New Year's Eve haircut, need it or not

Boy's hair was getting a bit shaggy, and I needed some Daddy time, so I took him the whole way to Buckley's barbershop to get all of our ears lowered.

I hardly ever put a good photo of him here, it's time you get a good look. He's the one on your right. Ignore the ugly fellow with him.


Rocky Mountain Blog Roundup Eye-Eye

Please visit RMBR II at Andrew Olmsted's place. My blogrollee Walterindenver started it.

Why an almanac as a terrorist indicator?

��It's not as ��������risible as NPR finds it to be.

  1. an almanac would serve well as a key for a book code. For a good example of a book code in use, read Thomas Harris's Red Dragon. Hannibal Lecter and the darkroom serial killer communicated by citing a specific paperback edition of The Joy of Cooking. That's the catch, though: both users must have copies of exactly the same key. DHS didn't mention a specific edition of a specific almanac, nor do we think they'd be so stupid that they would release that information to the public.

  2. Islam keeps the lunar calendar. For widespread underground cells to limit their communication, it would be advisable to coordinate their actions or their infrequent communications in advance with a calendar that they understood more intimately than their intended victims do. A genuine almanac offers a lunar calendar, among many other useful data.

  3. a mathematical construct of both Item (1) and Item (2). Base your cipher on a table of tides or phases of the moon, or know which cipher to use on which date. The exact same edition or even brand of almanac would not be required for the cipher to work.

So all you folks who don't understand why DHS is interested in suspicious persons using almanacs, now you do, so you can now stop your tittering and pay serious attention.

My regular readers, all five of them, will tell you I'm no regular defender of nor apologist for DHS. However, their concern about almanacs, and their willingness to mention them in the clear, appear to me to be signs that they are in earnest search for something very specific.

BTW, the word almanac is a cognate from Arabic, isn't it?

Update: OK, perhaps it isn't an Arabic cognate. Of the three definitions cited by dictionary.com, one's etymology led to Greek and possibly further back to Coptic, one said "unknown" and a third offered no etymology at all. So I say "perhaps," and refuse to blink.


I can visualize what would prompt my father to have done this

He regularly complained that steel tape measures were too easy to damage by retracting them at full speed. This steel tape measure must have been the proverbial straw; we found it when we went through his belongings after he died. I can see him cursing, then reaching for the tools.

He bent some brazing rod into a crank, drilled a hole, removed the broken spring and replaced it with the crank. It would have taken him as much time and forethought as it would for you or me to de-staple a document and feed it into a copier.

We propose airships again

DenPost's lettitors once again discuss the problem of threading heavy recreational traffic from Front Range cities through a narrow mountain pass to the ski resorts.

There's not enough room through the passes for extra lanes, and one writer rightly concludes that if you build them, the traffic will increase to absorb the added capacity. Sinkholes in those stretches can close I-70 for days at a time. And at the times when the supply of snow is best, the road conditions can be at their worst.

A monorail will not be the answer either, especially if it's operated by the Denver public transit monopoly. The monorail will take up some of the space that extra road lanes would need. Sinkholes would still imperil a monorail, though snow probably would not.

The towns delicately perched along the route would also suffer if the highway is widened or a monorail is added to it.

All economic problems are put in terms of scarcity and how to manage or circumvent it. What is scarce in this case are surface routes from Front Range communities to the resorts.

We submit, then, a mode of transportation that doesn't need passes or tunnels through the mountains, and that does not need to strand huge costs (compared to rejiggering an Interstate highway) before it carries its first passenger.

This mode of transportation would generate some of its lift with a conventional wing, making it capable of payloads on the scale of seventy-five tons; it would offer the choice of transporting the passenger only, or the passenger with his or her vehicle and gear to further explore Colorado once they're on the other side of Route 9.

The extreme Green folks would love it because it burns less fuel per ton-knot than the privately-owned vehicles that are driven through that stretch today, it will be quieter and less disruptive than the surface autos, and it needs no large, wasteful asphalt runway---it can operate vertically. It could dock on Dillon Reservoir, whether it's full or empty, watery or frozen. At the other end, plenty of soccer complexes could accommodate the airship itself, the parking and the traffic.

The moderate Green folks would ride it just for the view on the observation deck.

Boeing and LockMart would love it because it's a new market for aircraft.

We'd like it because it offers somebody an opportunity to solve the problem without a government mucking it up. The people who are creating the traffic---the ski resorts---can solve the traffic problem and make themselves some money besides. Who loses?

Get some former Broncos in as financiers, along with the ski resorts, and they can operate sports bars and nightclubs aboard to entertain the passengers on their way up and back. They'd be cramped and noisy, but that's their purpose. Joining the Mile High Club will get a hell of a lot easier.

The only serious impediment to such a venture is not economic or technical, but political. The Transportation Security Administration will insist upon Dominating, Intimidating, and Controlling the ships, crews, passengers, ports, and cargo.

Earlier post, related topic, here.

Blogging responds to even a modest increase in bandwidth

It's those little things that you see in the corner of your eye that distract you. Like this one:
[T]he average user", he says, "has little to hide, and so hides little". The other side of this equation is the effort demanded of the average user in order to use encryption properly. Even the simplest of the good encryption programs have a real learning curve.
PGP represents the other end of the spectrum. It's free, and quite secure, but you'll need to take the time to read the manual and understand it. You'll also need to convince others to take that time, too, or else you won't have anyone to send encrypted messages to.

It was just this evening that a married couple, good friends of ours and partners in The Cause, took dinner with us, as the airbreathing offspring units fell asleep to the Rocky and Bullwinkle DVD, while I explained how Pretty Good Privacy made their lives better, and made the life of a keynote speaker at an upcoming LP state convention tolerable.

It's not the hardware, it's the people using the hardware whom you must choose to trust. PGP's manual is explicit on this point, as it describes a Web of Trust.


Quote of the day

From Lexington Green at ChicagoBoyz:
Evil is not a metaphor which can be dispensed with by some rhetorical gimmick. Nor is evil a psychiatric or social condition which can be resolved by the march of progress. Evil is a permanent element in human affairs.

Update: It reminds us of another quote, which we could not find last night when we first posted:
" . . . while times change quickly, people change slowly. Abraham would be astonished at electricity, but not at Ceausescu. Lifestyles in Elizabethan England were very different from ours, but Shakespeare's characters viewed life just as we do."

Jeff Cooper said that in the foreword to The Modern Technique of the Pistol, to establish a similar point: if human civilization could have made evil go away, we would have done it by now. Of course we haven't, and we must still deal with it in our personal lives. Evil must be opposed, and it is opposed most successfully by the intended target or victim of that evil. A society- or state-sponsored third-party interdiction of evil is a distant second best.

The blood of heroes flows in our veins

My ancestors receive overdue recognition by Ralph Peters:
It's a mistake to over-idealize any nation. But if there's a land of heroes anywhere between the English Channel and the coast of California, it's Poland. Our Polish allies have taken a brave, costly, principled stand for freedom and democracy in Iraq. They desperately want to be seen by Washington as reliable friends in this treacherous world.

Found via Instapundit.


Nobody gets to see the wizard!

We have pissed off at least three Comcast customer service reps, two at BestBuy, and even one at Circuit City, by trying to find a self-install CD for a cable modem.

We ran the cable ourselves---we know what we're doing with that spool of quad-shielded RG6 in the garage---and all we needed was the installer wizard CD to turn the service on with the modem I bought. Nobody had them. The wizard isn't downloadable from Comcast's web site either.

It turns out that Comcast does not allow self-installs, in this region at least. Installer appointment is tomorrow.

Then I'll be able to download James Rummel's Christmas present in less than half an hour.

Update: We is up, five-by-five, the tech even respliced my drop and put a new 3-way on the garage for me. No charge (not surprised---they save themselves $125, the cost of a truck roll, with five bucks worth of parts and fifteen minutes of labor). Now I have parts to take back to Home Depot.

The only hitch was getting Earthlink's mail servers to accept outgoing messages from outside their modem pools. The solution was right there on their support site.

I'll have to do some sleuthing with Norton Personal Firewall too, to make sure it doesn't interfere with getting a new IP lease every 4 days.

Oh she's WickedFast.

Next up, the 802.11g router. I wanna blog from bed on the Portable Subrosa Media Access Platform. Anybody ever get Linux to play with an 802.11g PCMCIA card?

Update 2: There is no wizard. It's only an http secure site that the tech logs into, and enters the modem's MAC address and his password, which then lights up the modem.

Note, there's an IP address that Comcast DOCSIS subscribers can hit, to see their upstream and downstream frequencies, modulation formats, SNR, signal levels and so forth, that is read directly from the registers of the DOCSIS cable modem termination system (the hardware at the receiving end from the cable modem).


I'll be home for Christmas, part IV

(This story begins here.)

It is now Saturday, 22 December, in Atlanta. Advon and I wheeled our bags out to the hotel's courtesy shuttle and rode back to the airport. We had confirmed seats ATL - DEN - CYS, changing from Frontier to United at Denver.

I declared unloaded firearms in checked baggage to the Frontier check-in agent, a woman who knew what to look for in a "show clear" and asked to see it. We could feel all the eyes in the terminal turned toward us as I unlocked, unpacked, and racked the rifles, then the pistols, turning the pieces so she could see into the chambers.

* * * *

Time again for security screening, but this time the Swiss Army knife and autoinjectors were stowed in checked bags. I still got stopped. Maybe it's the surgical staples from the splenectomy. Those plus my dental fillings.

Ten minutes later I caught up to Advon. "Metalhead," he said again.

* * * *
Denver by about 1030, some idle time in the cattlepen commuter gates at DIA. Bitter cold weather had moved in, and was bound to be colder still in Cheyenne.

Two Noble Eagle soldiers greeted the plane as it stopped at the gate in Cheyenne.
Our super, our commander, and our MPF contact greeted us.

The 20-minute flight to CYS was a regional commuter that codeshared with both Frontier and United, but the DEN-CYS leg was ticketed United, so of course they had to misplace a bag or two because there was an airline change. It says so in the Secret Airline Manual. During high security periods when 100-percent baggage-to-passenger matching is required, they are allowed to lose only one fewer bag per passenger than usual.

The bags they lost? The rifle cases, plus a few of Advon's. We watched as the belt ground past, until we saw the same pattern of scratches and gummed-fast discarded luggage tags roll past five or six times, then we and the Noble Eagle guys concluded that we should start asking after the four US Government-property firearms.

Oh, they're in Denver, the agent told us after calling around with the tag numbers. We'll get them up here on the next flight.

When is that?

Six PM.

It was about 1300 Mountain on the 22nd of December. Weather here was sunny, clear skies, but below-freezing with winds that chilled below zero. I was watching the weather back East also, where a lake-effect storm was brewing.

Advon's Christmas was an hour down the Interstate. Mine was looking far away in spite of the remarkable distance we had covered in only 3 days. We were cut loose until 2 January, when we had to inprocess; no one was around to inprocess us today, and we had to inprocess to get ourselves back off CENTAF's headcount. Whatever I was going to do, wherever I was going to go, I had to be back here by 2 Jan.

The first problem I had to solve, after receiving the weapons and checking them into our arms room, was to get from here to my house, 200 km away. I had no car here, because Barbaloot came up weeks after I deployed, to retrieve the sedan I had driven up.

Advon did one of the biggest-hearted things that a silent-type will ever do. "Take my car. My family is coming to get me, we'll drive you down to Fort Collins, then you take my car the rest of the way."

But the weapons and the rest of Advon's stuff wasn't going to get here for another four hours at the earliest, and I had to check them back in personally. Our Commander told me to get lost, go, somebody from the airport would call when they show up. "Drive, Fûz, drive. Go home and get to your family."

* * * *
And a good thing, because they didn't call until Sunday morning, 23 December. I had spent the last night, the first night back in my own house, rattling around it, feeding cats, and scrounging for airfares to get from DEN to BUF. Barbaloot had used up all of the frequent traveler miles to get herself and the offspring units to Buffalo days before, so there weren't enough left for me (maybe enough for a drink coupon).

United offered a roundtrip for just over $200, and warned me that securrr'ty had become still more Anal about short-notice tickets for metalheaded passengers with no checked baggage.

The only seats left were first-flight-out on 24 December, through IAD.

Weather was still sunny but cold and windy as I drove up to Cheyenne, signed the weapons and ammo back in, brought Advon's bags back to him, then headed back home. More rattling around in an empty house, a quick call to Barbaloot with my itinerary, then to sleep for another early wakeup.

* * * *
A major snowstorm was gathering moisture from Lake Erie and would begin dumping it on Western New York that day. Could I be stuck in Dulles? Yeah. Wouldn't be so bad, though, since both Barbaloot and I have family in the area---oh yeah, forgot, half of them will be in Buffalo.

After I checked in at Denver, I noticed two rows of OCR-font capital "S"s printed across the boarding pass stub. Now I would learn what that means. The secondary gate screening flagged my boots, my rigger's belt buckle, wedding ring, dog tags, sunglasses, and on and on. My surgical staples were beginning to tingle when another gate agent came up, the same person who had checked me in, in fact. She noticed the short hair, the desert boots, and the grimacing War Face and recognized me as a serviceman, since I had shown my military ID and leave form when I checked in.

"You're military on leave. You're not supposed to be subject to secondary screening."

Fine time to find that out. Am I going to make this flight?

* * * *
Of course I did. The storm over Western New York had worsened by the time I reached Dulles. The flight was delayed, then delayed again. I was reaching for a phone when they announced boarding. We would arrive at Buffalo at about dark, on Monday, 24 December.

As we descended we entered a cloud layer that had no bottom, only some gaps through which we could see patches of the runway and bits of Tonawanda, Cheektowaga, and Lancaster. This was wet, heavy snow churning beneath us.

The landing was slow and rough. The pilot announced during taxiing that we were the last plane in, Buffalo Airport was now closed.

I had checked no baggage, but the only place to meet anyone was at baggage claim anyway. I headed there, and stood around, looking at the families reuniting at the belts.

Then I felt a tug at my right hand. Middlechild, wearing glasses I had only seen in photos until now, had found me and now held my hand, but stared straight ahead with a faint smirk. She never has been big on eye contact. As I was turning to her, I felt another cold hand take my left. It was Barbaloot. She didn't say anything, didn't need to. We just looked at each other for a moment, holding one hand, each making sure it really was the other.

* * * *

I felt guilty, knowing that I came home from a huge military undertaking while tens of thousands of others were going to stay for months longer than I, and of them many would not come home alive. Pure dumb luck precipitated our release, and purer dumber luck, some of it made by ourselves, got us home in time to take advantage of it.

Eventually Advon and I deployed again, and made up for this release as well as our 365-day orders would allow. This makes me feel only slightly less self-conscious.

I felt guilty that I could join my extended and generous and loving family for Christmas, and they could not. In telling this story, that guilt has been revived somewhat, because another huge campaign has called servicemen away for another Christmas, while I write about my own experiences from the comfort of my home, on a computer where I can email or browse for hours at a stretch.

There is no question, between Advon and me, that our services will be needed again. And maybe this time, we'll stay in theater so somebody else can try to rotate back to the World in time for a busy holiday, and write about it.

* * * *

To the men and women who are still in the AOR, I wish a sincere Merry Christmas.


I'll be home for Christmas, part III

(This story begins here.)

Eleven hours later, the C-141 landed at Ramstein AB in Germany. It was 20 December 2001, about 1500 hours local. After the usual hurry-up-and-wait, a van dropped us and our luggage at the passenger terminal.

It was a ghost-town. No flights from here except back to the AOR. The civilian employees were preparing to close the place down. Our solution was to get to Rhein-Main, and try to get seats on the last Freedom flight going to the States from there. We signed ourselves on a list for seats on a bus that would take us to Rhein-Main tomorrow morning, boarding about 0500.

We couldn't sleep in the pax terminal. "Let's call Lodging," said Advon. "Luke is with us, see if they have three."

Base temporary lodging was right across the street from the terminal. I walked over, sought a front desk of some kind, and was told I had to call a phone number. No phones here either, so I had to walk back to the pax terminal.

A woman answered. I told her our situation. She asked if we were aircrew. Noooo, not aircrew. Any of us aircrew? I asked, does a pararescueman count? He didn't. The lodging across from the pax terminal was for aircrew. Since we weren't aircrew, we had to use the lodging at the northern end of the base. Come to the front desk there and we'll get you rooms. Just catch the base bus.

The pax terminal was closing, so we had to move all our bags outside to the curb. It was about 1700 now, the sun was down, and it was getting cold. Our bags totaled 17, and I volunteered to stand by with the bags while Advon and Luke went to get us rooms. They trotted over to the bus that was idling a few meters away. Better be quick, I thought. Somebody might drive up and give me grief for wearing my brown "bear suit" parka liner as an outer garment.

My fingers were beginning to numb when I observed that the bus was still idling there. It had not moved. About that time, Advon and Luke dismounted it and were coming back to me and the mound of bags. "That's the last bus tonight and its route ends before getting to Lodging."

"OK, then what?"

Luke was cheerful. "I've got rental car authorization on my orders, I'll rent a car and get us up there."

"Not this load of groceries, though."

"No, we'll figure something out. Let's go, Advon."

They disappeared.

* * * *

The rentacops at the pax terminal, both German women, were hanging around the terminal still, maybe because I was too. There was enough snow on the ground that they started throwing snowballs at each other, laughing, giggling. These girls were old enough to be my, uh, older sisters, but in better shape and flirtier, and with more piercings. One spoke enough English to chat me up. We talked about her GI boyfriend and where he was, when he'd be back, and what it's like to travel at Christmas.

The other rentacop left, and the English-speaker had to return to her duties, whatever those were at a closed terminal.

The wind kicked up a little.

* * * *

My fingers were fully numb, and my toes were winking out, when a stakebed truck pulled up at the outer curb. An airman jumped out and asked if I was Sergeant Pund-, Pun-, . . . Sergeant Fuz? (Note, my real name is a lot like that of the revered Sgt Stryker---easy to pronounce if you know Polish.)

"That's me."

"I'm from Trans, a Sergeant Advon sent me to pick you and the baggage up."

"Great. Swing your truck over here." I started moving the traffic cones that blocked the pullup of the pax terminal from the main road, then motioned the truck into the pullup.

We had thrown the last of the bags on the bed when the rentacopette came up. "Zet vas a beeg no-no, moofing ze cones. Secuuur'ty, you know." She gestured at me by rapping her own forehead with her knuckles as if to say I had done something stupid.

"Sorry, we'll back this out of here right now and I'll even put the cones back." Which I did.

First stop, cop shop to sign the weapons into their vault. The husky black E5 woman inside the little keyhole purred over our M16's, Vietnam era: triangular handguards, pronged flash suppressors, five-digit serial numbers. "Those are collector's pieces, Sergeant."

"Glad you noticed. Merry Christmas, I'll be back at 0430 to get them."

"We'll be here."

Then off to Lodging, which was a ten-minute drive to the other end of base. Advon and Luke were waiting outside, Advon smoking, as we pulled up. "We called Trans an hour ago to get a driver to you. I had to ask for their supervisor and get him on it," Advon explained. "We thought you'd be here 45 minutes ago."

"Sorry to let you down, Advon."

"But we have a rental car, we can get ourselves to the pax terminal on our own tomorrow." Luke added. It was some Renault box, lots of room for a European car but it would have to make two trips to move 3 men and 15 bags.

We shlepped the bags off the stakebed, into the building and up the stairs. The tingling in my fingers was returning just as I dragged the last mobag into my room. In thirty minutes, we would meet and get dinner.

I showered just to elevate temperature in my extremities, then dug out a phone card from my wallet and called Barbaloot's folks' house. It would be Thursday morning, 20 Dec, in Buffalo. "Hello?" came her voice, with transatlantic echoes. "Hey, this is Fûz. I'm in Germany."

(kissy-kissy stuff deleted) I explained that I had to get to Cheyenne first, then high-tail it for Buffalo; my next call would be from our own house in Colorado.

* * * *

The little Renault box got us to the officer's club. We ate in an Italian restaurant in the basement. Drowsy after good food, fresh bread, and a couple pils, we went back to lodging. Back in the room, as I grazed the TV channels, I learned that even Germany has a Jerry Springer-style audience participation show, with lurid Teutonic subtitles flashing on-screen every time the camera panned the guests onstage.

* * * *

Up at 0300. After looking at the bags, looking down the steps, looking at where the Renault was parked, and feeling the memory of frozen throbs in my hands, I paused for a minute and looked once more out my window on the third floor. Carrying the bags down is going to hurt. The car is right there. No screen in the window either.

I opened the window and shoved the bags out one by one, to thud on the frozen ground below. None of them burst. I walked down, gathered them at the hatchback of the car, then went inside to check out.

Four bucks a night. Advon found the complimentary coffee and poured us cups of it. His bags were at the lobby entrance. Since mine were already at the car, Luke figured my bags and I go to the pax terminal first, with half of his.

We stopped at the cop shop on the way down, and I recovered the weapons just as guard mount was beginning.

A little while later, all three of us, all seventeen bags, and an idling bus were waiting at the pax terminal. Luke had turned in his car. The German bus driver helped us load our gear in the luggage compartment. The unmistakable rifle cases were the last to go aboard as an American civilian, a middle-aged slender businesslike black woman, arrived to check us aboard. We found our names on the same roster we signed the day before, and she checked IDs. "You need orders or anything?" I asked.

"No sir, just IDs." We boarded.

Then she did too, walking up and down the aisle as if to check for stowaways. We three were the only souls on the bus, and we had spread ourselves apart on the bus like men usually do after spending months downrange. Then she began what sounded like a safety briefing. We were starting to fall asleep again. Then she asked about weapons. Were there any?

I answered in the affirmative.

"You're Air Force, right?"


"This is an Army vehicle. You're not supposed to have weapons aboard."

"They're issue weapons. We came from downrange. We don't have any choice."

"Only Army weapons supposed to be aboard."

"They're the same kind the Army uses." Well, same kind they used to use. "What's the problem?"

She flipped through the papers on her clipboard. I was supposed to be complying, dammit.

I broke eye contact with her, stretched out in my seat, and relaxed. She stood there, just two or three rows ahead of me and about even with Advon.

I did not blink.

After a few more seconds of nonversation underscored by the bus's idling diesel engine, she turned, hissing something under her breath, and stalked off the bus. The driver looked up into his mirror at us, shrugged, then hit the turn signal and pulled the bus out of the pullup, into the street, and away.

Advon turned in his seat to look at me, as if to say, next time, dumbass, keep your mouth shut.

It was 21 December, the last Friday before Christmas. The bus ride took us across countryside that was emptier than I'd imagined, as day began to break. After about an hour drive, we showed IDs again to get into Rhein-Main.

The bus took us to a parking lot with a long row of luggage carts. Luke knew his way around. "The pax terminal is over there, we'll have to load our stuff up on carts and push it over." About 400 meters away.

My cart tipped over once, spilling everything, and Advon passed me with his as I was reloading mine. We both had some of Luke's bags too. Scores of other GIs were entering, with whole families, kids, strollers, luggage meant to be towed on casters, pets in carriers, all heading for the last flight to the States before Christmas.

We reached the pax terminal, where luggage scanners were set up right inside the door. As soon as we entered, we had to drop our bags on the belt. A rentacop, a big black guy, approached us as the first of Luke's bags rolled through. "You guys traveling together?"


"Who's got the weapons?"

Casting a glance at Advon, I saw no way around this one, it being an airport and all, and was getting ready to speak when Luke said, "I've got knives and stuff spread out in every bag."

The rentacop saw the two rifle cases and pointed at them. I said they were mine. Advon said he had ammo in one of his bags.

The rentacop then said, "You all come with me." We looked at each other, as he led us to a large cart, the kind of flatbed you use to lug a few bags of Quikcrete to the cashier at Home Depot. "Put it all here. We can't have weapons on the floor." Not 'you' but 'we.'

As soon as it was all scanned, all of our pocketknives were stuffed into them, and every lethal device had been either handled or seen on Xray, we loaded it on the huge cart and he pushed it forward through the crowd, which was already queued back almost to the screening belt. "Come on," he said, then he asked the crowd to part and let us through.

He took us to the very head of the queue and got the attention of the agent at the counter. "You need to check these people in first. Get the weapons off the floor." Families in the queue scowled at us, children wailed. Dogs in portable kennels barked. Tinny Christmas music descended from speakers in the ceiling.

The agent asked me to open the cases, and to see the 1297 for the weapons. I showed clear on all four pieces, then locked them back up. "You guys must be coming from downrange," he said as he pecked at the keyes on a computer.


"Good to have you back. Tough day to try to travel, though."

As a matter of fact, Advon and I had considered just how long it might take for our home unit, or CENTAF, to notice if we didn't return with all haste to the States. A few days relaxing in Germany? The prospect had lessened our, uh, sense of urgency. Cover stories abounded: "Well Colonel, we couldn't get airlift from Ramstein," or "Colonel, we got bumped from our airlift at Rhein-Main," or "Sir, the Army bus at Ramstein wouldn't let our weapons aboard, so we missed our airlift." Nobody knew whether we were in Germany at all, let alone whether we had permission to be, or an expectation to be elsewhere. We were going home on our honor as Air Force noncommissioned officers.

We contemplated a brief vacation in Germany, alright. But the prospect of getting home in time to join our families for Christmas prevailed.

We got seat assignments on this very full flight to Atlanta, then proceeded upstairs, got breakfast at the cafeteria, and tried to stretch our legs before boarding. About this time the urge to diverge returned, and we split up, either to the USO club, the phones, or the shopette.

* * * *

Aisle seat, with Advon at my elbow and Luke at the window. Families with kids with earaches surrounded us. The airline operating this contract flight had a generic name that suggested it was a CIA front. Their promotional film at the beginning of the flight, recounting the airline's long and proud history, only reinforced the suspicion.

Luke slept. Advon watched the movies, first Spy Kids, then believe it or not, a movie about how Madonna's character volunteered to bear a child for a homosexual couple. Not the movie I'd expect to see on a military charter flight.

At Atlanta, we would have an even stiffer objective: get to Cheyenne, or at least Denver, on the evening of the last Friday before Christmas, after an earth-shaking event had made airlines Extremely Anal about security and the treatment of short-notice passengers.

* * * *

We landed at Hartsfield about 1500 local and shuffled into the Customs and Immigration area. I had nothing to declare. The Customs cops saw the rifle cases and looked at me. "I bet that's photographic equipment, right?" one joked. "You want to see the hand receipt?" I asked. He shook his head and stamped my form. Luke disappeared.

We rescreened at security before entering the domestic terminal. The rifle cases went on the belt without fanfare, but my carry-on bag kept flagging the security screener. It went back through Xray at least three times. He opened every compartment and felt through it, but found nothing, so he instead patted me down and went through my wallet and boots. Still he drew a blank, so he let me go. Advon had gotten in line well behind me but he was waiting for me on the secure side. "I'm gonna call you Metalhead," he said.

We rode the tram to landside of Hartsfield, claimed our luggage and got a skycap to cart it around for us. We asked every airline for flights. Frontier had seats on the first flight the following morning, at $700 each, changing airlines to United at Denver; nothing else to be had. We reserved them rather than try standby, then started looking for beddown.

Advon suggested the USO, thinking we'd just sleep in chairs there. The skycap knew where it was and led us to the elevator to get there.

As we signed in, we saw their sign saying they were closing in only about 45 minutes. Plan B: I left Advon with another skycap while I found a phone and started looking for rooms. Since I had their phone number memorized, Courtyard by Marriott won the business. The skycap led us to their courtesy shuttle.

I went through more dollar bills in two hours than I would on a night at a t1tty bar, tipping two skycaps and the shuttle driver for handling all of the bags. Advon would cover the tips tomorrow morning.

The hotel luggage cart took up most of the room, loaded with all my bags. I looked at it while I sat on the edge of the bed, and chose to leave it on the cart until tomorrow. Let's wash up, shall we? As I pulled the shaving kit out of my carry-on bag, I felt something in the pocket that covered it.

The pocket held a Swiss Army knife and six spring-loaded autoinjectors---the kind that people with beesting allergies carry around, but packed with nerve agent antidotes---which the security screener at Hartsfield suspected were there but just couldn't find. I moved them to another bag, got out fresh clothes, and turned on the shower.

* * * *

It was 2100 hours on (still) 21 December, and we were hungry. The courtesy shuttle had stopped running, but the girl at the front desk was helpful. A Bennigans or TGI Friday's or similar was only a quarter-mile away on the same road, we could walk there easily and they would still be open.

About halfway through our meal of six-dollar hamburgers, fries and MGD's, I noticed that I was eating with my free arm resting on the table, reaching out around my plate like a fence. I looked at Advon and he was doing it too. Our eyes met, and we both straightened up in our seats and drew our arms back.


I'll be home for Christmas, part II

Our C-130 landed at Seeb North, Oman, in the middle of the night.

A bus with the rear half of its rows of seats removed to take baggage carried us from the flight line to the SF shop, where we checked our weapons into the host-nation safe.

The bus then brought us to the pax terminal, where Rick and Vic were waiting for us. Vic refused to speak to me, for reasons that will have to wait for another story and another day. They took us to midnight chow, where we ate the first real eggs we had known in about two months. The TCNs, though clearly Muslim, even cooked and served bacon to us.

"All the transient racks are taken, so you'll have to catnap in the pax terminal," Rick said. "You think you'll make it home for Christmas?"

Advon felt it a sure thing, but for him, home was a straight shot down I-25 from Cheyenne. For me, home and Christmas would be a harried backtrack from Cheyenne to Denver to Buffalo. Nor could I stop in Buffalo on the way home: until we inprocessed back at our home unit, we were "on the books" of CENTAF and traveling on their nickel. Our orders were report to, proceed to, return to. Variations authorized, but only on the "proceed to" segment.

We asked what would be the best way to get anywhere. "Germany. From here, everything that might have empty seats will go through Germany. Once you're there, you should be able to find something to the East Coast and then you're on the government travel card."

Vic continued to say nothing, to me at least. An occasional glare though.

We took the bus back from the chow hall in tent city, to the pax terminal near the flight line, where Rick wished us luck and Vic remained silent. "We'll be here until we find the pallet," Rick said, "but we'll be checking on you. Hope to work with you again, but under better circumstances."

"Same for us, Rick. We'll stay in touch." We shook and parted. They rode the bus back, leaving us at the pax terminal.

It was another general purpose shelter, with rows of folding chairs, a giant-screen TV in one corner and a counter at the other. The rows of chairs were packed with DCU-clad GIs, their bags, and more bags. The TV was playing one DVD after another, with the volume cranked up full. One such GI was right inside the door and right beside the TV, sleeping peacefully atop a pile of kit bags.

Behind the counter there were whiteboards, just like those back in Undisclosed Forward Location but more of them. They listed flights that crisscrossed the theater, all by their three-letter base acronyms, like MCT for Muscat (where we were) or TTH for Thumrait, IUD for Al Udeid (GI humor there) or others whose identities should not be gleaned.

We figured out soon that we were looking for RMS or FRF: Ramstein or Rhein-Main in Frankfurt. Enough of them were listed, but just in a few minutes of watching the man behind the counter, we saw them being put up, and stricken down.

"We need to get to the United States," we told the man.

"Lemmeseeyourmilitaryeyedee," he replied to us. No request for orders, or authority to leave the theater, none of that. Just proof of being a GI. He flipped them into an index box holding about twenty others.

"So now what do we do?" we asked.

"Watch this board. You'll go to Germany, on your own from there. Nothing going on for a couple of hours, no place to rack out in tent city, so have a seat." We pulled civilian clothes out of our bags, got the combination to a locked latrine nearby, and showered and changed.

This is how I watched Enemy at the Gates: alternating between watching the movie itself, forty feet away on a bigscreen TV, and stepping up to the boards to watch for flights to get us out of here. Scores of other GIs arrived, took seats, waited, napped, then stood up and trooped out to their planes, while we waited.

This is also how I watched a very dull Sylvester Stallone movie about formula racing.

At the time the next DVD was starting, a medevac flight to Ramstein was forming up. It had cancelled once already that morning, but was back on. A C-141 with space to spare. We interfered with the counter guy's view of the TV until he assured us we were on it. "Three of you on it. You, and you," he said, then pointed to the guy racked out on his stack of mobags, "and him."

Showtime would be another hour or so, and go-time well after daylight. We went outside, and shook the cramps from our legs. I cadged a John Player Special from Advon---the only cigarette I'd had since March of '92---and smoked with him.

"Nobody cares that we're leaving the theater," Advon said.

"Nope. They have enough to worry about getting people in."

"It's gonna be cold there. It'll be cold on the plane too."

So we stubbed the cigarettes and went back inside to pull out our coats.

* * * *

The only cold-weather gear I had, other than a desert field jacket, was the brown pile liner from my GoreTex parka. Advon had a civilian leather jacket.

In the smoking area, we chatted with a Chief who was moving from one base to another, discussing the hardships to be suffered at various bases, and who was running the Readiness shops at them. Once again, an airman with a disco belt and an LMR found us and told us to get our stuff ready. We got our IDs back, piled our bags up out front, and identified ourselves to the bus driver.

As we loaded our stuff into the rear of the bus, I said we needed to get our weapons. This came as a surprise to this airman. "Weapons?"

"Yeah. Guns, you know?" as I mimed a finger pulling a trigger. "We came from downrange?"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"We told the guy at the counter."

"Oh. We have to hurry." He and I ran over to the host-nation vault, instead of driving the bus there, to sign our weapons back out. And the ammo can.

"Ammo? You have ammo too?"

"Well, the guns don't work too well without it." Remember: Air Force. Air Force members who have even passing familiarity with firearms and how they function are a minority.

We ran back to the bus, slid the cases and the ammo can aboard, and rode out to the flight line, where a 141 was receiving litter patients through the ramp. The airman dismounted the bus, and ran to the crew hatch to hand the manifest to the flight crew.

Then he ran back. "They don't want any ammo aboard."


"That's what I was trying to tell you. There's oxygen on board." For the patients. "They don't want the ammo." As if ammunition explodes in the presence of bottled oxygen?

Hmmm. We're talking about ten bucks worth of five-five-six and nine. We could sign the ammo over to the SF here on a 1297 and leave it behind. That would be Advon's call, he's the ammo custodian. But the process would take enough time that they could kick us off the flight. This would be unacceptable.

Just then, the airman's LMR squawked. He stepped back off the bus, talked to someone through it for a minute, then came back. "You can go, the ammo can go. We have to wait for the patients to get loaded."

It was full daylight now. The smell of developed city was mixing with those of nearby surf and jet exhaust.

It was then that we discovered that the third guy had no fewer than 9 bags of gear. He was a pararescueman from Moody and had to travel with the whole kit: SCUBA, parachute, field gear, night vision, chem gear, and then some. He was well over his allotted 70 pounds per bag too. If he had ammo in his gear, he wasn't saying. Note to self . . .

We loaded it all, let the loadmasters ratchet it to the floor of the ramp, and found seats on what was going to be a long, freezing flight to Ramstein.


A brief message to my anarcho-libertarian friends

This wouldn't work as a bumpersticker:
If governments are outlawed, only outlaws will have governments.

I'll be home for Christmas, part I

On this day, two years ago, I was in Undisclosed Forward Location in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. My partner Advon and I had been there for weeks, after standing by at Prince Sultan for weeks before that (Advon had been here several weeks longer than I, hence the nickname "Advon", that's a story for another day). Our orders had just been amended to one year at PSAB, and we were resigned to spending Christmas here in Unnamed Deployment Location---even the entire bloody year.

We were settling in for a long haul.

Christmas trees were being improvised with mosquito netting, and adorned with the red tabasco sauce bottles from MREs.

Somehow a few strings of Christmas tree lights had appeared and were strung around the porches in tent city.

Rather than bum myself out about it, I was content to keep myself busy. A WeatherPak shipped in from a stateside base had been stored improperly, with batteries left in the battery compartment until they corroded the snot out of the unit, so I was improvising a way to power the device with 12 volts from a supply for an M8A1.

It was 0900, and I was spreading Goodwill and Cheer with the Comm Squadron, explaining my project for the nth time, this time to a skeptical Captain codenamed Mama Leia, building the case to ask if they had any benchstock of connectors I could tap into for this project. Advon stepped into the tent with a letter in his hand. He waited until a lull in my attempted conversation with Mama Leia, then broke in.

"I've been looking for you all over base," he said. "Need to sign this."

"What is it?"

"Our release."


"They're cutting us loose. Too many of us in theater to support the next rotation. Sign this, we outprocess and airlift out of here."

Rumors to this effect had been floating for a few days, but the consensus held that another team from our shop would be the first to leave. "What about Mike and Edgar?"

"CENTAF says release one complete UTC only. Mike can't go without Vic and Vic's 2nd in charge. Edgar wants to stay. We're next in line."

"How much time do we have?"

"We can't get airlift until after 1800."

"So you'll pardon me if I don't drop everything to hurry."

"I'll walk it to PERSCO. See you in the shop."

The letter was very plain, lots of doublespace and wide margins, clearly improvised on site. It said as pithily as possible that THE PERSONNEL IDENTIFIED ARE HEREBY RELEASED FROM THIS STATION as of EFFECTIVE DATE, under the authority of RESPONSIBLE OFFICER. No fanfare, no foofaraw.

And no instructions. "So where we supposed to report?"

"Back to home station." That was the default from our mob orders. Report to, proceed to, return to. This was definitely a return to.

I looked at the date once again on my watch. "No way we'll inprocess at home station in time to cut loose for Christmas."

"We'll take the chance."

* * * *

The WeatherPak was going to stay Not Mission Capable. We had to pack.

Advon and I deployed with three kit bags each---personal gear, A and B bags jammed together, C bag. On top of that, we were issued even more gear at PSAB. I was courier for our weapons (two more cases for me), and Advon was courier for the ammunition (a heavy GI ammo can added to his load). I took my time, stripping cartridges back out of the magazines and sliding them back on the stripper clips, folding socks, washing the dirty laundry before packing it. I had two jugs of laundry detergent and a huge tub of Gatorade powder, which I chose to leave for whoever would claim it.

Other members of the shop came by the tent, looking in just to watch me pack, saying nothing, or more heart-rending, "Don't forget about us, y'hear?"

"How could I forget you?"

"Gonna make it home for Christmas?"

"Doubt it. But we'll try."

* * * *
I waited in line for a morale computer about 45 minutes, between some 101st Airborne and 10th Mountain guys, carrying their SAWs and M4s with them 24/7, who get to email their folks maybe once a week if they're lucky.

I had to contact Barbaloot, who was only a few hours away from boarding a plane from DIA to BUF with Mother-in-law and 3 kids, and she was putting some stuff in the mail to me. I figured my super in Wyoming had already called her about our release. I'd confirm it and make sure she still took the flight instead of waiting for more details. I'd send an email copy to her mobile phone to make sure she got it.

Subject: stop shipments!!
From: Fûz {fusilierpundit@earthlink.net}
Date: Wed, 19 Dec 2001 18:18:33 +xxxx
To: barbaloot
CC: 303nnnnnnn@mobile.att.net

am moving in theater again
please stop any pkgs until further notice
stuff enroute will be fwded but SEND NO MORE
love you
fly safely
Hi Grandma

* * * *

Our superintendent and NCOIC were both at a supply point farther back, looking for a few pallets of our gear that hadn't turned up. That was the first leg of our route back, so we'd see them there. They'd know more.

Fast Eddy and John borrowed our Mobile Command Post (a beat-up tan Hummer) to drive us and our bags up to the pax terminal.

"Lucky bastards," Eddy said as he dropped the last bag at the hangar door. "Merry Christmas." He shook our hands and backed the Hummer away far enough that he could light a cigarette. Its smell mixed with the smoke from incinerating garbage to give the air a third-world taste. John stayed with us, quiet, as the sky began to turn dark, offering to watch our bags for us.

Nobody was going to disturb our bags.

I took our release letters to traffic control. The airmen working there were oblivious, having more concern for the materials arriving or transiting, than for anything man or machine that was leaving. I told them I have release letters for two passengers to get to MCT. They looked at the letters without even touching them, made a note on a Post-it and stuck it to a board. "OK."

"You want copies of this, or orders, or something?"


"Alright, so can you give us a show time or flight number?"

"Stay around the hangar. We'll come get you." They then turned back to each other as if I weren't there.

John was still standing with Advon when I got back. "You want me to get you some chow?"

"Thanks, John, I just ate." Barbecued spare ribs at UGR Friday's. There was too much sloshing around in my mind, surely in Advon's too, for there to be any kind of conversation. We turned to look at the flight line, as the stream of airlift began to surge, the way it did every night. One of those planes was going to get us out of here. John stayed a few more minutes as night finished falling, then shook hands and left.

It was finally about 2230 when a string of three C-130s had lined up on the ramp. I had visited ATOC four or five times, checking on our flight, and they were tired of seeing me, when an airman with a green reflective belt and an LMR grabbed my sleeve, turned me around and looked at my name tape. "Where's your buddy?" I pointed out a hangar door, to the smoking area. "It's time."

The flight line was blacked out. By the light of blue-filtered flashlights and a few Cyalumes, we loaded our bags on a pallet resting on the tines of a forklift, then followed the forklift out through the dark to the taxiway. Then we stopped, and watched one, then another, C-130 spin up and take off.

"This one," the airman shouted over the prop noise, and the last Hercules taxied up with its ramp open and its cabin lights red. The cargo was loaded first, one damaged Herc propeller on a pallet, then our bags, then us. The loadmaster gave us earplugs.

I popped out my contacts without a mirror in the dim red light, then settled in for n hours in the air on the way to Seeb North Air Base.

The story continues here.


Underground voice over the air

Firstborn and I were assigned the gruesome task last weekend of making a papier-mâché manger to decorate our house for Christmas. This project demands newspaper, though not much of it. As I was tearing strips of it from the local freebie shopper (DenPost is going to expire in this here shanty soon), I spied an ad for Colorado's Underground Voice. The ad spelled out the musicians on their playlist. Buck Owens, Hank Williams . . . Lyle Lovett . . . others I hadn't heard of.

I cannot tolerate what passes for Country and/or Western music today. But my father played its vinyl precursors in my infancy and childhood, and the most compelling way I can remember him now (he passed away in 1996) is through that music. It revives the smell of diesel, coal dust, and tobacco smoke that always followed him.

This music is now "underground." I tried it and if this is underground I'm reaching for the shovel. Bluegrass all Sunday, including---get this---a bluegrass cover of Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing. The Fat Guy might wonder, "what took you so long?" and all I can say is that I didn't know it would have this effect on me. I would have gotten here much sooner.

Needless to say I'm hooked, and it has kicked KOA out of the presets in the sedan. Check out the button above the blogroll.


Chronology and Opinion: The Cabinet Man's Maryland CCW Denial

OK, it’s The Cabinet Man (formerly 'Emergent Behavior'...). Fuze has asked me to post on his blog concerning my trials and tribulations of (not) getting a CCW in the State of Maryland. Here it is. It’s long. It’s direct. It’s painful. Get some caffeine and dive in.

So, where to start? Let’s try about 1995. It was about this time when I first tested the CCW waters in Maryland (MD). I dutifully went to the Maryland State Police (MSP) barracks and picked up an application. Whoa!! Fingerprint cards! References! Proof of assaults! Befuddled, I called the NRA for help contacting a gun-friendly attorney in MD. I got a name/number and called [name withheld]. My conversation with him was disappointing since I had never been robbed, mugged, or raped. I gave up.

The year 2000 found me back in MD after a two-year respite back home in Colorado. I decided again to get the permit. I completed two courses at Gunsite: 250 Pistol and Arizona CCW. I applied for and received (non-resident) permits from AZ and FL. I rounded-up some sympathetic character references and submitted the hefty – and incredibly intrusive – MD CCW application. That was 14 July 2003. The cover letter for that application follows. (NB: I hadn’t received my FL CCW yet.)

I am enclosing my application for a concealed handgun permit for the State of Maryland. I have included all of the required items as listed in the “Maryland State Police Handgun Permit Qualifications” page of the Maryland State Police Internet web site.

I am a strong believer in the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States that protects an individual’s right to bear arms. As a human being, I have the right to defend myself against illegal deadly force once all non-violent means of avoiding the confrontation have been exhausted. As a law-abiding citizen of the State of Maryland, of sound mind and solid character, I am well within my rights to request of the State a concealed handgun permit. I am a knowledgeable, safe, and responsible gun owner. I have spent countless hours at the firing range becoming proficient with the use of my handguns.

To further refine those skills, I recently attended the intensive five-day “250 Defensive Pistol” course offered by The Gunsite Academy in Paulden, AZ. (Please refer to the attached photocopy of my graduation certificate and course syllabus.) This is a nationally recognized training program routinely attended by police officers and members of the U.S. Armed Forces in addition to civilians like me who desire training in defensive handgun use prior to seeking concealed handgun permits. On my own volition, I have studied numerous cases of self-defense in the State of Maryland so I would be cognizant of the legal limits and ramifications of the employment of deadly force. I am well versed in the concepts of “avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation” and I am fully aware that the use of firearms is a defensive measure of last resort.

As part of this application, I have included a photocopy of my recently issued Concealed Weapons Permit (CWP) from the State of Arizona. (Arizona issues CWPs to non-residents.) A minimum of 16 hours of instruction from a state-approved training facility is required to qualify for an Arizona CWP. I received this training at The Gunsite Academy as well. (Again, I have included a photocopy of my graduation certificate and course syllabus.) This non-resident permit is honored in nine other states including Virginia. It is my hope that the State of Maryland would extend to me the same courtesy as these states – of which I am not even a resident – and issue a concealed handgun permit to this Maryland resident.

In the first week of August 2003, I received a call from the local MSP barracks. They wanted an interview with me, which I scheduled for and attended on 11 August 2003, the results of which are included below. This is an e-mail I sent to my Support Staff (all of my character references and other people involved/interested in the process.)

Fellow Character References -- and Devil's Advocates, too:

OK, just an update on my Maryland CCW efforts.

Last week I got a call from the Maryland State Police (MSP) barracks in [town name withheld]. They wanted me to come in for an interview with Sergeant X [name withheld]. This was a bit unexpected since there was no mention of this anywhere in the application. Not knowing exactly what was to be discussed, I prepared a set of "interview style" questions for myself and answered them as I saw fit. I then sent out copies to a few of my best devil's advocates asking for review, revision, and addition. After scrutinizing/discussing the questions, I felt I was ready for anything.

It was totally unnecessary. Sorry guys. (However, the advocate that tossed-in the ex-wife question gets ten bonus points!! You know who you are...)

The interview was merely a fill-in-the-blanks type of thing. No questions about "Why..." or "What if..." Just stuff like "How long did you live in Colorado?" and "Are you still employed at [company name withheld]?" Sgt X was acting as the "coarse filter" before the application got bubbled up the state-level rubber-stampers. He asked about Gunsite and my AZ CCW. He asked about my drug and alcohol use. He asked about ex-wives. He asked about past assaults and current threats. It was actually kinda' boring.

Then he said, "Let me shut the door so I can vent." That gave me a scare but it turned out pretty cool. Seems the guy's one of us. NRA member. Believes that the 2nd Amendment is an individual right, not a collective one. Thinks that Kimber makes a damned fine 1911. (I have to agree!!...) But here's the clincher -- and I quote: "Maryland has the fifth highest violent crime rate in the US. If we could get some more concealed carry permits out there, maybe we could make a dent in that." BOO-YAH!! Run for something Sgt X, I'll vote for ya'!! He said that of all the people he's interviewed over the years, I have better quals and training than 99.9% of the applicants. If it was up to him, I would walk out of his office permit in hand. Works for me!!...

Unfortunately, that was the end of the good news. He said that without proof of previous threats and assaults, it's unlikely I'll get past the review board in Jessup. (Same thing I heard from the NRA-referred attorney a few years back.) He said he'll hold the permit until Friday in case I "think of something" -- and to call if I did. I replied that unless I get robbed, mugged, raped, or shot between now and then, there'd be nothing else. (I don't know if that was bait but I'm not biting if it was...) He said that he'd embellish his report as much as he could. He also said he'd contact [ex-wife] for info on past domestic violence. I called [ex-wife] and gave her the heads up. She was cool about it.

So it looks like I'm back to "low- to mid- probability". One thing that was unsettling about the whole thing -- and obviously unsettling to Sgt X -- was that rate at which permits ARE issued. If you're a cash business operator, a security guard, or a body guard, issuance is almost guaranteed. There are no training requirements. (Apparently the applicants have to qual at the MSP range and 70% of the rounds have to hit paper -- not just center of mass!! -- at close range. No duress, no holster draw, no time limit. Unlimited re-tries...) What's worse, he said, is that he's almost forced to approve foreign nationals hired as guards for embassy officials and other foreign "dignitaries". He said last week he had to approve a permit for someone from Cameroon. He couldn't even do a background check. He said, and I quote again: "That guy could be a mass murdered for all I know and I have no way to prove otherwise."

Sgt X was VERY cool and I don't think he was trying to blow sunshine up my skirt. He was a straight shooter (no pun intended) and I appreciated that. But I don't know how that leaves you guys in the picture at this point. You'll probably want stand ready in case the state does decide to contact you, The Appointed Few. (And you know who you are...)

So, until something else happens,


In late September 2003, I received my FL CCW. It was too late at this point to add that to the application so I figured I’d hold onto that tidbit of info until the inevitable appeals process, which started when I received my Maryland rejection letter on 9 October 2003, almost three months after submitting the application. I notified the Support Staff accordingly:


Yup, I got my rejection letter from the MSP today. I'm not surprised but I am disappointed. The letter claims that I do "not have a good and substantial reason to wear, carry or transport a handgun". I know what they've done, too. The application states that I'm required to submit copies of documented threats and/or assaults. Well, thankfully, I don't have any of those. Seems the State is more interested in putting the cart before the horse!!...

I have the option to request an appeal to the Handgun Permit Review Board within ten days. In the interest of "due diligence" -- or at least exhausting all reasonable options -- I'll probably appeal. Hell, I've come this far I might as well go as far as I can without ending up in court -- which is the only recourse I'll have left if I'm turned down by the Handgun Permit Rejection Review Board...

So, I guess you character reference folks are off the hook. It appears that the only person they attempted to contact was [ex-wife]. (It makes one wonder what effort they really expended before rubber stamping "DISAPPROVED" on my application!!) I thank you all for your efforts and your patience. I guess I'll take it from here.

Cross your fingers and wish me luck!!

I sent in my request for appeal/review, which resulted in a face-to-face meeting in Jessup on 5 November 2003. Two days later I received another rejection letter. I sent the Support Staff the following e-mail:

OK Guys,

More info -- and little of it is good...

As you all know, my CCW application was rejected due to "insufficient reason". In other words, I haven't been threatened, mugged, robbed, raped, etc... In Maryland's twisted "cart before the horse" laws concerning CCW, the state -- not me -- is the one to determine "apprehended danger". In other, other words, if the state thinks I'm safe, then I don't get a permit. No matter that I could be assaulted ten minutes after leaving the state police barracks. After that, I could probably get a permit. Maybe...

Well, as is my right, I appealed my application denial to the state handgun permit section of the Maryland State Police (MSP). I was called in for a meeting in Jessup on Wednesday (5 Nov). The meeting went OK, I guess. The person with whom I was supposed to speak (the individual that reviewed my appeal) was not there that day so a stand-in took his place. This kinda' ticked me off but I was in no position to argue. Well, the meeting turned out to be nothing more than them telling me why my application was denied. A simple, 45-minute expounding upon "insufficient reason". Whatever. The trooper was nice and she was sympathetic to my plight, as was the previous MSP sergeant that first interviewed me.

Unfortunately, I got the same response as before: "If we were a 'shall-issue' state or even just had laxer rules, you'd be at the top of our list of people to get a permit. You're well trained, you're taking this seriously, and, by all appearances, you're the kind of responsible person we wish we had more of." (Yeah, OK, so give me my permit!!...) I thanked her and headed back to work.

Next step: appeal to the Maryland Handgun Permit Review Board (HPRB). I'm sending in my request for appeal tomorrow. I should have a meeting date within two weeks. The review board is, as has been described to me, an informal court hearing. The 5-member board acts as judge and jury and all the MSP people I've talked with so far are brought in to discuss my case. A court recorder is there to keep records in case I appeal to the 'real' courts. This will be the first time I actually get to state my case. I've typed a rough draft of what I'm going to say and I'm trying to keep it under seven minutes. I don't want them dozing off...

Unfortunately, an appeal (literal and otherwise) based on the 2nd Amendment will do me little good. In 1979, an individual sued the HPRB in "Onderdonk vs. Handgun Permit Review Board" claiming that his 2nd Amendment rights had been violated by the denial. Unfortunately, Onderdonk's application denial was sustained. The HPRB won that case because the court stated that the 2nd Amendment applied only to the Fed Gov and not the states. Nobody has challenged this decision under Article VI of the Constitution and/or the 14th Amendment. So my appeal will have to be based on something else. I'm shooting for (pardon the pun!!) a case based on the rights to self-defense. It's weaker than the 2ndA argument but no point in beating a dead horse.

If my appeal is denied by the HPRB then my only remaining course of action is to sue the HPRB myself. That's where it will end. I have neither the finances nor the time to go thru such a hassle. Given the precedence for losing such a case in the courts, I probably wouldn't even try anyway. So this is it folks. You'll only get one more e-mail from me on this subject. Either I'll let you know that I got it or I'll let you know that I'm moving. Wish me luck.

Ciao for now...

On the evening of 3 December 2003, I had a meeting in the Annapolis MSP barracks with the HPRB. The process is pretty simple. The MSP are the defendants and I’m the plaintiff. There were five HPRB members and a recording secretary. The MSP representative – who happened to be the MSP sergeant from Jessup that was unable to attend my review meeting – took the “whole truth…” oath and proceeded to review my application and the reasons for their denial. Afterwards, I took the oath and finally got to say my peace. You might recognize a few quotes and ideas I plagiarized from various pro-2nd Amendment and pro-freedom types including, but not limited to, the Honorable Judge Alex Kozinski, L. Neil Smith, Jeff Snyder, Vin Suprynowicz, Claire Wolfe, and Aaron Zelman:

Nature provides every one of its creatures a means of self-defense. It can appear in the form of stealth and camouflage. Or sharp teeth and claws. Or keen senses and fast legs. Or hard shells and bad odors. However, man has very few of these traits and the ones we do have are often inadequate to the task. Instead we have been given a more potent means of self-defense: our brains. Rather than wasting valuable energy by running away from every unknown object, we can discern what is a threat and what is not. Rather than standing naked in the cold, we clothe ourselves and devise tools with which we can build shelter. Rather than being defenseless, we fashion weapons best suited to the threats against our lives. After exhausting all attempts to minimize those threats, by way of avoidance, deterrence, and de-escalation, a handgun – a readily accessible handgun – is by far the best defense against these immediate and sudden threats. If that were not true, our police forces would be armed otherwise.

When I first started this process several years ago, I contacted an attorney familiar with Maryland’s handgun laws and expressed to him my desire to obtain a concealed handgun permit. He asked me a number of questions and, after a few moments of silence, made the following statement: “Too bad you’ve never been mugged, robbed, or raped.” I am actually quite pleased that none of those things ever happened to me and it was at this point that the reality of obtaining such a permit within Maryland became painfully clear. Instead of walking away from the idea, I chose to pursue the matter as thoroughly as possible. I obtained a great deal of high-quality training with my weapons and continue to maintain that hard-earned proficiency to this day. I reviewed the law – both civil and criminal – as it applies to self-defense. I applied for and received permits that legally allow me to carry a concealed weapon in 25 states of which I am not even a resident. Yet, those efforts did little to secure for me such a permit in my own home state of Maryland.

As it was explained to me, Maryland requires an applicant for a concealed handgun permit to produce evidence of prior threats and/or assaults before a permit can be issued. On top of that, the burden of determining apprehended danger is not upon the citizen but upon the State. Yet, in this “cart before the horse” scenario, the State is rarely present when an unarmed, defenseless citizen is made aware of the apprehended danger standing before him in a darkened parking lot. To assume that this soon-to-be victim cannot determine whether or not his own life is in danger is fatally myopic and a serious breach of trust on the part of the State. I understand that the State wants a compelling reason before it issues a permit. But I ask you, when are the interests of the individual citizen ever compelling?

As this application process continued from one hurdle to the next, I admit that I was tempted to abandon it altogether and carry a concealed weapon based on my 2nd Amendment rights: without a permit and without anyone’s permission. But, you and I know the illegality of such an act inside the State of Maryland. Being fully aware of the legal implications had I been caught, I wisely chose not to do so, for I value my freedom greater than anything. But I also value my life. In this “lesser of two evils” scenario, the State has forced me to make a decision. Which is more important: my life or my freedom? I feel this is a decision that no citizen of the State of Maryland – nor any American – should have to make.

It is sometimes said that democracy needs to be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for lunch. Similarly, why should the rights and privileges of the law-abiding be curtailed, restricted, or denied based on the actions of the criminal element? In a state of more than five million people, it is difficult for our legislators to avoid creating law that is “one size fits all”. The regulations concerning the handgun permit application process are an example of laws that, at times, can and do discriminate against qualified citizens. However, in their wisdom, these same legislators empowered this panel to decide which of those applicants have been unfairly disqualified by the law – as I feel I have been. It is not hyperbole when I say that you ladies and gentlemen hold over me the power of life and death. I urge you to consider my case solely on the merits of my case. The Maryland State Police personnel I have spoken with during this process have admitted that, by virtue of my extensive training and responsible mindset, I am well qualified for a handgun permit. Were Maryland a “shall issue” state, they would have absolutely no reservations about issuing my permit.

I presented you with some Internet articles describing a recent trend in home invasions: the home ambush. Emboldened criminals now break into a home, wait for the resident to return, and then have the resident at their disposal for further ransacking, robbery, or, even worse, murder. I also presented a notification I received from my apartment complex concerning break-ins during daylight hours. This is the third such notice I’ve received in a year. When will it be that thugs break in to my home, notice my impenetrable 800-pound fireproof gun safe, and lie in wait to ambush me? I am very discrete with my firearms whenever I leave or return home with them. But it’s not a stretch to assume that someone might follow me back from a gun shop or a shooting range only to mark my home for a future ambush. Sure, I can defend myself once I cross the threshold of my front door but how will I do so if I cannot make it to my gun safe first? Worse yet, what level of violence could I expect from these burglars in an effort to force me to open that safe and, likewise, force me to explain to them the operation of every firearm I own? If I’m fortunate enough to survive these encounters, am I to sit idly by, incapable of reaction, as I watch my firearms be stolen? In this scenario, if I am unarmed when I open the door to my home, I am helpless in the face of the ambush, the coercion, and, possibly, my own death.

As a self-sufficient and independent member of society, I make very few requests – and even fewer demands – upon my government and my fellow citizens. One might say that as I appear before you now, I am in no position to make demands. But I disagree. As a law-abiding citizen and a human being, I demand that I be allowed to defend myself against illegal deadly force, wherever I may be at the time, at home or elsewhere. Self-defense is a right bestowed on us by God and by nature and this right exists well beyond the walls our homes. For the State to deny me that right is at best careless and, at worst, complicit to gross negligence. I urge you to find in the law and in your hearts the mandate to do what is right. I urge you to exercise the authority given to you by the State to grant me a concealed handgun permit.

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for your time and for giving me the opportunity to state my case.

(Before you get too excited, I know that no gun safe is impenetrable. Give me a break. It’s rhetoric, OK?!?! The same rhetoric that gave my state legislators “wisdom”. Yeah, right…)

During my presentation, I noticed the expressions on the faces of the board (bored?) members. I got the impression of, “How many times do we have to hear this shit?…” It was a bit disheartening and I tried not to let it disturb my rhythm. After my statement, the MSP sergeant and I were allowed to make closing statements. His was simple. Mine was this:

The definition of civilization is not “a society devoid of crime”. Throughout history, all civilizations, great and small, have had to endure crime. A better definition of civilization is “a society that respects an individual’s life, liberty, and dignity.” However, a society that deprives individuals of their natural right to self-defense against crime violates all three tenets of the superior definition. If I cannot defend myself against violence outside my home, an act best accomplished by means of a concealed and readily accessible handgun, then society has marginalized my existence.

All of the words I have spoken this evening, with the exception of an occasional paraphrasing, have been mine. Now I offer you a quote from the author Lee Harris concerning his definition of “Societal Forgetfulness”:

"Societal Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long inured to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stolen or their children sold into slavery by a victorious foe."

By issuing me a concealed handgun permit, you can help break the pattern of Societal Forgetfulness that has numbed individuals into abdicating their responsibility for self-defense. By issuing that permit, this application process can come to fruition, here, tonight. You have the power and authority to do this. On behalf of the State, use that power to honor my life, liberty, and dignity as an individual and as a citizen.

At that point they asked me a few questions. One of the board members was unaware that a non-resident could hold a CCW permit. (This was in reference to my remarks concerning my AZ and FL permits.) Then, the director of the board asked me, “Do you believe that anyone, excluding convicted felons, should be issued a CCW?” I said, “Yes, if they request one.” I chose not to go into my “nobody should need a damned permit!” libertarian tirade and stopped at that. He thanked the MSP sergeant and me and said I’d hear back concerning the board’s decision in about two weeks.

On the way out of the Annapolis barracks, the MSP sergeant and I were making small talk. He said, “Good speech. You almost had me convinced.” I chuckled and said something to the effect of, “Only ‘almost’, huh? I guess I didn’t word it correctly!” As we were parting ways in the parking lot, I closed out the small talk with, “Well, maybe the board was convinced and they’ll issue me that permit.” He said, “Won’t really matter. We’ll appeal it anyway. Good night.” WTF!! At no point in this entire process was I as pissed as I was then. You mean to say, after all the I’ve been through, he’s going to plan an end-around appeal in the case of issuance?! Oof-dah….

(This has now been sitting around for a week waiting for this last bit…)

So, it came in yesterday’s mail. “The decision of the Board is to affirm the action of the Superintendent of the Maryland State Police.” In other words, my application denial was upheld by the HPRB. I know they received the message I had hoped to send in my “speech” because they summed it up as such:

The applicant concedes that he has not been subject to threats of violence or to assaults. However, he contends that the world has become a dangerous place, and that without “a readily accessible firearm,” he as well as other citizens in our society stand “defenseless” against general risks of violent confrontation. Mr. [name withheld] contends that unlike other states, Maryland has handgun laws which “discriminate against qualified citizens,” and he asserts that his “Second Amendment” rights should override the local laws.

The letter then goes on to explain how my “assertion” is unfounded by referencing “Onderdonk vs. Handgun Permit Review Board” and “Snowden vs. Handgun Permit Review Board”. I knew I had these two precedents hanging over my head when I went into this. I correctly assumed they would be the “blocking issues”. With this, my pursuit of a MD CCW is over. I cannot afford the time nor money to take it beyond this. They win.

I feel like I should be angered by the HPRB’s decision but, for some reason, I’m not. I guess they were just doing their job. (Nuremberg comes to mind…) However, I will admit to being horribly disappointed and just a bit disgusted. As a relative newcomer to the liberty/freedom/Libertarian band of the political spectrum, I’ve been learning a lot about How The System (Really) Works. Not in a “conspiracy theory” sense, mind you, but from a pragmatic – and, yes, cynical – perspective. I’ve read about rights encroachment; from the totally benign to the tragically fatal. But now the story I’m reading isn’t about some distant Other Person; it’s about me. I’m the one that’s been told ‘No’. I’m the one that’s been politically marginalized. Maryland has deemed that the needs of the collective override the needs of the individual. I didn’t just lose an appeal for a concealed handgun permit. I lost a bit of freedom, a good chunk of an inalienable right, and a prime opportunity to be a responsible citizen. I lost the recognition of being a valued individual in the eyes of The State. All issues of my military service aside, this is the first time I’ve honestly felt, in my guts and in my bones, that I’m not a free man.

Some have criticized me for that comment. “Come’on man, it’s just a permit! How can it be that important?” To explain the concept to you readers would be preaching to the converted. To explain it to the “unwashed” would be frustratingly wasted breath. Even my Support Staff have a range of opinions from “Hell yeah, I’ll vouch for you!” to “I’m not sure this is really what you want to do.” I try to take it all in stride, good and bad, and slog on towards what I’m convinced is right. Yet, it’s a surprisingly lonely march. I’ve been in conversations that have ground to a complete halt at the mere mention of the permit. I’ve been warned not to bring up the subject of firearms around various family members. I’ve been accused of having a one-track mind.

In fact, I do have a one-track mind. I think about freedom a lot. I ponder the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – and never for a second wonder what the authors really meant! I research the concepts of malum in se, malum prohibitum, and prior restraint and the implications they have on our liberties. I long for a place where a man can be himself without the leering and suspicion that are directed towards those of us that choose to be independent, open-minded, and – aghast! – armed. I fantasize about what would be said by Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry were they to suddenly appear before the core of our federal government during a State of the Union address. I question the need for background checks and waiting periods and fingerprints and government permission. And while I would certainly mourn the absence of Zantac, titanium bicycle frames, Sleater-Kinney CDs, and smokeless gunpowder, I dream about traveling back in time to a young America that was sending the British tyrants packing. Oh, how that must have felt! Yeah, I think about freedom a lot.

Maryland is not a free state. It’s that simple. I don’t hate the participants in the democratic process that made it this way. They’re sheep and they simply grasp for political expediency. But along the way, they’ve blindly shoved many of us aside and trampled our rights in order to (artificially) quell their fears and to abdicate their responsibilities. I’m deeply saddened by their moral depravity and lack of understanding. I respect those 2nd Amendment warriors that choose to stay in Maryland and keep up The Good Fight but I’m tired. There are people better suited to this form of battle than I am.

Maryland has been good to me professionally and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the company of friends and loves along the way. But it’s time for me to move on. I don’t know when and I don’t know where. Perhaps back home to Colorado or one of the other wide-open Rocky Mountain states. I considered joining-up with the Free State Project folks in their endeavor to make New Hampshire a welcome home to all liberty lovers but the call of the West is once again echoing loudly in my ears. I need some elbow room and some peace-and-quiet. Time to reflect upon and reenergize from my losses, to lick my wounds, and mend my battered notions of right and wrong. For those of you who are worried, I can assure you that there won’t be any one-room cabins and long-winded, anti-establishment manifestos (other than this one, that is…). I’ll find a way to keep this stubborn, “old school” engineer a productive member of the work force. I’ll find a way to keep in touch with my friends and family left stranded in Maryland. I’ll find a way to enjoy the freedoms I haven’t lost. Those who know me know that I always find a way!…



The car gets a Christmas present too

Colorado's patented Passive Snow Removal System ("We Don't Plow and We're Damn Proud of It. It'll melt on its own. What are you, from California?") forced me to take our sedan out for its Christmas present. It is having a better year than the rest of the family put together.

In a mild left turn, it slid on passively-to-be-removed snow and struck the curb, knocking a chunk out of the curbside-front alloy wheel and gouging its tire.

I can ratiocinate with the best of ratiocinators, reciting marginally relevant facts merely to soften the blow: I knew I needed new tires all around anyway, have only been putting it off. That gouge had been there a long time, not safe driving on it. Lucky there wasn't a kid on a bike at that intersection. And so forth.

And there's plenty to ratiocinate. A salvaged, refurbed alloy wheel, $169. New TigerPaws all around, just under $300. Front-end alignment, labor, disposal, etc. Total hit $640. Ho frigging ho. Merrry Christmas, Taurus.

Strangely, the folks who usually work on the Fûz fleet had all the work done minutes after Barbaloot picked me up from leaving the sedan at their shop. This is not their SOP.


Nice rack, huh?

Your humble narrator was awarded the MSM last Saturday.


Fatherhood, the greatest job in the world

Firstborn's cast has been off for a week, and she's back to her normal high-speed low-drag self. Middlechild has begun occupational therapy, wherein we urge her to sit on a basketball when she has difficulty containing her energy, and to crabwalk to the bathroom in the morning to brush her hair.

Boy is being very boyish. Some pics of him are coming soon.
Fetus kicked Barbaloot in the ribs today.

I haven't posted anything in weeks, but I have a life, Christmas is coming, I'm supposed to be learning Photoshop and Linux, Christmas cards should have already been in the mail, and we've a new Baby in the house too (AMD Athlon XP 2500, 512MB, GeForce 2, dualbooting Win2k and RedHat 9) and Hallelujah, Comcast's cable modems have reached the neighborhood. We're considering it.


Disneyfication not only sucks, it isn't necessary

Disney lobbies Congress to extend the duration of copyright, to 'protect' their intellectual property rights in the absolute worst sh1t they've ever made, which turds happen to be stories they've grafted on to characters they've appropriated from history and literature rather than created themselves. They'd be better off dropping the campaign, and diverting their political contributions into hiring a few more American writers, actors, voices, and animators, and let them create something original and worth copyrighting.

If copyright law is amended, one useful change would be to prohibit taking any work already in the public domain, or work that is declared open by its owner, back under copyright by publishing a work derived from the original. "You want to Disneyfy the Prioress' Tale? Groovy, baby, just, well, you can't copyright it. Canterbury Tales are open. You won't make enough off of it to hire Amanda Bynes."

Need some examples? On one hand, Pooh, Tarzan, Hercules, and Aladdin, shamelessly derived from stories by A A Milne or Edgar Rice Burroughs, hotwired from the rich but abandoned parking lot of Arabic culture, or nicked from Greek myth.

For example, an insipid animated episode wherein the aforementioned Burroughs character was confronting a blond, voluptuous white-skinned jungle priestess commanding an army of leopard men to seize him for her mate. I turned the television off, over the protests of all the airbreathing offspring units, and it had nothing to do with how the priestess was attired. Intellectual property is too generous a term for this stuff. Where exactly is the intellect?

On the other hand, Fillmore, Kim Possible, and Buzz Lightyear, original Disney works or derivatives of original Disney works. With the inane exception of Lilo and Stitch, they are good or at least entertaining programs (Señor Señor Senior suspends Kim Possible over a pond in a Bondian moment: "The piranha won't be delivered until next Tuesday. But these koi haven't been fed in days."). Granted, it's not the one-liner quality you'd expect from Buffy, but consider their audience. As a side benny, these programs keep Ricardo Montalban employed as voice talent.

Disney's live-actor fare falls somewhere in the middle, aimed at raging-hormone pre-teens and obsessing over dating and parents who just don't get it.

Their best stuff was probably produced by accident, by and for a company that owns so many channels on the satellites and in cable headends that their program directors are desperate for material to fill them: consider how often they rerun material like the twin girls who played basketball, or Cadet Kelly. The kids will notice but they don't care; I do. Had Disney been paying more attention to their content suppliers and compelling them to adhere to Disney traditions, Fillmore would not make it through. All of it would be crap.

Another troubling aspect of Disney's dominance is their revival of the studio system---they're cultivating a cohort of child actors who are moved from one Disney program to another. I hope I don't read about these kids thirty years from now like we hear about Michael Jackson and Liza Minelli today.


Twenty-first Century Shmoo

We were repairing some cracks in the concrete porch here at chez Fûz, because the earth beneath it was not compacted properly. Twice, by the way: twice did the earth subside and cause the porch to crack in half, twice did we show this lousy work to the builder, twice was it repoured under the builder's warranty.

We tired of this when it cracked the third time, so Barbaloot called in the mudjackers, who bored holes through the porch slab and pumped in a cement-sand mixture under pressure. We are told that it will not move again, but it's not exactly where we wanted it. A crack remained, more than a cent and a half wide, showing where the roving half of the slab used to be part of the rest of the house. The mudjackers told us to fill the big void with expanding foam, and finish the crack with cement caulk.

Expanding foam, after a few minutes of working with it, impresses me as the Twenty-first Century's shmoo, a Swiss Army substance so to speak (duct tape is the Twentieth's). It will do just about any damn thing.

We're always looking out for useful tools and substances in case of emergencies. We'd appreciate any comments our readers may leave here, describing the unique uses to which this wonder substance has been put.

Firstborn's broken ankle suggests: could you set a fracture with it? How about it, Dave? Grunt Doc?

Could you use it to fashion expedient insulated housing? A flotation device? There are some limitations: once you start the can, you'd better finish it, because it glues its own can shut.

Is this stuff worth the weight and the bucks to stuff a can of it into a bugout kit, or a crisis kit you'd keep in your car or at work?