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Gifted amateurs vs professionals

Obviously, this is a post about hunting.

As a hunter, I am like almost all humans, a gifted amateur on my very best days. On the other hand, Bambi, Bambi’s mom, his dad, cousins, friends, and yes, Faline, are all professionals. This point that was driven home to me during four days of hunting. The spot in my freezer reserved for venison remains empty. Because I’m an amateur. And deer are professionals. And they won. Again.

Other point of note/point of advice. If your scoped weapons reside in a soft-sided case, do not allow anyone to “help you out” by packing them in your car. Let us not discuss the implications of discovering your crossbow is suddenly and unexpectedly shooting 20 inches low at 50 yards. Why would I allow someone to do that? Because I’m an amateur.

That’s okay, Bambi. Laugh it up. General season (aka “rifle” season) opens November 2. It is my plan to introduce you or a relative to that thing known as “150 grains of .30-30 love” very soon. Or not. Because I’m an amateur.

Lest we forget

Today, September 20, is Unification Day. Go, find an Alliance bar. Make it a point to raise a glass to those who still wear the brown. Remember, our side “may have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

Once upon a time, when I was underway

Recently, I was asked if I had ever been seasick, given that my military career was split between the US Coast Guard and the US Navy. It is said that therein lies a tale…if only because I said it.

I spent a number of my growing up years near the sea (southeastern North Carolina, right on or near the coast). It was great. When I first went to college, I wanted to be an oceanographer. Actually, I wanted three degrees: one in oceanography, one in marine biology and one in oceanographic engineering. Surely, Jacques Cousteau would hire me then, yes? (Not necessarily, as it turns out, and I got to see the RV Calypso anyway, but that’s its own story) I spent a lot of time on boats during college, and before when I was a kid. I even had a stint as a commercial fisherman. In all that time, I never got sick. I’ve been on big Navy ships and small Coast Guard cutters. I’ve been on research vessels (the RV Eastward, for instance). ‘Nary a twinge from my stomach, regardless of the weather. I had, I decided, a cast iron gut.

As it happens, both the sea and her evil minions know as “naval architects” are intolerant of hubris. And so, long ago in their foresight, they conspired to construct a heavy weather rescue boat, for to torment Mrs. Rabon’s little boy. The Coast Guard 44’ Motor Life Boat (MLB) was that torment. (I have it on good authority that “MLB” is the English abbreviation of an ancient Etruscan phrase which means “round-bottomed pig boat from hell”) Did it roll a wee bit, you ask? Oh, my dear God did it roll. Like a roller coaster. Like a horse that was always trying to sun its belly. Like a pig in cool mud, it rolled. And I began to feel…not well.

I am told that when I am in the midst of a bout of seasickness, a few things happen. My face turns red, the veins of my neck and forehead stand out and I make a noise that sounds, I’m told, like the mighty Kraken of old come to the surface to destroy the poor sailors it finds thereon. Not to fear, though, the Kraken sought only me and the sacrifice of my most recent meal to appease his mighty wrath.

Those of gentle digestion should proceed no farther.

I’ve heard people complain of being seasick and feeling weak. Some speak of emptying their stomachs and being left with only the occasional dry heave and a rather unpleasant yellow fluid. Some refer to going beyond that, and having dry heaves with the occasional production of bile. Amateurs and posers, all of them. One has not been really seasick, well and truly, disgustingly and disturbingly seasick until one’s dry heaving (every 15 minutes, on the money) produces a revolting brown substance (don’t ask). For hours on end. Shoot me, dear God, shoot me now. I swear, by the time I got out of the Coast Guard, I could step on dear old CG 44366 at the dock and begin to feel queasy. It was like having my own, personal and highly revolting Pavlov.

Even writing this has produced a hint, a twinge, of that distinctly unpleasant feeling.

Yes, I have been seasick. So now, I acknowledge the power of the sea to hurt me. She and her minions are mightier than I.

And I still miss being underway.


Suspending disbelief

I am an absolutely unapologetic fan of zombie apocalypse (hereinafter referred to as “ZA”) genre fiction…and movies…and games. It would be embarrassing if I was any good at being embarrassed. (I used to be good at it. Then I went to boot camp.) Anyway, I enjoy the genre a lot. I also happen to like guns quite a bit. It’s not the katana or baseball bat which is the ultimate weapon for killing zombies. It’s the rifle. Which reminds me…

Me: “Hi. I’m Ken and I’m an ammosexual.”

Rest of room (in unison): “Hi, Ken!”

With that out of the way, let’s continue.

There are some things about ZA entertainment that require me to suspend disbelief – a lot of disbelief. The whole walking corpse thing comes to mind, for instance. I’m a nurse, so that’s a big suspension of disbelief on my part. I do it because I enjoy the genre. Only head shots being effective, once one has accepted the whole ambulatory corpse thing, is not as much of a stretch for me. But I still have my limits. When people ask “what’s the likelihood of a real zombie apocalypse,” I feel obligated to ensure their corn flakes are adequately urine soaked because, you see, it’s fiction. It’s not even historical fiction. It’s ZA fiction, sometimes urban fantasy, or some sort of noir fantasy, or maybe even what Lovecraft called “weird fiction.” What it’s not is reality. It’s not real-world stuff, okay? That various government agencies have used it because it’s a useful metaphor in readiness training doesn’t make it real. In the real world, a ZA would last a few weeks and the story would end with some version of “and then everyone went back to their normal lives.”

That may help explain why I’m struggling to write that sort of thing. I can suspend disbelief when I read it, but when I write it, I’m very aware of just how unimpressive zombies are. As in

Panicked reporter: “Aieeee! The zombies have arisen in Wilmington, NC. The horde is now headed north. What will stop them? Are we done as a nation?”

Spokesperson for the 2nd MARDIV: “Yeah. We got this.”

Zombies, after all, aren’t intelligent critters. They’re just mindless, walking appetites. As Max Brooks, the apparent authority on all things zombie, notes, they are barely able to muster one step every 1.5 seconds. FWIW, if we assume an average stride length of 30 inches, that means they can manage 1.14 mph…rounded up. With high quality ammo, their numbers could be decimated with Ruger 10/22s and Marlin Model 60s.

So, given my preference for weird fiction, I decided to search for a more sinister, more dangerous and more difficult monster. I selected vampires.

Vampires are scary, yes? Of course, they are. They’d be a poor horror monster, otherwise.

I’ll be dealing with fairly “traditional” vampires. One of the most important things to remember about the traditional vampire is that it is evil. As such, it seeks to corrupt or pervert the innocent and the righteous. That seems to take care of the sinister part. Unfortunately,  it is the evil nature of the vampire, and its attempt to corrupt, that are tied to many of its weaknesses.

We see things in myth like its inability to enter a home without an invitation. In some medieval literature, we find reference to demons and the like calling to people from outside the home, trying to elicit an invitation. It seems to be related to the idea that people become monstrously evil, as opposed to a more mundane, everyday sort of “bad,” because they choose to allow evil into their lives. It is reflected, I believe, in the almost ubiquitous reference to a vampire’s sex appeal. There may also be a reference to many ancient traditions that saw the threshold as a sacred place – almost the first of family altars, if you will.

Sunlight, silver and the wood of some trees are all associated with purity and goodness. Thus, depending on the legend, vampires are harmed by one or more of these. The heart, that seat of good and evil, is destroyed by having a wooden (especially if made of the right wood) or silver stake driven through it. (Duh! It’s a stake. Through the heart. You’d die, too.) In the West, the Cross is considered sovereign against vampires, though there is some variation (Is it the Cross itself, or must it be presented with faith? If it is faith, can another symbol work?).

Without going too deeply into Christian theology and the different views of various denominations, it is this good vs. evil motif that explains the weakness of vampires as regards holy water and blessed communion wafers (which in the Catholic tradition literally become the body of Christ). I think this explains the idea of, once the vampire is decapitated, the mouth is stuffed with blessed Communion wafers and sewn shut with silver thread. The evil simply can’t overcome that much pure good.

Other things regarding how to permanently kill vampires seem to be related to medieval mythology. The body is burned and the ashes spread asunder. The head, after the mouth is filled and sewn shut, is placed in a bag and buried at a crossroads (the ideal being that the Vampire’s evil spirit would be unable to find its way back to the remnants of its body).

The belief in the efficacy of garlic may be related to the belief that the drinking of blood was part of the evil of the vampire (and the making of another one) and to the use of garlic to cure or prevent some diseases.

Anyway, those are the vampires I chose. So, how to deal with them?

  • Remove anything and everything from the outside of my house that could possibly be construed as an invitation to enter. If I can find one, it might be worthwhile to have an attorney’s point of view on this (“bloodsuckers” and all that).
  • Garlic hung at all entrances. I don’t know why garlic is believed to keep vampires out, but hey, if it works…
  • Silver crosses over the doors and near windows.
  • I would wear a crucifix or cross around my neck at all times.
  • It would be important to deliberately designate the place I lived as my home, rather than merely a place I happened to sleep.
  • External and internal full-spectrum lighting around not just the house, but at strategic points around the property. Backup power consisting of a generator. All power lines either buried and/or contained inside heavy steel conduit. Thus, I give you (bear in mind, the fun is at the end of the clip)

  • All buildings would have fire sprinklers, powered by a pump which pumped holy water from a storage tank. A similar system would be used to pump holy water to external lawn and garden sprinklers.
  • Kinetic energy, ultimately because Sir Isaac Newton
  • Hand loading time for all firearms. Bullets cast in a lead/silver or copper/silver alloy. As long as some degree of penetration is assured, that’s all that matters. It will deliver all its energy to the target (the vampire) and leave the silver in contact with the critter’s body.
  • Explosives. Lots of explosives. I know its a vampire, but physics beats evil, undead bloodsucker

So, vampires, too, would not be that impressive. As it happens, humans are really good at killing things we consider a threat, especially when we work in concert. The result? I have to suspend disbelief for a vampire apocalypse about as much as I do for the more pedestrian zombie version.

Ah, well, the search for an impressive monster goes on. In the meantime, I’ll continue to write about my favorites.

Take that, you independent contractors!

I see that California AB5 has passed. I don’t view that as a good thing. Allow me to explain why.

It is important to note that there are indeed companies that use a person’s independent contractor status as a way of reducing cost. That, I submit, is not inherently wrong. It is, however, a problem if they paint independent contractor status as a panacea for all the things many people don’t like about being an employee. They gloss over the challenges of being an independent contractor. Many people are astonished at the sheer number and nature of challenges they face with such a status. So, it’s a problem. It’s also not the employers problem to solve unless they are clearly being misleading. As an employee, my employers made a big deal about my compensation package. They didn’t talk a lot about the realities of my tax obligations or the limitations of other parts of my compensation, other than (sometimes) in passing. It was not their problem. I was obligated to pay my taxes regardless of not receiving tax advice from my employee. Their obligation was limited to making sure I filled out the proper paperwork (my W-4) and sending me my W-2 every year. And so it is with independent contractors.

I’ve been an independent contractor. I like it because I like being my own boss. I like having my own business and the benefits is provides when I run it like a business. And that, from my observation, is the problem with many would-be independent contractors. They don’t treat their business like a business. What does that mean?

Here are what I think are the general rules for success as an employee.

  • Show up for work, on time, every workday
  • Dress appropriately for the job
  • Be ready to work when you arrive
  • Work hard your entire shift or until the job is done and your employer tells you to go home
  • If it is available, work the overtime you can
  • Do the above consistently, day in and day out

That’s it. Back when I was a manager of various parts of a hospital (I have managed Operating Rooms, Central Supply, PACU, and even the entirety of Surgical Services. I’ve also been the Chief Nursing Officer at a psych hospital, the only C-suite job I’ve ever had and the one I enjoyed more than any other). Employees always ask the new boss “what do you expect from us?” My answer is always some form of the above, usually “show up on time, dressed for work and ready to do your job. Do your job until it’s time to go home and then leave. Come back the next day and do it again.” Most of us accept that when we work for someone else. After all, we don’t want to be fired. It’s only when we start working for ourselves that we get stupid.

Let’s say I become an independent contractor or start some other kind of business. I want to be my own boss. It’s a problem if I don’t actually know what an effective boss or business owner does. Quite often, what I know is what I think a boss or business owner does.* Unfortunately, what I think and the reality are often not even remotely the same. I often won’t see the boss or owner getting into work early or staying late. I don’t see him taking the work home. I don’t see her changing major family plans at the last minute because something has come up that she, and only she, can handle. Likewise, I don’t see how the business owner sets up a single room of his house as an office, not just for the tax benefit but also as a way of helping support that mindset that says “when I enter this room, I am at work and must act like it.” Instead, what I see is a person who is seldom on the floor because other than making rounds, the demands of owning and/or running a business keep her tied to her desk – except when she is doing the myriad of other things only she can do. Or, what I see is a guy who stays after everyone else leaves because he’s greedy, when in reality he’s agonizing over how to make the thing work. Or, I see the owner of a home-based business as a person with lots of free time, rather than a person who must discipline himself to work when he wants to play and who has to insist that others respect his work hours even though he works at home in his boxers.

In other words, people often fail as independent contractors because they don’t understand that to be an independent contractor is to own your own business. Or, they don’t understand the implications of owning your own business and the level of commitment it requires.

Take my meager attempts at writing as an example. If I am to have any hope of success at this, I must treat it like a business. Regardless of how many hours per day or week I can dedicate to it, during those hours I must be either writing or doing the things that allow me to write, like research for a story. I could also include things like making the meetings for my writer’s group to increase my accountability and to gain the benefit of multiple sets of critical eyes. Things that do not contribute are not “writing work.” Hours spent combing over the folders and filing systems at Office Depot are not work. Carefully selecting cute screensavers is not writing work. Those are just ways of organizing paperclips instead of doing what I don’t feel like doing at the time.

It’s worth noting that there was a lot of union support for AB5. That should hardly be surprising. Unions have never been terribly enamored of independent contractors. Back when union membership was higher, there weren’t as many and so independent contractors were viewed as low payoff for scant return. Now, though, membership is down, unions in many places are struggling to remain relevant, and there are more independents. I’m not impressed by some supposed concern on the part of unions for the woes of the independent contractor. As incredibly necessary as they were at one time in the US (and may sometimes still be), unions have,in my opinion become the very thing they ostensibly oppose. To wit, they are large, powerful organizations that lie and manipulate in order to exploit workers for the benefit of union leadership and power.** Their support of AB5 is an example of that search for power. It’s not just politicians who are opposed to individual liberty.

*Note that we often see the same thing in the military. Some junior enlisted guy thinks he knows what Chiefs or officers do (especially officers as Chiefs are better at building leadership awareness in those who seem likely to make it to E-7 and above, whereas officers don’t always do a good job of mentoring enlisted folks into becoming mustangs). So, when he or she finishes the degree and then takes a commission as a brand new ensign, there comes that “holy s***” moment when the enormity of the job washes over the young officer.

**As a person who grew up in a union family, who married into a union family and who has been both a union member and manager in a collective bargaining environment, I have seen their good and their bad. As a general rule, I am no longer a fan. On the other hand, it’s kind of cool that I know all the words and chords to The Ballad of Joe Hill and to every song written by Woody Guthrie. 

See, I had this pork belly just lying around

and I had to do something with it. Eventually, a raw piece of pork belly became this

pork belly

which ultimately became pork belly ramen.

pork belly ramen

It wasn’t bad for a first effort.

18 years

18 years and I am still so angry I could eat nails. My version of “coming to peace” with those who would and have harmed my country, or assisted others in doing so, is to argue they should be wiped from the face of the earth, their water supply poisoned, and salt sown deeply into the ground. To that end, I would return to active duty.

It is possible I have some anger issues about 9/11. Yeah. I absolutely do.

I know there is a better way.

I also know this: When my kids were still kids, each of them, at some point, asked me in their childlike way some version of “how should I respond if I am physically attacked?” My answer remains the same. Violently. Sudden, decisive and overwhelming violence.

I really need to work on this, and yet… Never forget.