his correspondents (no, my half-dozen emails do not make me one of them), his inside intelligence sources from which he fed his many interests. Again, I am not one of those. All that I have to offer is the view of how his life affected mine — and it had an enormous effect, when I think about it; second only to Robert Heinlein in his ability to make me think; to test and find wanting the dogmatic assumptions about the world that remained from my early indoctrination sessions (inaccurately called “school”); to put together new thoughts that — sometimes — were in frank disagreement with his, but based on the world-as-is, not world-as-it-should-be.

So… At this far remove in time, I honestly cannot recall where I first encountered Jerry in his writings. It may have been the first Pournelle novel that I read (King David’s Spaceship). Perhaps it was his long-running monthly column in BYTE magazine, Computing at Chaos Manor. Or maybe the bimonthly Alternate View in Analog. It may even have been an editorial piece elsewhere, pushing the Strategic Defense Initiative during the Reagan Presidency. It really doesn’t matter — everywhere I looked back in those days (the early 1980s), there was Jerry — with one of the few demonstrably sane voices on the subject at hand. An advocate for many things, yes, whether it was a cool new piece of computer software or a way to stop threatening Russian schoolgirls with nuclear incineration as a “defense” policy. Always — always — though, with a detailed reasoning for his enthusiasm, and a frank acknowledgement of any flaws or difficulties that he could see — or that were brought to his attention.

Refreshing, particularly in those days when the Long March through the institutions was really gathering steam, and their monopoly over the dissemination of ideas was still intact. There were other voices; the suppression of wrong-think was nowhere near complete as yet — but there were few that were nearly as prolific as Jerry. I began to open magazines (whether BYTE or Analog or some other periodical where his name appeared on the cover) to his piece first. Without exception: it was almost certain to be the highlight of the issue. I began to buy his books. Then whatever books his name appeared on (which are legion; the There Will Be War anthologies, and the collaborations with Larry Niven are only the best known). I began to notice all of the places where other people obviously took ideas from his work, building, frequently poorly but occasionally with brilliance, their own edifices. (It amused me when I heard a mechanical engineer — a designer of irrigation equipment, of all things — use the phrase “…and then, on the gripping hand…” When asked, she had never heard of Jerry, or of the novel; it was just a phrase that apparently had become common in that community.)

I hate to admit it, but there were many years in which I did not pay quite so much attention. Raising a family, raising the money to raise the family, coping with a world that was sliding rapidly into the Crazy Years (yes, I know, that is exactly when I should have kept up with people like him). The Analog articles stopped as Jerry got involved in too many other things, even for him. BYTE eventually folded, too. Although the column continued on line, I had far too much to do dealing with staying just behind the bleeding edge of computer technology, not on the front lines.

Of course, I continued to buy Pournelle books, whenever they appeared, which was still often enough to fill many enjoyable hours of those years. Not as frequently as I would have liked, or as frequently as I think he would have liked — but failing health, including a brain tumor and a stroke, does tend to slow down even the greatest of souls.

I will have no new Pournelle to read now (except for whatever may be in the pipeline, or close enough that his almost equally talented children can finish them up). In recent years, though (three or four, it’s hard to say), I have been “rediscovering” Jerry. Not so much for his views of the larger world; those have actually not changed all that much (although, with a couple decades more of acquiring “wisdom” under my belt, I find many more places where he was righter than I thought as a “youth”). No, I have been studying his writing, particularly his characters, as I make the attempt to change my primary career. Not a single bit of cardboard in those, oh no. Every one fully realized. As just one example, if you are a writer, and you need to figure out how to write a complete sociopath with an unhealthy dollop of psychopathy (Jerry well knew the difference between those disorders — a B.S. in Psychology may have helped there?) — study carefully the character of Skilly from The Prince.

Egads. I’m up to some 1,300 words, far more than I have produced in weeks. There are still things bouncing around in my head that I could tell you about his work and how it affected me (such as the most masterful evisceration of the “Green” agenda ever written in fictional form — Fallen Angels, with Larry Niven and Michael Flynn — read it, it’s in the Baen Free Library, you have no excuse…). But, I need to end here, if this is to be edited, formatted, and published by tonight — and I know that I won’t be able to sleep until that is done. In the meantime, I’ll continue reading, with a few tears intervening between the eye and the page; and maybe an Irish coffee or two once this is up on the blog.

Rest in peace, Jerry Eugene Pournelle, PhD, August 7, 1933 — September 8, 2017. I still hear your voice in the valley. I promise that I will do my best to keep it alive, echoing, and — if at all possible — growing louder.

*****

An addendum: Also without a doubt, many of those words mentioned above will be written in cyanide ink, and will require (virtual) acid resistant paper for their conveyance. The usual suspects (I’m looking at YOU, Vilists), to whom his ideology was anathema (classical liberalism is, of course, completely unacceptable to the would-be fascisti that have expropriated the word) will be reeling off all of the “ist” and “phobe” words that they can muster. To those, this is my response — two raised hands, and four fingers. Although I don’t know why I should bother with that much: you are barely the lice that dreamed of infesting the curly hair on this giant’s little toes.

Choices

Richard Skinner

A Nation of Immigrants

I was contemplating an Independence Day post, but… Driving lessons to give, burnt offerings to make on the barbeque (yes, this is MY high holy day), and the usual miscellany of other time and energy eaters.

Fortunately for me, Sarah Hoyt has already written the ideal article about what it means to be American — and, of course, it is much better than anything that I could possibly offer.

This was her post yesterday, over on PJ Media: Becoming American. Go. Read. Enjoy.

I do have a few comments to add (those who know me are not surprised).

The salient point to to be made here is that Sarah chose to be an American. Many people make that choice — including a great many that still need a passport and visa to set foot in this country. The nation that was created by the document that opened with “In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776,” and wound things up with “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor” is not a thing that is defined by genetic relationship or by a map in Funk and Wagnalls World Atlas — it is an idea. An infectious idea, a veritable plague upon a world filled then, as now, with those who would control their neighbors with the shibboleths of “proper breeding,” or “proper birthplace,” or (for the most murderously minded of them) the “inevitability of history.”

This country is rather unique in this one respect — the majority of our neighbors chose to be here, either by conscious decision, or by the conscious decision of their ancestors. They chose to be here because they chose to “hold these truths to be self-evident.”

Now, there are some who choose to be here — and choose to not be Americans. To not subscribe to the idea of “American.” I firmly believe that these are a minority, no matter how loud they are, or how much face time they are given by a lopsided media. (To be clear, this minority includes both people that landed yesterday at LAX or JFK — and those who can, like myself, trace their “American lineage” back to that first Fourth of July or even earlier. Idea, get it? Not blood. Not place.) They have chosen to not be Americans — but, unlike other nations, we have not made the choice to eject them by force, “reeducate” them, or simply bury them (although many of us do encourage them to voluntarily relocate to a place more suitable to their mind-sets). Why? Because that is part of the American idea. Stay here, by all means, if that is your choice. While here, you do have to follow our laws — if any of these laws is in conflict with your culture, whether that culture is a product of Iraq or of Hollywood, that you cannot suppress or surrender, then you should leave. Immediately. Because we Americans will not tolerate your following those particular cultural notions for very much longer. For those differences that are not legally prohibited? We won’t throw you out — but we will point and laugh. And do our very best to ensure that your ideas do not ever supplant the idea of “America.”

Latro finis. Oh, and molon labe, for good measure. I have made my choice — “Here I stand; I can do no other.”

Unfortunately necessary addendum: No, I am not discounting the heinous years of the slave trade, when all too many “immigrants” were not given a choice. However, I would note that, at least for a time, there was an option for liberated slaves to return to their “homeland” — not really anywhere close to where they or their ancestors came from, but at least not here — and with the opportunity to form their own government, in “perfect freedom.” Which actually did not turn out all that well; many of the descendants of the scant 15,000 or so who made that choice have had ample cause to regret it. Some only briefly.*

In point of fact, the only time period in which a significant number of people elected to leave the United States, the country of their birth, to “refugee out,” was right after the Civil War, when many found it… advisable to make themselves scarce. Not for political reasons, either — they did not fear prosecution as “war criminals,” but as just plain criminals. Even then, the majority simply relocated within the borders, but where their faces were not known and names were somewhat more flexible… (This made for a lot of very successful movies — and a lot of rather unhappy prior residents.)

* I just know that some idiot that is armed with only the indoctrination “history” taught these days will come along and demand “cites.” Well, here’s a couple of starting points for you — yep, they’re Wikipedia, but an honest inquirer will follow the citations that these articles give to more “respectable” sources. Warning — do not eat before reading in any depth about Charles Taylor and his Merry Men.

History of Liberia (Wikipedia)

Charles Taylor (Liberian Politician) (Wikipedia)