The Writer in Black

The Writer in Black

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Survival Test: Snippet Five

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.






SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER TWO (Part Two)
Richard Schneider commandeered the O'Neill construction shack cafeteria to hold a meeting of his own. To the meeting he called Julia Markham, John Millhouse, and two others: Keith Moreno and Rebecca Curie, respectively his information specialist and science advisor.
When he released the news of what had happened back on Earth, Schneider expected at least some panic, but there had been none. He had not seen any sign that they were too shocked to even panic. Instead, his people waited for instruction in what to do. Schneider had never been prouder of the people working for him.
Julia installed a large viewscreen in the cafeteria at Schneider's request. It tied into both the computer system and video circuits. Currently, it displayed a view of the Rock around which the construction shack circled.
"Okay," Schneider said, "What is our situation?"
Julia set her compad aside. "Those idiots back Earthside have finally done it. They've gone to war." She reached for the viewscreen controls and paused, catching Schneider's eye. At Schneider's nod she tapped a switch. The starfield filling the viewscreen vanished to be replaced by a transcript of the broadcast they had received from A. C. Clarke less than an hour ago, the broadcast that had caused Schneider to call the meeting.
"You've all seen the preliminary report," Julia said. "The missile defenses worked better than even the most optimistic estimates. Only about a dozen warheads got through. Denver's gone, as are Tripoli and Minsk along with four of our military bases. That, while tragic, is not our immediate concern. Both major powers, plus half a dozen smaller nations, are using their defenses to deny the others access to space. That leaves us cut off." She frowned. "And I don't think everybody will lower their defenses long enough for us to evacuate."
Schneider nodded. "What about the other stations and outposts? What's their status?"
Julia shrugged. "I've been too busy with our own problems to look into it."
"Anybody?" Schneider asked.
Keith Moreno, a fifty-year-old polymath, leaned forward to answer the question. "The other stations are pretty much in the same fix we are," he said. Although Moreno worked in the computer department, he did not set up networks. He explored networks to find information and do research.
Rebecca Curie, a physicist by trade, placed a hand on Moreno's arm. The ink had hardly dried on her doctorate and she did not have Moreno's breadth of knowledge but her understanding of the physical sciences went much deeper. They worked together in a partnership that extended into their private lives as well.
"None of us," Curie said, "are self sufficient. We've barely begun construction here. Lunaville still relies on shipments from Earth, and the GEO stations require regular resupply of just about everything."
"What about the stations in low Earth orbit?" Schneider asked. Most of the government-owned stations, except the German’s and the Japanese’s, remained in LEO as did the privately owned station, C.A.M.P.E.R.
Moreno shook his head. "There's been no contact with any of them since the fighting broke out." He sighed. "My guess is that they were destroyed in the first attack."
Schneider winced. More than two hundred men and women...dead. He felt their loss more than he felt the loss of Denver. He had known some of those people personally.
"What about communications Earthside?" he asked.
"None since the war started," Julia said. "We've tried calling but nobody replies." She nodded at Schneider's surprise. "That includes Mauna Loa. We've picked up some groundside chatter and noted an encrypted call to Lunaville, which just goes to prove that Earth can reply if they want to. They’re just not talking to us. I don't know why."
Schneider sat in silence a long time. Finally, he said, "All right. Bottom line. How long can we last."
Julia shook her head. Moreno looked over to Curie who said, "Six months. The GEO stations about the same. Lunaville can last maybe eight. The Troy mission can hold out the longest, a year."
Moreno shrugged. "I guess we just hope the war's over before then."
"A forlorn hope at best," Julia said. "Since neither side succeeded in blowing the other up, it looks like they've settled down for a nice, long siege. I would have expected a cease-fire or something so folk can sort that out but they keep on fighting. It could go on for years."
"There has to be an answer." Schneider stood up, a little hastily in the low gravity and he bounced off the floor. By keeping one hand on the edge of the table he recovered easily. He continued, "Get together with your departments. I want an assessment: what we have, what we can do without. Keith, I want you and Rebecca to try to figure out what's going on Earthside. We need information since they're not talking."
He paused for a moment. "I'll meet with each of you over the next few days, then we'll get together and see if we can hammer out a plan. All right?"
Without waiting for an answer, he turned and hurried through the door.
Millhouse intercepted him in the corridor.
"What do you think, John?" Schneider asked.
"I think we're in deep shit," Millhouse said. "However you look at it, we just don't have the supplies to stay up here for more than six months. It's hard to live off the land when that land is nearly four hundred thousand kilometers away."
Schneider nodded then peered more closely at Millhouse. A haggard look, very unlike him, dulled his eyes. Further, frown lines just creased the normally smooth brown expanse of Millhouse's forehead, making him look much older than his thirty-three years. "Something's wrong, beyond just the obvious. Care to tell me about it?"
Millhouse bit his lip as all pretence fell away. "Rick, I'm worried. Hell, I'm scared."
Schneider considered for a moment. "John, there's an answer here. There has to be. We'll find it. We'll pull through."
"It's not us I'm scared about," Millhouse said. "My wife is still down there. And our house is right next to Mauna Loa. That's got to be a target."
Schneider swore softly. So. He understood. Schneider had been driving himself in work to try and keep from thinking too much about his own children still on Earth. How much worse it had to be for Millhouse who had only just returned from his honeymoon when he had joined Schneider on this tour. Of course, his wife's safety worried him.
"I know what you're feeling," Schneider said. "Don't worry overmuch. I left good people in charge of the company Earthside. They'll take care of your wife. If it looks like there's danger, Lincoln will see that they're evacuated."
"But...."
"Dammit, John," Schneider said. "I need you. If we're to come out of this alive ourselves I'll need every man and woman here at full potential. That includes you."
Millhouse jerked at Schneider’s rebuke then nodded. As Millhouse walked away, Schneider released the breath he had been holding. Schneider had not meant to snap at Millhouse like that. Still, his words had made Millhouse think about something other than his worry. Good.
#
Schneider returned to his quarters. He did not see Marie. His oldest son, William, sat bent over the computer workstation.
"You know," William looked up from the terminal. "I could get used to this low gravity."
When did he grow up, Schneider wondered. One minute, Schneider was bouncing William on his knee and the next William was in graduate school, working on his PhD in mechanical engineering.
"You could, huh?" Schneider said.
"You bet." William waved at the cane leaning in the corner. "Can you imagine how good it feels to be able to walk without that thing?"
Schneider grunted in response. The same auto accident that had killed Schneider's first wife had also done permanent damage to William's right knee. An allergic reaction had prevented him from accepting an artificial joint replacement and his leg would no longer support his full weight unaided. Schneider looked over William's shoulder and peered down at the computer screen. "What are you working on?"
"It's a simulation," William said. "I'm trying to develop a small, closed cycle ecology using those German high-efficiency plants. So far, only huge systems remain stable. Small systems tend to die out without constant adjustment."
"Making any progress?"
"Some." William scrolled through the lines of code on the screen, stopped, and pointed. "Here I tried to run high on green plants. Ordinarily in a system like this, the plants use up the available carbon dioxide. The new plants are more sensitive to low CO2 levels. They go dormant. CO2 levels shoot up and, before the plants can recover, your animal life dies off. If you have a large enough system, the changes occur slowly enough that you don’t have the problem, but I'm looking at small systems. A space station rather than a colony."
"Sounds nasty," Schneider said.
William nodded in agreement. "I put in a routine that adds carbon dioxide when the amount falls below a preset level. When I run the simulation with that change, it lasts about twice as long before collapsing, and even then the collapse isn't as catastrophic. I'm looking for other factors I can adjust, trying to build a system that I can keep running indefinitely with only minor adjustments. I would like to keep those adjustments to simple things that could be done automatically in a real-world system."
"That's good," Schneider said. "Do you have any idea how much we’re going to need that?"
"Oh?" William looked up at him. "Are things that bad?"
"They're not good. Six months and we have a disaster as catastrophic as anything in your simulations." Schneider sank back onto the room's couch. "Worse, because it involves real people dying."
William pivoted his chair to face him.
"Where's Marie?" Schneider asked.
"Down in the galley. She said she was going to try to teach the cooks how to make coffee."
"Best of luck to her." Schneider forced a smile. While the coffee brewed at O'Neill tasted like mud in Schneider’s mouth, the cook resented any intrusion into his territory.
"What are you willing to bet she has her way?" William asked.
Schneider laughed. "Sorry, Will. I'm not making any sucker bets today. Remember. I've known her longer than you have."
A thumping sounded at the door, low down as if someone were kicking it. Schneider placed fingers into the recessed door latch, pressed, and slid the door back into its pocket.
Marie stood in the doorway, laden with a heavy tray. A round, glass, coffeepot sat near the center of the tray. Steam drifted from the fluid that filled the pot, carrying to Schneider's nose the scent of better coffee than he had smelled, let alone tasted, since leaving Earth. On one side of the pot sat a pile of sandwiches, on the other, three bowls of soup.
Schneider caught his breath and stared. Sixteen years they’d been married and he still could not get over how any room brightened when she walked into it. Other folk might think her rather plain, with her oval face and light-brown hair but when she smiled the world lit up. When his first wife had died, the need to care for his son had given him a reason for not dying. It had only been when Marie had come into his life that he found a reason for living.
"Well?" she said.
"Well what?"
"Are you going to get out of my way, Mr. Schneider, or am I going to dump this on you? Careful how you answer. It's hot."
Schneider stepped to one side, bowed, and waved her inside with a sweeping gesture.
Marie kissed him on the cheek as she passed him in entering the room. She set the tray on the room's single table. "So, how did the meeting go?"
"You don't have to do that," Schneider said as she began to set the table.
"It makes me feel useful." Marie turned to face him. "Considering where we are and what our situation is, well, no one is asking me to balance books or perform an audit. Besides, this will probably be our last good meal before you put strict rationing into effect so I wanted to grab it quick.
"And don't change the subject. How did the meeting go?"
"We have some problems," Schneider said.
"Meaning that until the war's over we're cut off. We can't get to Earth, nor can anybody reach us. We either starve or suffocate when our supplies run out." She smiled wanly. "The rumor mill is already active."
"Dad," William said, "you should know better than to try to 'protect' Mom that way. I think she's tougher than both of us put together."
Schneider laughed. "That she is."
As they ate lunch, Schneider told them both the details of the meeting.






































































Sunday, April 13, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Saw Captain America:  The Winter Soldier today.

Bottom line:  Awesome; see it.

I had one bit of unpleasantness about it.  The camerawork, particularly during the fight scenes was nerve wracking.  My daughter or a bit said she didn't want to watch it because it was making her motion sick.

That said, the fight scenes were well choreographed and really captured what I imagined of Cap's fighting style from the comics.  The story started with blazing action and never let up.  Don't go in expecting deep, philosophical discussion but there is philosophy there.

I do like the interpretation of The Falcon here.  I hope they keep the character around in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I was also very pleased by the Black Widow's part in the movie.

One of the things I liked about the comics, at least back when I was reading comics regularly (for various reasons I dropped out in the mid-late eighties) is that they kept Cap patriotic and idealistic without using him as a mouthpiece for partisan politics.  Well, there was the occasional break in the latter part of that but the writers were only human.  But Cap's devotion to America, and the ideals of its founding (while recognizing the failings of the all-too-fallible humans that organized that founding) is one of the things that made him one of my favorite characters back in the day.  And he remains so in the Marvel movies because they appear to be continuing that tradition.

Really, very little negative to say about the move, just that bit about the camerawork.  So, yeah, see it.

I do wonder if "Agents of Shield was picked up for a second season (I haven't seen most of it yet and reviews I've seen on it have been very mixed indeed) and, if so, well, the ending of the movie does present some challenges for that, let us say.

It's a Marvel movie, so watch for "easter eggs" at the end.  There are two.  Stay for both of them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Survival Test, Snippet Four

Remember that these snippets are very much draft copy.  They include typos, spelling errors, even places where I changed thoughts in mid sentence.  But, if you can get through that, enjoy.





SURVIVAL TEST
by
David L. Burkhead
CHAPTER TWO (Part One)

"Colonel Mason here, sir," Dave Mason said into the two-way video system. He sat in the communications office in Lunaville.
"Colonel." General Thaddeus Russell, head of NASA Lunar Operations, nodded at him. "I have to inform you that the United States is officially at war."
Mason drew a startled breath. "Did the North Africans...?"
"They did," Russell said. "Unfortunately, it's worse than we thought it would be. We've had a communications problem, a bad one. We're still trying to find out where it happened. When we retaliated against the North African confederacy..." He sighed. "There’s no point in going into the details. The upshot is that a number of missiles flew to incorrect targets. Somehow they got orders from, well, plans for other contingencies." He sighed again and shook his head. "Six missiles headed for targets in the Russian Federation. The Russians retaliated with surprising restraint. They launched a somewhat larger missile strike then stopped. Nobody's launching any more missiles at the moment, thank God, but we've tightened our defenses as much as we can just in case.
"After the missile strike, several military leaders in Russia took the opportunity provided by the chaos to seize power. They reinforced their conventional attack in Europe. Our analysts think this is an effort on their part to retain power. No one, on either side, is willing to stop the fighting long enough to sort out the mess. Once a war gets started, whether by mistake or not, it can be very hard to stop."
"I...see. What are our orders, sir?"
Russell smiled. "Just sit tight. There's nothing you can do up there. Analysts at the Pentagon tell us this will be a short war. We have the same technological edge we had in Iraq. Having to split our attention between Europe and Africa will slow us down some, but we already have forces in Europe. Our analysts are talking six months...eight tops. Plenty of time to get relief to you."
"That sounds reassuring, sir, but are you sure...?" Mason let his voice trail off.
"No, I'm not sure, but that's what I've been told to tell you." Russell’s voice softened. "They'd better be right, Dave. Just about all the participants in this war have missile defenses of one sort or another. Everybody's denying everybody else access to space. Until the war's over you're on your own."
Mason mulled that over. He had been a fighter pilot, had fought in the Middle East, before transferring to NASA. While he was no stranger to risk, the idea of calmly waiting to starve to death while others fought sent shivers down his spine.
"Six...months." Mason mouthed the words. "The war will be over in six months." If he told himself that often enough, perhaps he would believe it.
"Dave, are you all right?"
Mason jerked his attention back to the screen with the camera lens above it. "Yes, sir. How much of this can I tell Lunaville personnel?"
Russell laughed. "Tell whoever you want. None of them are in a position to reveal secrets to the enemy. You may also want to consider contingency plans. Just in case."
Mason smiled. What contingency plans could they develop besides an attempt to raid other stations for food? Oxygen they could obtain from lunar rock and water they could recycle. They would need food if they had to be out here for very long.
For a moment, Mason considered the possibility of such raids. He as quickly discarded the notion. Whatever he might think of Schneider, the idea of piracy repelled him. Besides, Schneider possessed the only ships in space. Excuse me, Mr. Schneider. Would you mind loaning me a ship or two so that I might launch an attack on your stations to steal food? Mason did not know whether to laugh or cry.
"I'll look into what we can do," Mason said. "I'm sure you're being overcautious. The analysts are certainly right."
Russell gave him an odd look. "If they are, it will be the first time."
Mason laughed. "Lunaville out." He shut off the circuit. Six months. Please, dear God, please let those analysts be right.
#
"So that's where we stand, Brian," Mason said a quarter hour later.
Angel blew a deep breath through pursed lips. "It looks like we're in deep trouble."
"Nonsense." Mason waved aside the concern. "As soon as the war is over, six months from now, maybe less, they'll send a relief ship." Perhaps if he told himself that often enough he would believe it. "With new supplies and an end to the North African problem we can get going the way we should."
"Six months?" Angel's eyebrows rose. "We're locked in a war with the Russian Federation and you say six months? Never mind the Africans. It's likely to go on for...."
Mason slapped a palm on his desktop forestalling whatever Angel had been planning to say. "Six months. That is the direct word from the Pentagon."
"But...."
Mason's eyes narrowed and his lips pressed into a thin line before opening to respond. "I said six months. Now I don't want to hear any more about it, not from you, not from anyone."
Angel skipped back a step. "Yes, sir."
"Easy, Brian," Mason said. "I shouldn't have snapped. Do try to remember, though, the last thing we need is a panic."
"I'm not sure I understand."
Mason sighed and sank deeper into his seat. "Most of the people here are civilians. In a crisis like this we need to keep the coolest heads possible. Just let rumors get started and we'll soon have people claiming that we're being abandoned. That kind of thing we don't need."
"I don't think we'll get a reaction anything like that," Angel said.
"Maybe not," Mason said. "But we can't take that chance. Now, the Pentagon says that the war will be over in six months, eight at the outside. They have a lot more information than we do to make an assessment. Unless and until we get better intelligence we'll just have to rely on what they say."
"If...you say so, sir." Angel looked dubious.
"I do." Mason nodded at the door. "Now, why don't you pass the word, and keep an ear open for wild rumors. We'll have to squash them."
"Yes, sir."
"Oh, and Brian," Mason said as Angel's hand fell on the door latch. "Remember. Six months."
"Yes, sir."
As Angel left, Mason wondered who he was trying to convince--Angel or himself--but only for an instant. But he needed to guard against the panic issue. If he, with his experience in combat, felt on the verge of panic how much more would the others feel it?
He poured himself a drink from the bottle in his desk. After a while, the nagging worry at the back of his mind went away.
#
Karen Gold waited in the Troy mission's command center for the regular transmission from A. C. Clarke. It arrived on schedule.
The small room most resembled the flight deck of a large airliner with computer screens where the windows should be. In the front were two stations--one monitoring the drives and navigation systems, the other handling communications. On the right wall a large panel monitored the ship’s internal systems. In the rear left corner sat a small chair with a single computer screen and simple panel of buttons that hovered in front of the chair on a swing-away boom. The screen would let whoever had the con--Gold at the moment--check any of the key ship’s systems. An intercom system connected to that simplified computer system, allowing Gold to give orders to those responsible for any system she monitored.
"Uh, Captain?" Crewman Mark Prentice looked up from the communications station.
"Crewman?"
"We're getting a warning signal for an incoming, real-time video." He shook his head. "Rush immediate priority."
Gold gnawed on her lower lip. "Routing?"
"Just the ship."
Gold swung the computer monitor from in front of her chair and stood. "My office, then, but record it. I'll decide what to do once I've seen it."
"Yes, ma'am."
"And get Harry. Whatever it is, he should see it too."
A few minutes later the image came up on her office screen. Gold watched in growing horror as Walter Terrence, commander of A. C. Clarke, described the war on Earth. She felt sick to her stomach. She had a cousin who lived in Denver. Had lived in Denver.
The message came to an end.
"Oh, my God," Jordan whispered.
"So, what do I do with this?" Gold said. "Do I tell the crew?"
"Captain, that's your decision." He stood up and shook his head. "That's why you have the rank, not me."
Gold sighed and nodded. "They have a right to know. Besides, we couldn’t keep it secret too long anyway. She pressed the intercom switch on her desktop, "Prentice?"
"Ma'am?"
"Play the recording of that message. Shipwide."
"Yes, ma'am."
Gold sat through the message as it played a second time, then stood, up. "Well, lets go brave the lions' den."
All sound ceased in the command center when Gold stepped into it.
Prentice looked back at her, his face white. "What are we going to do?"
Right.
Gold shook off her own budding panic. "We cope," she said. She turned to Jordan. "I want an assessment of our resources. The resupply mission won't be coming as scheduled so I'll need to know what we can do on our own."
"I can tell you right now what our critical needs are going to be." Jordan held up three fingers. As he named each item, he folded a finger. "Food, fuel, and drive electrodes."
Gold nodded. "That's about what I thought. Those are the three things we can’t replace readily."
"Readily?" Jordan cocked his head to one side. "We can't replace them at all that I can see."
"We're going to die," Prentice said.
"That will be enough of that," Gold said. "Before we have even begun to consider our options is not the time to be giving up."
"But there's nothing we can do," Prentice said.
"Oh?" Gold raised one eyebrow. "I can think of several possibilities off the top of my head. Our drive electrodes are tungsten and copper." Her wave indicated their general direction of travel. "We can probably use iron if we have to."
"Less efficient," Jordan said. "It would cut into our thrust, but it would be workable. Oh, iron would erode like fury, but I suppose we could double or triple up on spares."
Gold nodded. "Fuel is gallium. I don't know if it's available in those asteroids but I don't know that it's not either." She drew in a deep breath. "As for food, we do have the algae tanks. I don't know if we using them as food would provide any nutrition, but again I don't know that it won’t either. Unlikely? Perhaps. Impossible. No. I for one won't give up until we've exhausted every avenue. Not even then."
She leaned toward Prentice. "Have I made myself clear, Crewman?"
"Yes, ma'am," Prentice said in a very small voice.
"Right." Gold looked around the room. No one else seemed to want to say anything. "If I'm needed, I'll be in my cabin."
A cluster of people swarmed around Gold the moment she stepped off the bridge.
"What's going on?" someone asked.
"Are we stranded?" someone else asked.
"Is it hopeless?" a third put in.
Gold held up her hands in a calming gesture. "Please. I won't kid you. Our situation is serious. We can be certain that the resupply mission will be, at least, delayed, possibly stopped entirely. Unless we can find some answers of our own, we will be stranded out here until we run out of food."
The group went silent at her words. Gold could feel the tension in the air. She schooled her face into the most confident expression she could muster and poured all the conviction she could into her words. "However, our situation is far from hopeless. To return to Earth we will need fuel and new drive electrodes. We'll be looking at ways to manufacture both of them right here, using material from the asteroids we're approaching. As for food, we'll be examining ways to convert our waste back into nutrition." Her smile changed of its own accord into a wide grin. "Right now we're changing our waste into algae and we dry and store the excess. The logical next step is to see if we can convert that algae into food."
The tension, while still strong, diminished noticeably.
"Now," Gold continued, "I've given orders to Mr. Jordan. He'll be in touch with you about individual assignments."
As she watched, the crowd dispersed.
Gold paced the corridors to her cabin. Several times she ran into groups of individuals, some as small as three, one as large as twelve. Each time they stopped her and she had to repeat herself, calming each group and reassuring them that the situation was not without hope. She had not kept count, but thought that by the time she reached her cabin she had spoken to everyone in the ship.
When she closed the door of her cabin Gold looked down at her hands. She clasped them together in a vain attempt to stop their shaking.
Gold dug into her cupboard and removed a flask of scotch from the clips that held it secure against changes in acceleration. She fit the dispenser nozzle to the fill valve of a drinking bulb and squirted herself a strong drink. She held it up and stared at it for several seconds, then squirted it back into the flask. She wanted--needed--a clear head.

My political philosophy

I have been told from time to time that I should keep my politics to myself if I want to sell books.  I'll "turn off" readers.

Well, maybe.  But I am who I am.  And one of the things I am not is a shrinking violet.  So to hell with that.

I tend to more or less lean libertarian as a philosophical basis but don't believe it is truly achievable in the real world (so long as "real people" are involved) and also recognize that no system is stable in the long run and the trend is usually toward more "government" control over individual lives and less individual liberty.

This leads to making political decisions based on "will this help or harm on balance" or even "do less harm, or greater harm on balance" when "help" isn't an achievable option in furthering the cause of individual liberty.  Sadly, I've never seen a case where the choice was "helping less or helping more on balance".  Would be nice to have the luxury of such a choice.

And this tends to annoy the h*ll out of Libertarians of the "ideologically pure" stripe (as well as both Conservatives and Liberals) as I will agree with them philosophically while radically disagreeing with them tactically. (Oh, and by not buying the idea that the Liberal/Conservative/Libertarian "utopia" will every be achievable in the real world--that the best we can achieve is some stumbling approximation that only lasts for a while.)




I suppose you can call this position "Pragmatic Libertarian."

One of the consequences of my position is that sometimes "slow down the rate things get worse" is all one can expect to achieve. When I point out that a proposed "fix" falls somewhere between "very likely" and "almost certainly" on the "make things worse" scale it doesn't mean that I have a "better answer" other than "don't make things worse than they already are." Sometimes "don't make things worse" is the best you can hope for, at least for now.

I have seen that "not stable in the long run" and "trend toward more government control over individual lives" tend to be universal truths. In the long run there isn't a fix that anyone's found.

You don't have to like it. I don't. But that doesn't make it any less true.


And remember that just because "don't make things worse" or even "slow down the rate of things getting worse" may be the best you can hope for now, there's always tomorrow.  If you don't screw things up too much in the meantime, tomorrow gives you another chance to find, or build, something better.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, Part Three: The Pursuit of Happiness

Continuing a series started here, and continued here, we now turn our attention to The Pursuit of Happiness.

You may notice a trend here.  Each of these gets more abstract, and a bit more involved, than the one before.  Some consider this one the most obvious of the three.  After all, no matter what anyone else does you can always try to be happy.  After all, it doesn't say a right to be happy, just to "pursue" it.

But is that all that "The Pursuit of Happiness" means?  After all, Thomas Jefferson was well educated and many consider him one of the most intelligent men of his day.  Would he include something so trite in his statement of the philosophical underpinnings of why the US was declaring independence?  Would the other intelligent and highly educated men have left it there if it were something so basic that, well, even a prisoner in chains can try to be happy, can "pursue happiness" if that's all it means.

I don't think it can be that trite.

To pursue happiness is to seek something beyond mere survival.  Liberty is a large part of it.  One must have the freedom to do the things that one believes will lead to happiness.  But more than that is required.  If one has to spend every moment, every ounce of effort, every gram of resources in merely staying alive one has nothing left to pursue happiness.

So, in order to pursue happiness, certain needs must first be met.  One must have something left after the struggle for survival.  It need not be much.  Consider, for instance, if the world economy utterly collapsed.  Infrastructure broke down.  Technology was wrecked.  After this catastrophe, imagine you are one of the few survivors left with nothing with which to work.  You're all alone.  Your family (if you have one) is gone.  It's just you, trying to survive.

That would be a pretty harsh reality.  Would it be possible to pursue happiness in this new world?

Well, at first you'd struggle just to survive. (Some people, no doubt, would just give up and die, but you're not one of those, are you?)  You'd have to find or build shelter, find water, find food.  A piece of the roof of that collapsed house is leaning against a charred piece of wall.  It's not much, but it will keep the rain and snow off and with a fire by the opening you can keep it warm enough not to freeze in the cold.  There's a retention pond not too far away.  It's not much.  The water is uncomfortably dirty, but it's water and it keeps away dying of thirst.  Maybe in the rubble of that library you find some books on edible plants and some old books on how to build fish traps and snares.

You survive.  And before long at all you find that taking care of the basics of survival doesn't take up all your time and effort.  You have time to do other things.  Maybe you find some books among the rubble to read for the sheer pleasure of reading.  Or maybe you fiddle around with different ways of making sounds and create some form of musical instrument and play for your own entertainment.  Or perhaps its pictures or sculpture that catches your fancy.  Or maybe it's simply decorating the tools you make to help your survival.  In any case, you can do more that mere survival.  You can do things to improve your lot on an emotional level, to pursue happiness, rather than just for mere physical survival.

And when you're confident you have the means to survive, you leave the little piece of roof that sheltered you and set out to find others.  Perhaps you do find them.  Now you have companionship.  And while the pain of your lost family never goes completely away (it never does), it recedes to bittersweet memory and you can build a new family.

So even in this horribly apocalyptic world it's possible to meaningfully pursue happiness.  Mind you, one could fail anywhere along that chain.  But the right isn't to obtain happiness, just to pursue it.  And as soon as you have the possibility of some freedom of action and thought beyond that required for mere survival, it becomes possible to seek more.

Now let's change the scenario a bit.  Instead of being alone, let's bring some other people into the picture.  But these other people aren't nice people who want to be friends.  They're roving bands of raiders who will kill you over the rabbit you managed to trap and the wild onions you dug up for dinner.   Now, instead of just seeing to the task of survival you have to constantly be looking to your back trail.  You have to make sure your camp is hidden.  Small fires made with only bone dry wood because smoke can attract raiders.  That means a cold camp when it's wet.

Notice how that picture changed?  Instead of being able to spend the necessary time to survival and spending the rest on whatever you will, whatever might bring you a modicum of happiness, all of your time is now taken up.  When not hunting/trapping/fishing/gathering you're hiding.  Finding other people?  Can you trust them not to be raiders?  And when you are pursuing mere survival you have to worry about what, or rather who, you will find around the next bend of the trail or over the next ridge.  Gone is the time spent on other activities.

And that is the greatest threat to the right to "Pursuit of Happiness", other people--people of ill will.  Nature may be harsh, often dangerous, but there's no malice in it.  But bring in people with actual malice and the picture changes.

What is needed is a modicum of order, enough order to keep the people of ill will "pruned back" sufficiently so that everyone else isn't having to spend every moment looking over their shoulder wondering, and enough stability that you can step back from the mere task of survival and do something else.

"And to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

So there we have it, the reason for government.  It is to act against the use of force whereby one person (or group of persons) infringes on the right to life and liberty of another, and to provide that minimum of order and stability required to allow each individual to pursue happiness as that individual sees fit.  Enough order.  Enough stability.  Enough so that the people of ill will who mean you harm are kept in check, but not so much at the government itself becomes a threat to Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.  To go beyond that is itself an infringement on the rights held by the people.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness, Part Two: Liberty

In a recent post I spoke on the Right to Life and how that Right implies the right to defend that life and the right to possession and carrying of the means of effective defense.

Today, I speak on the Right to Liberty.

To recap, from the Declaration of Independence, we have: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,"

Last time we discussed life.  This time we discuss Liberty.  Life is fairly straightforward.  There might be some controversy over where life ends and where it begins but for the majority of the time we are quite clear on what "life" means.  Liberty is a bit more complicated.  In general, ones right to life does not infringe on another person's right to life.  There are exceptional circumstances:  in defending one's own life one may end the life of another.  In those cases, however, it can be seen that the one who created the situation, the one who placed the other in the need to defend his or her self, willingly took upon himself a risk and the onus for his loss of life is on himself.  It is the same case as when someone engages in any dangerous activity.  If someone engages in free rock climbing and falls to his death it is not the cliff's fault or responsibility but his own.  Some ask "but does he deserve to die for that."  This is not a matter of deserving to die, but of freely taking choices knowing that that could be the outcome, and therefore freely taking the risk on oneself.

And choice is the key, which leads us to Liberty.  In the end, Liberty is about choices, real choices, not "do this or die" choices.  Being forced to do something or give up the right to life is not a choice to most people in most circumstances.  As one simple example, a person may choose what to eat.  They cannot usually choose if they eat or not in the long run.  Some few may chose to not eat to the point of death from starvation, but that is rare and we need not consider it for the general case.  We will consider that any choice that involves "do this or die" is not a free choice and, in fact, extend that to extreme pain.  Since people have been known to choose death in preference to extreme pain we can say that "do this or suffer" is likewise not free.

Liberty, then, is about free choice.  One can define Liberty as the sum total of choices available to a person.  The problem there arises when my choices may affect the choices available to someone else.  Liberty is about ones ability to make choices so long as they do not forcibly infringe on the same right in someone else.  The key word there is forcibly.  If one, say, likes to wear bright colors that clash someone else may not like that.  They may find it unpleasant when the discordant one walks into a restaurant, but it's not a forcible infringement.  One can tolerate it or not as one chooses.  As Erik Frank Russel put in the mouth of one of his characters in And Then There Were None, "I can please myself whether or not I endure it.  That's freedom ain't it?"  They can wear what they wish.  You can like it or not as you wish.  Liberty on both sides.

Other cases also become apparent when one considers Liberty as being about free choice.  If one is able to arm oneself and defend one's home against invaders, that is free choice.  That is Liberty.  If one needs to stand in guard every night because the invaders--whether robbers, rioters, or foreign invaders--are constantly present, that is not.  Again free choice is the key.  A society where you can defend your home at need is more free than one where one cannot.  However, a society where a person needs to spend most of his time in standing guard over his home is less free than one in which he can pursue other activities and only take an active guard at special need.  Again, free choice is the key.

The initiation of force to infringe upon another is contrary to the Right to Liberty.  But what happens when someone does forcibly infringe on the Liberty of another?  What then?  In that case, the use of force to end the infringement is justified.  One might attempt reason or persuasion to accomplish that end, but experience has shown that when one uses force to infringe on the Liberty of another, only force will persuade them to cease.

And so the principle of Liberty, while not sanctioning the initiation of force to restrict the Liberty of another, does sanction its use to defend ones own.

From whence comes this force?  Is there some special source from which the force to restore liberty must come?  One may look for such a source without finding it.  Some may claim that it comes from Government, from some body chosen in some manner, whether from Divine Right of Kings or The Will of the People, that is the sole repository of the right to use force.  Yet, again, experience has shown that such sources of force are, if left unchecked, more likely to be used to restrict than to preserve and restore Liberty.

No.  In the end, like with the Right to Life, the Right to Liberty, and the power to defend that Right, must come down to the individual.  Each individual must have sanction, the final Liberty, to defend his or her own Liberty.  The individual may delegate some of that power to a greater group to act as Guardians of that Liberty, in particular as a defense against encroachments on his or her liberty from other groups that he cannot defend against as an individual.  But in so doing, he runs the risk that the Guardians may, in turn use that power to infringe his own Liberty.  Against such chance he must retain both the power and the license to use that power to defend his Liberty against even the Guardian he and his fellows have chosen to protect it.

In Right to Life we had the conclusion that to deny the means of defense against those who would infringe it is to deny the right itself.  So it is with the Right to Liberty.  For Liberty we generally choose Guardians to secure and defend that Liberty.  And yet history has shown all too often that those Guardians themselves can become a threat to Liberty.  The body of the people in themselves, must then retain the power to defend their Liberty even against their chosen Guardians.  The balance of power must remain with the individuals so that even their chosen Guardians cannot with impunity infringe on their Liberty.  To deny the right to defend Liberty, by force if need be, is to deny the right to Liberty itself.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Part 1: Life

A Blast for the Past, I'm mostly importing from my LiveJournal account.  Since there are a thousand and one blogs on writing, I've decided to open this up a bit and include discussion of philosophy and what not as well so folk can get a feel for how I think.

The United States was founded not only as a geographic entity, but as a set of principles.  Those principles were originally set out in the Declaration of Independence, to wit:

"We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights, are Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from consent of the governed."

The above was written from memory.  Some of the punctuation and exact wording might not match exactly, and I may not have matched Jefferson's rather idiosyncratic sentence breaks, but it should be fairly close.

It should be noted that much discussion was had over whether "property" should be included in the unalienable rights.  In the end it was not included in this document but the discussion itself shows that it was considered of fairly close par.

Now, while "unalienable" does not mean that the exercise of the rights cannot be taken away, when written into the Constitution, the standards for two of them (life and liberty also with property in that case) of which a person may be deprived is given:  due process of law, which is after one has been tried in a proper court of law with opportunity to answer accusations and summon witnesses for ones own defense.

So, short of that, one may not be deprived of the right to life*.  But how can one have a right to life if one does not have the means to effectively defend that life against persons or things that threaten it?  Note, this is not a right to require others to defend ones life.  Doing so would be an infringement on their own Liberty. (Likewise, to digress a moment, requiring others to provide "health care" for one is an infringement on their own right to Liberty. To the very extent that you are requiring them to provide for you, you are enslaving them.) But that you cannot require others to provide for the defense of your life only underscores the importance of your own right to defend it.  One may enter into agreements with others for mutual defense, mutual assistance in the defense of each individual's life, liberty, and property, but entering into such agreements is merely the exercise of the individual right combined with "peaceable assembly."

So, right to life and right to defend that life.  But can such a right exist when means to defense are denied?  Could a peasant in Feudal Europe be said to have a right to self defense if he is limited to bare hands and farming implements against a mounted and armored knight?  Oh, he might have the "right" to try, given the proper legal code, but it would be meaningless without the means.  Give that peasant a firearm and suddenly that armored knight finds that he cannot with impunity take that peasant's right to life.

And, so, a right to life, and its implicit right to defend that life, must come with the right to effective means for defense. And, so, if there is a right to life, then there must be a right to defend that life, and there must be a right to effective means to that defense.  To deny the latter, to deny the right to effective arms for self defense, is to deny the very right to life.

And to deny the right to life is to deny all other rights which a person might hold.  For how can one have liberty without life?  How can one have property without life?  How can one pursue happiness without life?

*Note here that I am not speaking to the abortion debate on the subject of "right to life." Much debate could be had on when life begins and, thus, when "right to life" comes into play.  That is not my purpose here.  Similarly, there is lesser but still some debate on when life, and therefore the right to same, ends.  Again, not my purpose here.  So please don't get sidetracked into those debates.