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If Oliver Wendell Holmes is the best you have…

you don’t have much. Allow me to explain.

It is my experience that arguments for the ongoing efforts to further restrict the right to keep and bear arms (RKBA) are never new. I get involved in discussions with gun control advocates (GCAs) on a fairly regular basis. If the discussion lasts long enough, then as surely as the sun rises in the east, the other person will make at least one of the following arguments*.

  1. No right is unlimited. There are restrictions on the First Amendment (like not being able to yell “fire” in a crowded theater).
  2. We require licensing, registration and training to drive cars
  3. Guns are made to kill people
  4. You love your guns more than you love your kids
  5. You are an ammosexual

I want, over the course of several posts, to examine each of these. I may periodically add to the above list. If I do, I’ll try to give the additions their own well-deserved treatment. For this posting, though, I will focus on #1.

No right is unlimited.

Really? I am struck speechless by this insightful thunderbolt. Or not.

Look, I agree that no right or liberty is unlimited. The disagreement we have is over what those limitations should be. Here’s the limitation that I am more than willing to accept. As long as what you do brings no harm to me or mine, I don’t care what you do. Likewise, if what I’m doing does not harm you or yours, I will not tolerate your efforts to tell me I can’t do it. What could be more fair than that?

A lot, apparently.

Some people, because of the tendency of a small minority of citizens to use the liberties we all enjoy to harm others, have decided to address that problem by restricting the liberty of the exponentially larger majority of citizens. To put it another way, it is an attempt to control the behavior of the criminal by limiting the liberty of the law-abiding. To put it yet another way, it declares a thing that is, in and of itself, neutral (or even good) to be wrong (malum prohibitum) because some third party might use the neutral or good (but now declared to be wrong) thing to commit an act that is wrong in and of itself (malum in se). This, we are assured, is just.

You will pardon me if I disagree. It is many things, but “just” is not one of them. Overreach? You bet it is. Authoritarian busybodies trying to tell other people what they should be able to do? Absolutely. But just? Not even close.

There are restrictions on the First Amendment (like not being able to yell “fire” in a crowded theater).

Yes, there are. Those restrictions are of particular importance to me because I was largely raised in and around newspapers and print shops. Not only was I raised that way, at one time I was one of three partners who started and ran a newspaper, back when they were much more of a thing than they are now. These days, I’m trying to learn to write well enough to successfully publish books. I have what is definitely a vested interest in the First Amendment, then. Let’s take a look at the things I could not legally do with our newspaper (and that I can’t legally do when I write and publish a book).

  • Libel. This is a form of defamation (making a false statement that harms someone else). It differs from slander in that slander is spoken while libel is written. If I commit a libelous act, I have opened myself up to a lawsuit. “My next door neighbor, Ignatius Reginald Jones IV, is a thief and abuser of virgin sheep” would be libel if I printed it (and if it wasn’t true). FWIW, I don’t have a next door neighbor named Ignatius Reginald Jones IV. I checked.
  • Publishing certain things related to national security could get me in big trouble. My understanding is that one of Tom Clancy’s books earned him a visit from the FBI. They were curious to know where he had gotten his information. He was able to demonstrate that it was all publicly available.

How did I deal with those things (and how will I deal with them in the future)? It’s simple, really. I decided to not commit libel or to publish national security secrets. Like I said, simple.

As for “yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” if that is your standard, I would encourage you to read up on the case regarding which Oliver Wendell Holmes made that statement (which was actually “falsely yelling fire in a crowded theater”), as well as subsequent cases. The case was Schenk v. United States.

Although there are some things that do not enjoy First Amendment protection, the courts have been pretty firm in rejecting attempts at prior restraint.

In practical terms, it worked out that there were many things I did not have to do when it came to starting and running a newspaper. Among those, I did not have to

  • obtain any sort of newspaper license, nor were there any typesetting or printing press licenses
  • promise to not commit libel
  • promise to not publish classified national security information
  • demonstrate any training or proficiency in or with
    • journalism
    • English grammar
    • business
    • typesetting
    • writing
    • printing press operation
  • justify why I needed or wanted to start a newspaper
  • gain the approval of any federal, state, county or local official before starting the newspaper
  • notify any law enforcement officer or agency of my intent to start a newspaper
  • agree to only publish number of copies per edition, or number of pages, or run number and type of ads
  • register myself or any of the equipment used

As for not being able to yell “fire” when I’m in a crowded theater, I most certainly can do so. Now, if I do so in the absence of a fire and people are injured in and ensuing panic, I might be legally liable. There is not, however, any mechanism in place to prevent me from doing so. I will simply not enjoy any sort of First Amendment protection. I sign no agreement to not use, or to not inappropriately use, the offending word. There is no hypnotist in the lobby to hypnotically alter my vocabulary for the duration of my time in the theater. No one will evaluate me to determine if I am likely to yell “fire!” There is no list of words I am not permitted to use.

I note that as I am writing books (or trying to), and writing here on this blog, the laws are essentially the same.

Laws restricting the right to keep and bear arms are dramatically different. I am unaware of any gun control laws, which if applied to the First Amendment, would not be both widely opposed and arguably overturned by the courts.

And thus, the title of this posting.

*Technically, 4&5 are assertions or accusations, not arguments, but they come up in almost every discussion I have.

Sometimes, I wonder…

Is it possible that Tom Kratman is just Mike Williamson on a full moon? I mean, I’ve never met either of them, so I have to wonder if anyone has ever seen them both at the same time.

Culture, philosophy and experience

I recently responded to a question on Quora (part of my “don’t spend all day on Quora” resolution means I have to be selective about the questions I answer). Part of my answer referenced an answer by someone with whom I disagree rather strongly. I didn’t make the reference, though, because I disagree with him, but because he gave a really good answer. I call it “really good” because he expressed himself well, the answer was honest, lacked anything approaching vitriol and addressed some aspects of the gun control debate that are often ignored. That’s what this post is about, the debate itself rather than who is on the right or proper side of the debate. More specifically, it’s about those often ignored aspects that seem to go a long way in explaining why at least some people take the position(s) they do.

Culture

When I was a kid in high school, one definition of culture was that “culture is the lens through which we see the world.”  It’s still a pretty good definition. I would even argue there may still not be a better one out there. If one comes from a culture of which privately owned guns are a significant part or one in which they played a significant part, or both, then it seems likely that one is more rather than less likely to have a positive view of both guns and the private ownership of them. Likewise, if one comes from a culture in which privately owned guns did not (and/or are not) a significant part, it seems reasonable to conclude that one would be somewhat more likely to have a negative view of guns and their private ownership.

There is more to culture than a country’s dominant culture, of course. Most countries have both various subcultures and even some counter-cultures, each of which has varying degrees of influence over their members. Subcultures can be defined as a group of people who have a culture with marks them as somewhat different from the dominant culture. Typically, they exhibit some aspects of the broader cultures within which they exist. Examples include the family (arguably the single most powerful subculture in existence, and one which tends to have multi-generational influence), military people, law enforcement officers and Star Trek fans.

In addition, there are countercultures. These are cultural groups whose values, norms, mores, etc run counter to the dominant culture. They are a sort of “opposition” culture. The hippie movement of the 1960’s is probably a good example. Others might include some feminist movements and the green movement.

All of these, cultures, subcultures and countercultures, tend to exert or exercise influence over their members, effectively changing how they see the world – including guns and gun ownership. There is, however, more to the debate.

Philosophy

If culture is the lens through which we see the world, then philosophy is the framework on which that lens is built. We might further define philosophy as “everything you know and how it affects you (or even how you let it affect you).” Philosophies, I submit, underlie cultures and influence their development. The US seems to be a good case in point.

More than any other nation, the US was an outgrowth of the Age of Enlightenment, especially the Scottish Enlightenment (along with the writings of John Locke, of course). Both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (including, very specifically the Bill of Rights) are very much Enlightenment documents. One makes the Enlightenment case for why a group of colonists should be viewed as something other than the most base of traitors. The other seeks, among other things, to prevent the very things against which those colonists rebelled.

It is hard to overstate, I think, the influence of the Enlightenment, with its views on individual liberty and the proper relationship between the people and government, on the US. If we accept the dates often given for it (1685-1815), then we might say the US was a product not only of the Age of Enlightenment, but of the Age when it was at or near its peak. Had events in the colonies occurred just a few years earlier or later, then it is arguable that those colonies would have remained loyal subject of England or become their own nation in a much more peaceful and mutually agreed upon manner (a la Canada). It seems equally likely that had that been the case, the view of many US citizens regarding guns would be different than they are.

Experience

One of the things I tell my coaching and hypnosis clients is that many of our behaviors, including the ways we tend to think, are habits. How do habits develop? A number of factors tend to produce habits, including experience. Our experiences tend to lead to habit formation based upon

  • how often we experience something
  • the emotional intensity attached to the experience

As regards guns, then repeated and emotionally positive experiences might be expected to produce a favorable view of them. Likewise, repeated and emotionally negative experiences might produce the opposite. More than that, if one has little experience, then the emotional intensity of one’s limited experience, and whether that was a positive or negative experience, would also seem likely to influence one’s view.

What about you?

All the above seem to be borne out in my life. Here’s some of what I know about myself. Perhaps it will at least serve to illustrate my point a little better.

My family of origin, on my father’s side and several generations before him, is from Scotland. The steward of the clan of which my ancestors were a part has noted two things. First, that my family is, indeed, of Scottish descent and second that “they did not leave Scotland willingly,” which has reference to the dangers of having alliances with too many people (leading to effectively having alliances with none). Regardless, though, what I find interesting is this: though I don’t remember my dad or any of my aunts, uncles or grandparents making any reference to family history in Scotland, these are names from my father’s side of the family: Thomas, Robert, Kenneth, Edwin, George, Evelyn, Nora, Fanny, Morris, Douglas. Let’s move on.

I was raised in a particular Protestant tradition, one that began is this country as a result of the efforts of a number of ministers, particularly Scottish Presbyterians (Scottish Presbyterians, incidentally, were highly represented in, you guessed it, the Scottish Enlightenment). One of those ministers had as his favorite philosopher, John Locke, who also happened to be Thomas Jefferson’s favorite philosopher. One of the primary points of this tradition, at least at the beginning, was that as pertains to Christianity, believers only needed to agree on a few major points. All the points of disagreement which had sundered believers over the years were viewed as not worth fighting over. To put it another way, other than for a few major points, which virtually all who claimed to be Christians accepted anyway, people were to be free to believe and practice entirely as they chose.

You could argue, based on the above, that I was predisposed to read Locke, or the Constitution (especially the Bill of Rights), or the Declaration of Independence, and agree with them. You would probably be right.

In terms of experience, I would note the following:

I’m a retired military officer, who began his career as an enlisted person under arms. I have spent my whole life around firearms, with the vast and overwhelming majority of my experiences being positive. They served for recreation, putting food on the table and defense of self and others. To the last point, I along with some friends and family members at different times and places, am alive because of firearms.

For me, then, culture, philosophy and experience contribute to my view of guns and gun ownership. It would, I submit, be odd indeed if I were to hold a negative view of guns and the civilian ownership of them.

What about the other guy?

The person whose answer I referenced above is different. He comes from a different culture. That culture is one which was not a direct outgrowth of the Enlightenment. Likewise, his experience with firearms has been markedly different than mine. While I don’t know the specific details, the little I do know leads me to describe his experience as both limited and truly tragic. I rather doubt that anyone who has not had an experience similar to his has any real idea of what it was like for him and those close to him. With all those things combined, it would be unlikely for him to have a positive view of guns and the civilian ownership of them; not impossible, but unlikely.

What does it all mean? 

Let’s start with what I think it does not mean.

  • It does not mean that every conclusion is equally valid in terms of its relationship to fact and truth
    • “your truth and my truth” is still specious nonsense
  • It does not mean that everyone who holds a different point of view has a legitimate and justifiable reason for doing so

On the other hand, it does mean that

  • not everyone who disagrees with me does so for nefarious reasons
  • not everyone who disagrees with me is inherently dishonest
  • honest people can look at the same data and disagree…honestly

There is a reason I seldom debate the right to keep and bear arms on the basis of numbers or statistics. I believe they are irrelevant, because I find liberty to be of far greater value than safety. Arguing about numbers is, at least many times, little more than ceding ground to our opponents. I’m a retired military guy. Why on earth would I do such a thing?

To the one whose answer I referenced above, should he read this, I would say this: I cannot adequately express my regret for what you experienced. That you were able to produce such a clear, honest and balanced explanation of your views says a great deal about your character, including your basic honesty. I wish you good fortune for the rest of your journey.

 

 

 

 

In honor of Stanley’s mom

When I was a kid, my dad cooked a lot. I figured that was just something dads did. I was surprised to learn that in the families of many of my friends, that was simply not the case. But, as I began to spend more time away from home, spending the night at the house of one friend or another, I came to understand why my dad cooked so much. It was self-defense.

I loved my mom dearly. Her love for her kids and the lengths to which she would go on their behalf was amazing (the same was true of my dad, but that’s not germane to this posting). There were a lot of things she did amazingly well. Cooking, as it turns out, was not one of them. There were a few dishes she made that were really, really good. There was also everything else she cooked. It simply wasn’t really her thing. With a few exceptions, she just didn’t enjoy cooking all that much.

Beans are a big deal in the South. Properly prepared, they can evoke images and memories of the farm (even if, unlike me, you were never fortunate enough to live on one), hearth and  home. Smooth and with a somewhat thick broth, they are flavorful and warming. Served with freshly baked and buttered cornbread, they are just the thing for a cool fall or cold winter day. Those weren’t the ones my mom cooked. The result was that I tended to avoid beans because the ones we ate at home were so, well, less than appealing. On the other hand, my parents raised me a certain way. If you accepted an invitation to someone’s house for dinner, you ate what they served and said “thank you,” regardless of whether you liked it or not – even if it was beans.

When I was ten years old, we moved to the little town of St. John’s, Arizona. One day, my best friend, Stanley (no, really), invited me to his house for dinner. Stanley’s family was from Mexico and I had never even tasted Mexican food (we had moved a lot but I’m from North Carolina and that was my first time in the Southwest, okay?). Anyway, his mom, who was convinced upon first meeting me that I, like her youngest son, was in danger of wasting away to nothing, created a feast. It was amazing! Still, I had tried to avoid the beans. After all, history and all that. Finally, though, it was inevitable. All I had left was a bowl of beans into which I had put the smallest amount I could without seeming rude. I took a deep breath, picked up a spoonful and put it in my mouth as though I relished beans and had been saving them until last so as to savor them at the end of the meal (politeness, remember).

Oh, my God.

They were amazing! Flavorful and seasoned with spices, many of which I had never even heard of, they were delicious. I was a convert to the Order of the Great Legume. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to learn how to cook beans. Sadly, I never learned how Stanley’s mom* made them. It was her recipe and I wasn’t cooking a lot, back then. What I’ve learned though, is that there are lots of varieties of beans and, as it turns out, lots of yummy ways to cook them.

Here’s one of them. Be advised this makes quite a few beans.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs beans (about 3 cups)
  • 2 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 3/4 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon quality chicken bouillon
  • 3-jalepenos, slightly seeded and cut into half-rounds
  • 1 10 oz can diced tomatoes and chilis (aka Rotel)
  • 2-3 ham hocks
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • lime wedges, to garnish

Instructions

  1. Soak beans overnight or use the quick soak method.
  2. Drain beans in a colander and rinse with cold water.
  3. In a skillet, saute onion, jalepenos and garlic in just a little unsalted butter until the onions are soft.
  4. Add the beans, chicken stock, water and sauteed vegetables to a large pot.
  5. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Partially cover with lid and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Add chicken bouillon and continue simmer for another 1 1/2 hours. If the beans are not tender, continue simmering until they are.
  6. Remove ham hocks to a cutting board and allow to cool. Once cool, remove all meat from the bones, chop and return to the beans. Continue to simmer until the juice is the thickness you desire. If you want lots of thick juice, add a little more chicken stock and remove about 1 cup of beans to a bowl. Using an immersion blender, puree the cooked beans and return to the pot. Allow to cook another 15 minutes.
  7. Serve with freshly baked cornbread and iced tea.

*Thank you, Mrs. Gonzales. You made quite the gastronomic impression on a snot-nosed kid from North Carolina.

 

Apparently, it can get worse

Have you ever wanted to write…something…about, well…something, only to find, at the last moment, that someone else has not only already written it, but arguably written what you would have liked to have written, the way you would have liked to have written it – only better? Yeah. It’s worse when someone else does it with two things you wanted to write about. And manages to do it with a single article or blog posting.

I have been struggling to find the words to express what I think about both the tempest in a teapot that is the kerfuffle over the Covington students and one Nathan Phillips, and the greater issue of American society and what seems to be an increasing intolerance for those who might disagree with someone else. *Expressive sigh* Today, I came across this blog post from Mike Williamson. By way of warning, if you are fainthearted or a member of The Perpetually Offended, it is likely not for you (yes, I put the warning after the link because, you know, this is my blog and you are presumably sufficiently an adult to read a bit further and – never mind).

I don’t want to go into any lengthy discussion of Nathan Phillips. Both Mike Williamson’s posting and this video by former Navy Seal Don Shipley do that far more than adequately. Heck, you can even watch the video here.

 

On the other hand, I do want to give a little time to one aspect of the issue of a seeming increasing intolerance for those who disagree with others.

During the years Barack Obama was in the Oval Office, I became convinced that political discourse in the US had reached its ultimate low. I had “friends” on social media platforms I eventually wound up “unfollowing” because their rhetoric was vile. As much as I disagreed with many of Barack Obama’s policies and ideas (which is to say, a lot), as much harm as I think those policies did, he did not commit treason (nor, I submit, anything even close to meeting the constitutional definition of treason), nor did he deliberately and knowingly attempt to destroy the US, nor was there justification for suggesting, as some did, that he should be shot or hanged. Surely, I thought, it can’t get any worse than this.

I was wrong.

I don’t think much of Donald Trump. I didn’t vote for him and would have strongly preferred someone else as President (except for the one I have seen described as “Dick Cheney in a pantsuit” – I wish I could take credit for that). He is, I believe, as much of an authoritarian as most other politicians. I suspect he, like most other national politicians, finds the Constitution and its provisions to be an unwelcome impediment to what he might like to do (the way the document and its provisions serve as an impediment are, by the way, are a feature rather than a bug). Still…

It is not okay to call for his assassination. It is a vile, disgusting and unethical thing to do. It will also likely get you a well-deserved visit from the Secret Service. It minimizes the pain and suffering of people with dementia to toss out accusations of it. Unless you have information you haven’t shared with Mueller, it has not been proven that Donald Trump is Putin’s pawn. There is no evidence that he plans to precipitate a civil war, “start World War III,” or to “have his supporters keep him in office longer than the Constitution allows.” The election of Donald Trump is not reason to call for the elimination of, among other things, the Electoral College, the US Senate, the US Supreme Court, the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, and US states. There is no indication I have seen that Russia funneled tens of millions of dollars into the US through the NRA or that Donald Trump is in violation of the emoluments clause. Insisting there is such evidence while jumping up and down and holding your breath until your face turns blue does not a compelling argument make. If you are a person who makes his/her living with words, you have no excuse, unless you spent a lot of time living out on a limb with Shirley, for claiming that “Donald Trump is literally Hitler.”

But, there is more.

As a person who grew up in a particular Christian tradition, I have seen the view of some rabid legalists mirrored in the modern American Left. In the church, it often takes the form of “if you don’t actively oppose x, or if you have anything that approaches regard for people who do x, you support it.” It is specious nonsense in the church and it is equally specious nonsense in politics. In modern American political and social discourse, that same reasoning can be found on the Left. “If you don’t actively oppose everything Donald Trump says and does, or if you think he has done anything at all positive, or if you, God forbid, held your nose and voted for him, you support any and every vile, evil thing of which he and his supporters are accused.” There is a reason a man I know has referred to the modern American Left (especially progressives) as “the new Moral Majority.”

And, of course, there is more.

Advocating violence because you disagree with others is a bad idea. At least, if you’re going to do that, have the nerve to do your own dirty work. Don’t call for others to dox a bunch of kids and leave them open to attack. Don’t encourage others to do what you, quite frankly, don’t have the balls to do. And, don’t make the mistake of thinking that if you do engage in your own act of violence, society will choose to say it’s okay because of the purity of your motives or that your victim won’t fight back. What is most likely to happen is that society will rely upon the rule of law to slap you down harder than you can imagine and certainly harder than what you will likely think is fair – and not care that you feel mistreated.

Which leads us to a problem greater than “simple” political violence. What happens if your victim chooses to fight back? Well, you could get hurt. You could get hurt as badly as your victim, or worse. You could even get dead (“I carry a gun because I’m too young to die and too old to take an ass beating”). It becomes, at some point, a matter of scale. What happens if you and your comrades (deliberate word choice) of equally pure motives all encounter enthusiastic and effective resistance? Do you work harder to make your point? How far do you go? How many more do you enlist in your quest?* More than that, what happens not simply to the particulars in a given fight, but to the nation as a whole if this thing spreads? LawDog had some thoughts on this, almost two years ago.

Of course, my concerns could be misplaced. All this could settle down and everything be fine. And it will be, if people are willing to step away, just a bit, from the edge.

*Just in case you are confused or inclined toward thinking I believe politically motivated violence (real violence, not pseudo-intellectual “violent words” or “microagression) is okay from the other side of the spectrum, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. I do not think it’s okay. From my perspective today, January 25, 2019, the biggest threat comes from the Left rather than the Right. That could change tomorrow, in which case I’ll be glad to call them out, too.

Ideological purity run amok

Another reference to Quora.

The question I answered was:

“Are there any intelligent and/or highly educated people who support Donald Trump?”

My answer?

“Though I voted, I did not vote for Donald Trump. That said, I know several intelligent and well-educated people who did vote for him, though they did not (and do not) like him and he was not their first choice. The answer to your question, then, is “yes.” “

I’m pretty sure I have made the point in the past that I’m not a fan of President Trump. That’s okay. There are a lot of politicians and (former) presidents of whom I am not a fan. What amazed me were some of the responses to my fairly innocuous answer. Note that none of them really attacked me. Among them we find

“That is the most frustrating thing behind the tRump cult: How so many otherwise intelligent people cannot see that he is a petulant child.”

“I know some highly educated and intelligent people who voted for him, like him, and support him. I find this fact somehow negates my opinion of their intelligence, and certainly changes my opinion of their moral compass as regards how our government (i.e. Trump) should conduct itself on the world stage and towards human beings.”

“… I question any person who still supports Trump now, and suspect that they might be deficient either in a moral or intellectual capacity. Or both.” (This was the end of what I considered an otherwise reasonable response.)

“Yes, I’m almost positive that about 1% of Trump supporters are very rich intelligent well educated that are big time liars just like Trump that only care about themselves and their money, and are just playing all the other Trump supporters for the fools that they are.”

“There’re “intelligent and highly educated “ people with no common sense. I bet those might have voted trump.”

Those are a fairly decent example. There were some respondents who indicated their support for Donald Trump, but they aren’t germane to this post.

Look, Donald Trump received 62,984,825 votes (about 46.4% of the votes cast for president) according to CNN. According to an article in the Washington Post, there were about 232,000,000 people eligible to vote in the 2016 election, but only about 132,000,000 did so. This means, if we take the above responses to heart, that there are people who truly believe that 46.4% of those who voted are lacking in education, intelligence and character. If we limit such intellectual and moral deficiency to only those who voted for him, and assume that of the 100,000,000 or so eligible voters who did not vote that there are none who in any way support him, we are still left with about 20% of the population.

Really? 20% of the population?

Give me a break.

I’m curious. If you are truly convinced that the people who voted for and support Donald Trump as president are intellectually and morally deficient, how do you expect them to respond if you continue to remind them of your opinion? Is it your belief that their various deficiencies will somehow be cured by your words? If that fails to work, what would you recommend, re-education, perhaps?

My take: If people who have such a visceral dislike for the current occupant of the Oval Office do not stop, they will very likely go a long way to ensure his reelection. I’m sure I can’t imagine the form the “weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth” will take, then.

A Scene from Dystopia, Ch 2

I wrote this about the same time as I wrote the first chapter, which I posted some time ago. I’ve resisted the urge to edit as I go, so this one is pretty rough, as are all the others that I’ll post here over time. Anyway, here it is.

Chapter 2

The motorcycle is running well today. In spite of the coolness of the morning, it starts with the first bump of the starter, carbureted engine and all. I nod to Bruce, my middle son, who will start today by being the south side outrider. He will be on one of the Honda Ranchers, which he already has running and ready to go. At 6’4”, he is an impressive looking figure. Slender and all lean muscle, with blonde hair, bright blue eyes and wearing leathers for his ride, he sort of looks like Tom Petty as the Bridge City Mayor.

“You sure you have all your gear?” He’s a grown man but I can’t keep myself from being the concerned parent. He will be on the side nearest Eastland. If there’s trouble, he could be right in it.

“Yes, I have all my gear.” His inflection is a little flat. He is here physically, but I can tell he isn’t all that thrilled to be riding with me. My fault, probably, at least from his perspective. Hell, if I were he I probably wouldn’t like me either.

“Remember, your job is to look and report back what you see, not engage. Make sure you –“

“Dad. Do you trust me to do this or not? We talked about all this stuff and drilled it for months. I’ve got this.”

I can’t keep myself from sighing. “You’re right. Sorry.”

I look at the other outrider, one of the guys from Ian’s team, I can never remember his name – not a good failure for a leader. I start thinking about how to fake it with radio comms when it comes to me. “You all set and ready, Jason?” He nods in response.

“Yep.”

The guitar and dishes are put away and our group is ready to go. They won’t move, though, until they get the “all clear” from the outriders. We discovered yesterday, when we first pulled onto the railroad right of way, that progress would be slow. The gravel-covered bed and rough terrain makes anything approaching highway or even back road speeds impossible. Between that and the less than impressive performance of our ATVs, every minute wasted is really going to put us behind. We need to get moving and I’m just procrastinating. Time to go.

I make a final check of my weapons and gear, make sure my radio is set to our designated secure guard channel, plug in and put in the noise cancelling earbuds, wave to my wife and then my other two sons and give the word. “Outriders, move out.” I pull out, keeping the tracks to my left as I head toward Eastland noting that Bruce and Jason head south and north respectively. I’m nervous as hell. Hopefully, I’ll settle down in a bid.

It is the rainy season and with us being east of Abilene, there is already a lot more dew. There is a low hanging, heavy mist in the air and it wets the legs of my jeans after just a few minutes. Today, I am riding the middle scout position which means I’ll be following the tracks pretty closely, while Bruce and Jason will be roughly following the roads south and north of the tracks. This will be our first full day of traveling beside the railroad tracks and if I want people to ride outrider, I need to set the example for how it should be done, so I ramp up the situational awareness, forcing myself into condition yellow when what I really want is to be sleeping next to my wife in our bed at home.Wish in one hand and do the other thing in the other and I would still be here.

Keep your mind on what you’re doing! Time for a comms check.

“Phalanx, this is Ranger. Comms check for the outriders, over.” Bob’s running comms for the main group. While I questioned the wisdom of RPG related names for radio comms, we’ll see how it works. He comes back immediately with “Ranger, this is Phalanx. I have you loud and clear, over.”

“Roger, Phalanx. Outriders, check in.”

“Phalanx, this is Mage.”

“Phalanx, this is Wanderer.”

“Mage and Wanderer, this is Phalanx. I have you both loud and clear. How’s it lookin’ out there?”

“Phalanx, this is Wanderer. All good.”

“Phalanx, Mage. It’s fine.”

My turn. “Phalanx, this is Ranger. All clear so far. I’m coming up on Eastland now. I’ll give you a follow up in one-five minutes, over.”

“Ranger, this is Phalanx. Roger that. Update in one-five minutes. Anything else to pass?”

“Phalanx, Ranger. Negative, nothing to pass. Ranger out.”

The tracks take a turn to the southeast just before they enter Eastland. I pull to a stop and check my map. Looks like the tracks here are crossing North College Avenue, which puts me on the northern edge of town. I look at my watch and notice it is almost time for a comms check. Just as I get ready to check in, my radio starts sqauwking in my ear.

“Dad, this is Bruce. I have a problem!”

Shit. He has trouble bad enough for him to break our radio protocol. I feel my heart start to pound in my chest.

“Mage, this is Ranger. What’s going on, over?” The Coast Guard drilled radio comms into me, so it feels natural to follow it now. Maybe it’ll help keep me calm.

“There’s a road block ahead of me and people just pulled in behind me. What should I do?”

I can hear the panic in his voice. Bruce is probably the most level-headed and even-tempered man I know. Even without a ton of tactical experience this is sounding Not Good.

“Mage, Ranger. What’s your location, over?” I check my weapons, waiting for a response.

Nothing.

Come on, Bruce. Where are you, son?

“Mage, this is Ranger. What is your location, over?”

“Wanderer, this is Ranger. Have you copied this, over?”

“Ranger, Wanderer. Roger that. Do you require assistance, over?”

What the hell kind of question is that? My son is in trouble and I don’t know where he is. Of course I require assitance!

“Wanderer, Ranger. Roger that. Standby for instructions.”

“Ranger, Wanderer. Standing by.”

“Ranger, this is Mage, over.” Finally, thank God.

“Mage, Ranger. Go.”

“I’m on Hillcrest, between Patterson and uh, West Main, over.” He’s trying to force himself to at least approximate protocol. Good. That’ll help him stay calm. I look at the map, again. He is west and south of me, about a half-mile away. The Kawasaki screams as I start moving, pushing it to redline with each gear.

“Mage, this is Ranger. It’ll be okay. I”m headed your way. Just stay calm. Where are the roadblocks and the people behind you, over?”

“Ranger, Mage. The roadblock is on Commerce, I think and the people behind me are about a block north of Patterson, but they’re moving closer. What should I do?”

“Mage, Ranger. Can you get to West Main and head east?”

“I think so.”

Screw radio protocol. “Then do it. Push the ATV as hard as it’ll go. Jason, head my way and wait where the tracks cross College.”

“Okay, dad.”

“Roger, Ranger.”

Suddenly, I hear the sound of gun shots in my headset, louder that way than what I hear from outside the noise cancelling earbuds I’m wearing.

“Damn! They’re shooting at me. I think they hit my ride.” He sounds calmer than I would in that situation.

Up ahead I can see the sign for Main Street. I don’t see any traffic, so I swing wide to the left and then lean the bike hard to the right, rolling on throttle as I force it through the turn faster than I should, the dual sport style tires skittering as they try to break traction. Somehow, the bike stays shiny side up and snaps upright as I straighten my track onto Main Street. Up ahead, I see Bruce, leaning low across the handle bars. We meet about half way down the street, both of us pulling to a stop. I can see the locals, if that’s what they are, pulling onto the west end of the street from both the north and the south. My quick count tells me there are maybe 15 or so of them in three pickups and an old Jeep Grand Cherokee. Not good odds, we need to go.

“Are you hit?” I swear, if he has been shot I’m going to kill all of them. And anyone who loves them. And anyone who loves the ones who love them.

“No, I’m fine.” He looks okay. Worried, but okay.

“Okay, let’s get out of here. Ride that thing as hard as it’ll go. Left turn onto College and head north to the railroad tracks.”

“Wanderer this is Ranger. How close are you, over?”

“Ranger, Wanderer. I’m pulling up to the tracks, now.”

Bruce is moving now, pushing his Rancher rapidly up to its top speed of 55 miles per hour. As he reaches the corner, the ATVs less than perfect steering forces him to slow to navigate the turn. Even then, I can see his Rancher tilt briefly up onto two wheels before dropping back onto all four as he straightens up coming out of his turn. Looking over my shoulder, I see the vehicles drawing closer. I know I can outrun them on the bike, but if something doesn’t change, they’ll be on Bruce before he can get away.

There’s a couple of old highway concrete barricades on the northeast corner of Main and College, sitting in the dirt driveway of the remnants of burned out house. That’s my target. I cut the turn short and rocket to the far side of the street, squeezing hard on the front brake and standing on the rear, pushing the bike into a stoppie. Bailing off, I don’t even bother with the kickstand. Instead, I’m headed for the far side of the barricade, as hard as I can run, screaming into the microphone as I go. “Do not stop! Jason, Bruce, both of you get back to the group.”

I drop behind the barricade as the first bullets slam into the concrete.

***

Ian patted his “baby” brother, Duncan, on the shoulder as he walked by. Of course, most people who have a baby brother don’t have one who towers above them by five inches. Just a little shorter than Bruce, Duncan was a little more heavily built and not quite as blonde. As for Ian, he was 5’9” when he stood ramrod straight and considerably heavier in build, with what his dad called “linbacker shoulders.”

“What’re you driving, today?”

Duncan turned his way, holding up a single finger to ask the person he had wanted to talk to to wait for a moment. “I think I’m scheduled for the big Jeep, the, uh, Grand Wagoneer.”

Ian chuckled. “Ah. All comfort for you, then. I’m in that stupid pickup. Hate that thing. Rides like a rock and Bob says it’ll make the trip, but know much more than that.” Bob was one of their two mechanics. If he said the truck was going to die, it was only a matter of time before it happened. Hopefully, it would make it the whole trip. They had a lot of important gear packed in it and the trailer it pulled. “Drive safely, Duncan.” He headed on up the line of vehicles to touch base with his team while Duncan turned back to the person still waiting for him. He was almost to his team’s group of vehicles when he saw Carol urgently waving him her way from the lead pickup. “Guess my team will wait,” he muttered. She was still waving with the same urgency and her face looked concerned. He remembered the lead truck was also the comms truck and that his dad, Bruce and Jason from his team were on patrol. “Shit.” He broke into a run, ignoring everyone who spoke to him as went by.

“What’s going on, Carol?” From her face, he could tell it was not good. He noticed that Bob, Linda and “the boys” were all huddled in the dual cab pickup, listening to the radio. Carol’s eyes were hard as she stared at him. “I need you to go back up your dad and brother. They’ve had some issues with locals and I’m worried things’ll go bad.”

“What kind of ‘issues’ have they had? I’m sure they’ll be okay. None of ’em want a fight and even my dad won’t want to engage if he can avoid it.” He knew his dad pretty well. All he would want was to get them all clear. “Why the concern?”

“Ian, Bruce is on patrol and he doesn’t ride motorcycles real good, yet.” Damn. She was right. And the ATVs were slower than anything else they had. Each one of them had a rev limiter that kicked in somewhere around 55 mph. Now he understood.

“And dad’s only concern will be getting Bruce out. Shit.” He turned toward the cab of the pickup, words on his lips, when the radio traffic began. It took him a second to translate the pops he heard into something he recognized when he heard voice comms.

“Damn! They’re shooting at me. I think they hit my ride.” That was Bruce’s calm voice.

Carol turned from looking at the cab, speaking as she did. “You need to go help –“ She let her voice taper off. Ian was already sprinting toward the pickup he was to drive that day. Seconds later, he had disconnected the trailer, grunting with the effort of doing it by himself but not willing to wait for help. A quick dash and he was in the cab. She heard the engine start and he pulled out of line, then punched the accelerator, throwing gravel over all the assembled people and vehicles as he roared away from the convoy, the truck picking up speed and bouncing over the uneven ground as he went.

***

Ben Hooper was in the lead truck. That was how it was supposed to be, wasn’t it? He was the leader of Eastland, these days, and leaders had to lead from the front. That’s what he had read, anyway, years ago when he first started prepping. He had laid in a decent supply of food, but he had mainly focused on weapons, figuring those would be handy in making sure he could get what he needed when things went to hell. He’d built a team of people who saw things the way he did; people who knew they were going to have to be strong enough to take what they needed. That was how things were. It’s how the country was built and how people like him would build it again. He and his group of “patriots” had found it pretty easy to take over when things started to go really bad. They had spent months watching, figuring out who seemed to be doing okay when others were not. When the food ran out, they had simply called the more prepared “hoarders” and the hungry populace had turned on them. He had overseen the executions himself. By the time most people figured out what was going on, the people who might have most successfully resisted were dead, either by execution or disease, and he and his group of thugs were firmly in control. It was nice, having the choice of the best food and drink…and anything else he wanted.

Being in charge had its downside. He had not thought to recruit farmers and gardeners, so when the supplies he and his group had taken from others began to run short, there was no one to produce more food. Those folks had all left or been killed by he and his friends. As a result, people, including his people, began to look to him for a solution. When he did not have one right away, his second in charge, Frank Church, the guy he called his right hand man, had even attempted to take over. He had gone behind Ben’s back, “like a little bitch” Ben thought, and recruited people to help him take over. Frank’s plot would have probably succeeded too, if not for one thing. Frank was sleeping with another man’s wife. When someone tried to recruit the husband into the group of plotters, he had gone to Ben, who had been very sympathetic. That night, he and the jealous husband had chained closed the doors of the three adjoining houses the plotters shared, and set them ablaze. That was the end of the plot. It had also decreased the size of Ben’s group of thugs, but left him firmly in charge of them and the town.

Years before he had read about preppers whose plan was to take what they needed from others. There was not really anyone in town to take stuff from, but, every few days to weeks, the occasional traveler would come through, headed for some place they had heard about that supposedly had food, water and security. By the time they got to Eastland, they were weary, fatigued from lack of food and easy to pick off. Between what they could take from the travelers they killed and the size of his now much smaller gang, they did okay.

And so, this morning, when one of his watchmen had reported a lone rider coming in on an ATV, they had gone into action. As expected, the stranger had run. Not a problem, their trucks could outrun any ATV. The motorcyclist had been unexpected. His decision to come to a stop and make a stand had been even more so.

Ben called his group to a halt just as they started to turn onto College. No point in getting too close. Pointing to the motorcyclist who was running hard for cover he started giving orders. “Kill that asshole!” That was something his guys knew how to do. They started firing and bullets began hitting the concrete barricade.