Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Brian Aitken's "The Blue Tent Sky": bring "legal" guns into New Jersey, go to jail

Author: Brian D. Aitken
Title: “The Blue Tent Sky: How the Left’s War on Guns Cost Me My Son and my Freedom
Publication: 2014, Black Bear Books, ISBN 978-0-9906554-0-4, 273 pages, hardcover (also paper and ebook), 14 chapters
Amazon link

Author’s own publishing services website here
A note on the typesetting: it’s unusual in that paragraphs are not indented, but marked by extra double spaces, which is the way PDF’s get created from Word documents by the Word add-on.  Online free versions (not the Kindle, but the version on my “”) of my own books look like this in PDF.  I will be rethinking all of this for my own books in 2015 as I build my new “portfolio”, but that is for another time. 

I discussed the Cato book forum for this book on my Issues blog Dec. 11, 2014, and have some QA video here
The book is indeed a very personal account, a memoir.  The author, now 28, describes a somewhat checkered life with an out-of-sequence narrative that is sometimes hard to follow in detail.  He had worked in media sales, in New York and Colorado.  He met a young woman to whom he proposed, but serious problems in the marriage, leading to divorce, happened right after the son was born. 
 There is a sense of haste in the way he made some decisions.  There is some material where he expresses real anger at his former wife. Divorce (with custody and visitation battles) can be a very bad scene.  I’ve missed all that in life.
Aitken decided to move back to New Jersey from Colorado to have more visitation with his son.  He says that he checked the legal requirements for bringing his personal weapons into New Jersey carefully before the move.
Nevertheless, things got complicated for him at the beginning of 2009, he goes between an apartment in Hoboken, and his parents’ home in Mt. Laurel.  It’s not clear why his mother called 911 and dropped it, but the police got nosey, and really did go way overboard, because of some kind of left-wing profiling (and the writer is white). 

Aitken would be arrested and charged with illegally transporting his personal weapons without a permit, although his ownership of the guns in a home would have been legal.  In front of both the grand jury and then at trial, jurors were prevented from being told about the “exceptions” on New Jersey’s carry laws.

One can perhaps understand this with a grand jury (which is supposed to be the prosecution’s show) but not before a trial jury.  The judge seemed to think that the issue of whether Aitken was “moving” was not a point that a jury could legally decide. The state maintained that Aitken was keeping the guns in his car illegally out of laziness or convenience, and wasn’t really finishing a household move, but the judge wouldn’t let the jury decide it.

Aitken’s description of life in a county jail is quite harrowing.  After some machinations, attorneys would get Gov. Chris Christie (a Republican) to commute the sentence to time served, after about four months.  And most of the conviction would be overturned on appeal, except for illegal possession of “hollow point” ammunition, which is supposed to be more destructive.  Because of that one conviction, which stands on a technicality, Aitken remains a convicted felon, unable to do things like rent his own apartment.
The Daily Caller has an interview with the author here
The underlying message seems to be, if you bring guns into New Jersey and get caught, you’re going to jail. 

As I've noted before, the question as to whether someone is better off when armed is very mixed.  Twice I've met possible carjackers by just driving away.  Nothing happened.  Maybe I was lucky.  (In one case, the white perpetrator was so stoned on drugs that he couldn't have carried it out.)  Piers Morgan is always saying that incidents in Australia stopped after gun control was implemented, but look at what happened Dec. 15.  Maybe if the shop owner had been armed, the incident wouldn't have happened. Gun laws just don't seem to keep weapons away from criminals. But they may keep them away from kids and mentally unstable people.
First picture (mine): coastal New Jersey in early 2013, after Sandy. 

Update:  Feb 3, 2015

The idea of a police welfare check is explained in the HBO film "Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1" as explained on the Movies blog today. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

Four "coffee table" books that will give you a Christmas journey to other planets

At a visit to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington last Saturday, I picked up four coffee table books to try to get as much picture material as possible on other planets that could contain life or that are somewhat interesting, both in the Solar System, and extrasolar.
The best of these was DH’s Smithsonian “The Planets: The Definitive Visual Guide to our Solar System” , edited by Ben Morgan, 2014, 256 pages. 
The Mission to Mars chapter has only four color pages.

There are great diagrams of the inner structures of Jupiter and Saturn (which have metallic hydrogen), as well as Uranus and Neptune, which the book says may not be as gaseous as we had thought, and could have both “jello” and diamond layers. 

For Jupiter’s moons, there is a better picture of Ganymede than Europa. For Titan (Saturn) there are some small NASA Cassini photos and mock-ups, and a spectacular 2-page artist’s impression of a lake shore on the surface, with Saturn in the sky and an orange twilight atmosphere. Enceladus also has a spectacular panorama, as do Miranda (Uranus) and Triton (Neptune). Note the typo on p. 211, where the text reads "Titan" when "Triton" was intended.  This is an easy mistake to make when writing (your brain makes a substitution) and hard to catch in copy-editing.  I know this as a writer myself.  

National Geographic offers “Mars: Inside the Curiosity Mission” by Marc Kaufman, with a foreword by Elon Musk, 392 pages.  This book gives the viewer the best possible chance to take a vacation on Mars from an armchair on Christmas Day, after dinner.

National Geographic also offers a “Kids’ Space Encyclopedia: A Tour of the Solar System and Beyond” (2014), by David A. Aguilar, 192 pages . Europa, Titan and Triton get good surface pictures.  There are several exoplanets shown, including one near a brown dwarf, and one in a star in a globular cluster, but nothing that would come close to supporting life.  It means a hot rocky planet recently discovered in the Alpha Centauri system.

Kingfisher publishes “Universe: Journey into Deep Space” by Dr. Mie Goldsmith, illustrated b Dr. Mark A. Garlick. There are spectacular images of Titan, and Triton, and some more encouraging extra-solar planets, including one with a coast looking Biblical, a waterworld with life, and a couple of hot melting worlds (48 pages).  

Friday, December 12, 2014

Cato Institute's "A Dangerous World?"

Editor: Christopher A. Preble and John Mueller
Title: “A Dangerous World? Threat Perception and U.S. National Security
Contributors: Francis J. Gavin, John Mueller, Lyle J. Goldstein. Paul R. Pilla, Austin Long, Peter Andreas, Martin Libicki, Mark G. Stewart, Michael A. Cohen, Stephanie Rugolo, Daniel W. Drezner, Eugene Gholz, Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson with Sameer Lalwani, Brendan Rittenhouse Green, Christopher J. Fettweis, Bemjamin H. Friedman
Publication: 2014, Cato Institute, Washington DC, 389 pages, indexed, Introduction and 16 essays
Amazon link is here.
I attended a book forum at Cato about this book on Oct. 22; the forum is discussed that date on the International Issues Blog.
The overall tone of these essays, as for the forum, is that the existential threat to the American or western way of life from enemies (most of all radical Islam), is probably overstated and exploited, by right wing politicians as well as those who want to sell books (even right-wing oriented novels and movies).
By way of comparison, the Soviet Union, for a long time, centered around the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, probably presented a much greater threat.
Austin Long, in Chapter 5, “The Management of Savagery: Policy Options for Confronting Substate Threats” does, on p. 82, does discuss the role of the war in Vietnam, with its reliance on male conscription, in molding attitudes toward subsequent conflicts.  It’s possible that the ability to use a conscripted force in conventional war, under “domino theory” doctrine, could be construed as part of a nuclear avoidance strategy, very real then (when  was drafted) but not now.  It worthy of note that there was talk of draft resumption when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 (more traumatic than the Iran hostage crisis). 
Matthew Libicki, in Chapter 7, “Dealing with Cyberattacks” somewhat downplays the threat of a really catastrophic cyber attack on US infrastructure by asymmetric terrorists. Why are critical machines in the power grid connected to the public Internet in such a way that they can even be reached?  Other books covered here have discussed the dangers of an outright EMP attack (Maloof’s book, April 13, 2013). Libicki, however, admits that a major incident could cause policy changes that make self-expression on the Internet more difficult, and that could raise the barriers to entry.
Christopher J Fettweis, in “Delusions of Danger: Geopolitical Fear and Indispensability in U.S. Foreign Policy”, makes an astonishing commentary about inequality on p. 272   “Rich people worry a great deal about their security…{They take measures] to protect themselves and their belongings from the throngs of have-nots they assume are plotting to take what is theirs.”  (What does “theirs” refer to?  A problem in the English language.  He seems to be referring to fear of forceful expropriation or what a friend of mine calls “purification”.  “Those who have more than what could be considered their fair share , perhaps bothered a bit by subconscious guilt, worry about losing what they have more than those who live in relative penury.”  This passage may deal more with wealth inequality and income inequality, and would take a left-wing stab at inherited wealth.  Volunteerism, with all its bureaucracy, may seem like a feeble response;  but it might send a message that everyone should get a fair shake.  There’s a taste of Maoism in this kind of thinking. On p. 268, Fettweis notes that "part of the reason our beliefs are so resistant to change is because they shape the way new information is interpreted, and they filter out what appears to be contradictory."  So much for critical thinking. 

Thursday, December 04, 2014

"Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy Seal's Journey to Coming Out Transgender"

Authors: Kristin Beck (U.S. Navy Seal, Ret.), and Anne Speckhard, Ph D.
Title: “Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy Seal’s Journey to Coming Out Transgender
Publication: Advances Press (McLean, Va), 2013, ISBN 978-935866-42-8, 232 pages, hardcover (available paper and Kindle); Foreword, Press Release, Preface and Prelude and Three Parts (“Lives”), with about 60 very short unnumbered chapters

Amazon link is here. I reviewed from the hardcover, purchased through Amazon. 
Kristin Beck was born as Christopher T.  Beck on June 21, 1966, and would serve twenty years as a U.S. Navy Seal, from 1991-2011, participating in thirteen deployments, seven of which were combat.
Kristin relates that she always perceived herself as a woman inside. She was brought up by conservative parents who believed in strict adherence to gender roles.  She says she was envious of her sister Hannah, who seemed privileged and protected.  Why were things expected of him (as Chris) that weren’t expected of girls?  I used to wonder that as a little boy. The “women and children first” idea made me wonder if I was supposed to be a second class citizen.  Of course, at a young age, I had no concept of how childbearing works.
Chris, however (unlike me) was fully competitive as a boy physically, and eventually went to VMI.  He let up academically after playing sports, and eventually transferred to Alfred.  After some relatively normal employment, he decided to join the military in 1991, as the Persian Gulf War, opposing Saddam Hussein, heated up. He found he could suppress his transgender feelings by extreme focus on physical military matters.
He married twice, and had children by the first marriage.  (He actually describes his first experience in sexual intercourse at age 22, where he lay on the bottom and pretended he was a female anyway, despite the male performance role.)  The deployments put strains on the marriages.
Beck retired in 2011, moved to Florida and began the transition to a female almost immediately.  In two different places, Beck describes using laser treatments to permanently remove all hair from his beard, chest and arms (“thmooth”), but being satisfied to merely shave his legs.  I’m reminded of products like “NoNo”, advertised on CNN on weekends, but as one looks around, they don’t seem to be as popular as the manufacturers would have you believe (fortunately).
The co-author, Speckhard, is a psychologist at Georgetown University in Washington DC.  Speckhard had been doing a study on psychological resilience of special troops in the military and at first did not know that Beck had transitioned to a woman until they met (as planned) in a gay bar.
CNN aired the film “Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story”, reviewed on the Movies Blog, Sept. 4, 2014. Beck spoke to the Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance at a dinner on Sunday, November 23, reviewed here on my LGBT blog that date. 

It's important to note that the US military still formally bans transgendered people;  the lifting of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" in 2011 did not pertain to transgender. In 1993, Scott Peck (the son of a marine colonel who had argued for the gay ban during the early days of the debate on DADT), conducting his own radio show Sunday nights, interviewed a transgendered person who had left the Navy but had the same job in intelligence as a civilian.  (Actually, intelligence services didn't drop "ban" on gay civilian employees until 1996, after another Clinton executive order that is little known.)
At the QA in Arlington VA Nov. 23, Kristin said something to the effect that she had given up all rights to the book.  I can find at least one complaint online (on “pissedconsumer”, from 2013, marked “issue not resolved”).  Normally an author telling her own story should not lose rights to own her material and distribute or sell her content in other ways (in my own experience as a self-publisher, where I do all my own writing).  I cannot tell online reliably how Advances Press works with authors, other than the fact that Speckhard was a co-author  – one can tell the subject matter of the press from the website here
Second picture: Portsmouth, VA harbor (my visit, Oct. 2011). 

Monday, December 01, 2014

Joseph Ruffini: "When Terror Comes to Main Street": His characterization of the old Al Qaeda sounds more like ISIS today

Author: Lt. Col. Joseph A. Ruffini, US Army, retired. With a foreword by Donald E. Addy, President of National Homeland Defense Foundation

Title: “When Terror Comes to Main St.; A Citizens’ Guide to Terror Awareness, Preparedness and Prevention
Publication: 2008, St. George, Utah, Special Operations Association; ISBN 978-0-0916987-0-0, 281 pages, paper, three introductions, 13 briefings, and conclusion. (First edition had been in 2006)

Amazon link:

I ordered this book as a counterpoint to the Glenn Greenwald book (Nov. 22).  It certain sounds like it comes “from the right”, and is more than a bit strident. 
But before I go much further, I have to say that I had  indulged in the same kind of rhetoric in my DADT II book in 2002, “Do Ask. Do Tell: When Liberty Is Stressed”.  In the Introduction, I had written, “We have a feral, viral enemy that seems diabolical enough to use the opportunities of our own technological society – particularly those related to mobility, communication and self-expression – to destroy our modern world by clandestine and asymmetric attacks from within.”  Chapter 3 of that book has been called “Terrorism, Individualism, Civil Liberties and Libertarianism: Can We Still Talk About a ‘Bill of Rights II’?”.  That chapter had related my own ironic day on 9/11, while living and working in Minneapolis.  A sneak-preview online HTML copy of this chapter had been hacked on April 1, 2002 (April Fools) right in a section where I talked about suitcase nukes.  That isn’t funny.  It hasn’t happened again.

I even spoke about 9/11 at a Unitarian Fellowship near Minneapolis in February 2002.

This book predates the public attention to ISIS (or ISIL), the “Islamic State”, and the debate as to hether ISIS really presents a significant threat to western and US homelands, from returning fighters and particularly from disaffected people who might be radicalized into committing “loan wolf” attacks against military members and maybe other celebrities.  Ruffini attributes all of ISIS savagery to the older form of Al Qaeda.  What is new, of course, is how ISIS “leverages” technology and social media, whereas Osama bin Laden’s minions were content to use land runners in the style of ancient Greece.

Ruffini also does put a broader moral perspective.  The people in Islamic countries are often poor with few opportunities.  They see people in the west as self-indulgent and privileged, in a manner analogous to communism.  They resent US policies that have propped up rules for apparently easy access to oil, even though now the US is not as dependent on Middle East oil as it had been in the 1970s.

The Foreword by Donald Addy makes it blunt. “They want to eradicate us and our value system. They seek to impose their values on us so that we behave in the way their value system demands of them.”  I’ve said the same thing, in different words, many times, particularly when explaining pre-Stonewall homophobia.  It’s easier to perform in a strict value system if you know that everybody else “has to.”

Ruffini tries to explain how the extreme violence of radical Islam can be tracked back to the life of Muhammad.  What’s apparent is that any tribal society surrounded by enemies probably needs very strict discipline among its individuals in order to survive into the future as a group.

The various briefings give the expected analysis of the shortcomings of our immigration and homeland security policies, including our inadequate screening of cargo and inconsistent TSA policies. 

The book is filled with lists, including 17 pages of "bad guy" organizations.  Around page 190, he makes some horrific predictions, including suicide bombers (as in Israel), and a dirty bomb attack (which would make a lot of real estate worthless).  He talks about infrastructure vulnerability, but doesn't get specufucally into the subject of EMP (electromagnetic pulse), as does Michael Maloof (April 13, 2013). But it's clear that Ruffini is most concerned about big attacks (he predicts 10,000 dead in one attack) whereas today the FBI and DHS is most concerned about the simple disaffected loan wolf, recruited online and not needing any direct contact with overseas radical Islam other than through social media, which goes both ways.  

In the latter chapters, most conspicuously “We Are All Citizen Soldiers”, Ruffini makes it more personal.  Ordinary people have to get used to living with an enemy, just as the Jews did during WWII (and still do in Israel today). Having a dedicated enemy can mean that someday our "system" may not work anymore for many people, and a lot of us could be suddenly impoverished -- which is what "revolution" sometimes aims for; insurance companies cannot underwrite it.  Radical Islam sees every individual (even civilian) apostate as an "enemy" to the "body of Muslims."   He also goes into the subject of schools protecting themselves from becoming targets of mass terror, even though the book was written before many of the more recent shooting rampages (which have not been Islam-related, though). Schools have indeed adapted lockdown procedures, rather than letter students go home.  This never happened when I worked as a substitute teacher 2004-2007, thankfully.  The 2003 film “Elephant” (Gus Van Sant) sounds relevant.
Ruffini’s main demands of citizen soldiers are reasonable enough: “see something, say something.”  He doesn’t ask to return to the draft, and doesn’t recommend everyone have an arsenal at home. 

But in the days after 9/11, there was a lot of talk in the media about “citizen soldiers”.  And Charles Moskos, who had authored “don’t ask don’t tell” with respect to gays in the military, came out for a draft and a repeal of DADT at the same time.