Friday, August 30, 2013


     I like Hawaii Five-O. Not the original series with Jack Lord. The new series with Alex O'Loughlin, Scott Caan, Daniel Dae Kim, and Grace Park. Especially eye-candy Grace Park. Too skinny for my taste, but she sports a pretty face and the most sensual lips currently on TV.
     I got a kick out of episode 2.18 'Lekio' ('Radio') when Scott Caan played opposite his father, James Caan. Rumor has it that Jimmy Caan offered to do the job for the gift of a watch as compensation just so he could spend time with his son. I believe that rumor. Anyway, I enjoyed that show a lot.
     Five-O episodes sometimes leave me thinking about issues that the writers bring up. Episode 2.10 "Ki'ilua" ('Deceiver') was one that left me thinking. Here's my synopsis: 
Without authorization and against standing orders, Steve McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin)  slips into North Korea to ransom the finance of a friend. He gets captured by outlaws. (The friend is complicit in his capture.) Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Five-O figures out where Steve is and what has happened. They decide to rescue him and enlist a couple of retired Navy Seals to help them. Bad guys die. Five-O and the Seals rescue Steve.
     On the face of it, this is a straight-forward 'leave no one behind' story. But scratch it just a little and life issues of allegiance and loyalty pop up. Life issues. I'm not talking about "What am I gonna have for breakfast? Cereal or eggs?" I'm talking "What will I risk my blood, my life, and my honor to save?" That's the heart of this story.
     You see, Steve violated his oath of commission in the Navy to help a friend. This struck me with tremendous force immediately. He dishonored his sworn allegiance to the US Constitution to go to the aid of a friend. In other words, his implied loyalty took precedence over his sworn loyalty.
     To rescue Steve, every remaining member of Five-O plus two Navy Seals violated their oaths. That says that their implied loyalty to Steve took precedence over their sworn loyalty.
     What will I risk my blood, my life, and my honor to save?

     Above is the full current text of the Pledge of Allegiance. It has been such since 1954 when the words 'under God' were added in an attempt to exclude godless Communists.
     I will not recite this pledge. To do so would violate my sworn oath.

     This is the oath I swore when I was commissioned in the US Air Force. I swore my allegiance to the Constitution, not to the Flag and not to the Republic. There is a meaningful difference.
     About a month after I resigned my commission, I received a letter from the Secretary of the Air Force that informed me that, while I was no longer on active duty, I was still bound by my oath and, if the Air Force needed me, I was subject to recall at their discretion for the rest of my life. And, yes, they have recalled soldiers to active duty. Douglas MacArthur retired from military service 31 December 1937 but was recalled to active duty in 1941.
     All my fellow officers took the same oath. The oath of enlistment is similar. In its allegiance to the Constitution, it is identical.

allegiance, (noun) loyalty or commitment to a superior or to a group or cause
--Oxford Dictionaries

     What is the Constitution? A cause? It is not a superior or a group. Is it just a document? Did I and my fellow officers swear allegiance to a scrap of parchment?
     Perhaps Oxford's definition is lacking.

al·le·giance, n.
1. Loyalty or the obligation of loyalty, as to a nation, sovereign, or cause. See Synonyms at fidelity.
2. The obligations of a vassal to a lord.
--The American Heritage Dictionary

     The AHD definition adds more detail. I note the obligation of loyalty to a sovereign. Officers of the Royal Army and Royal Air Force swear their allegiance to the monarch. Curiously, officers of the Royal Navy do not.
     AHD's second definition makes it seem as if the vassal owes loyalty to his lord but the lord owes no loyalty in return. Perhaps this is a deliberate attempt to keep the definition short. It does, however, overlook the fact that the lord has a duty to his vassal. For the vassal's pledge, the lord undertakes to confirm the vassal in his possessions and to defend such so that the vassal will have the means to execute his pledge.

     The Constitution is different. It is an ideal. It is an ideal that changes, and we who swore allegiance to it do not control the changes.
     In 1896, the Constitution said that separate institutions for blacks gave equal treatment. From 1954, the Constitution says that separate institutions for blacks are inherently unequal. I prefer the latter interpretation. There have been other changes I was not so fond of.
     When that to which I swore allegiance changes to espouse a view that is antithetical to my beliefs, am I still bound by my oath?
     In a nutshell, I owe my loyalty to the Constitution, but the Constitution owes no loyalty to me.

     In the Five-O episode 'Deceiver', everyone owed loyalty to the Constitution. The Constitution owed no loyalty to them. And yet the writers would have us believe that each and every one chose to abandon his sworn oath to help a friend. The whole story fails or succeeds on whether we find that choice credible.
     And we do.


     Why should we believe that men who served the toughest military organization in the world, men whose word is their bond, would dishonor their sworn oath to help a friend?
     Because that's the choice we would make.
     I watched that episode, and I thought, "Yeah, I would do that." I would risk blood, life, and dishonor to save Steve because I believe Steve would do the same for me. My loyalty to Steve is returned.
     My loyalty to the Constitution is not returned.

     There is a story, "No Truce with Kings" by Poul Anderson. Won the Hugo for 1964. Beat out Zelazny's "A Rose for Ecclesiastes". In "No Truce with Kings", the United States has dissolved. How, we don't know. In its place are smaller states, and the Pacific States of America is one of them. One group tries to forge a new, continent-spanning nation-state like the United States. They are defeated by the clannish armies of the PSA, men who owe allegiance to their colonels, colonels who owe allegiance to their lords, lords who owe allegiance to the sovereign or to no man.
     "No Truce with Kings" is an argument for the feudal concept of loyalty. Loyalty to a person. Loyalty that is returned. In the story, the feudal concept of loyalty prevails over the concept of loyalty to an ideal.

     It is a dangerous thing when a man begins to question his sworn allegiance, but these are dangerous times.


Thursday, August 15, 2013

eBook Review: Scratch

Danny Gillan, Scratch

Product Details

  • File Size: 575 KB
  • Print Length: 293 pages
  • Publisher: Jakobian Books, 1 edition (March 10, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004RQ8WEO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars (37 customer reviews)
  • Price: $0.99
1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it.) Chick lit with testicles.

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: The characters.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Walk-in-the-park.
Worth the money. 

2.2. What I did not like: There is a lot of profanity and a lot of drunkenness. Are Scots truly foul-mouthed sots?

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Chick lit fans. 

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read? No. Not at all. 17+ only.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Maybe. Danny writes well, but I am not a fan of chick lit.

2.6. The plot in a nutshell.

     Boy had girl. Boy lost girl. Boy gets girl back. Boy loses girl again. Boy's father shoves epiphany down boy's throat.

 2.7. Other:

     The hero of the tale is James Cooper. He is a wanker. His friends say so, his work associates say so, his girlfriend says so, and his girlfriend's father says so. But he's a lovable wanker. The spineless git.
     I was two-thirds of the way through this book when it dawned on me that I was reading chick lit. With testicles. Danny gives the reader Cooper's feelings and thoughts in detail. But by that time I was thoroughly engaged with the characters, and I liked the book: 4 stars.
     Within spitting distance of the ending, Cooper's girlfriend dumped him. Cooper's lack of reaction incensed me. At that point I hated the book: 0 stars. Had it been a paperback, I would have thrown it away then and there.
     A hair's breadth away from the ending, Cooper's father -- who had been a cypher until that point -- shoved an epiphany down Cooper's wanker throat. And Cooper swallowed it. Not whole, but little by little. The non-redemptive yet hopeful ending followed soon thereafter.
     That is when I realized that Danny had taken me on an emotional roller coaster in the course of a single book. That's why I read. 5 stars.

     You need to know some Scottish slang to understand the text:
bint, n. an attractive but difficult woman
pish, n. rubbish
pished, adj. drunk
skelp, v. to hit
skite, v. to hit

If you need more, here is a Scottish slang dictionary.
     To this day, I still have no idea why Danny chose that title. 

2.8. Links: Danny Gillan

2.9. Buy the book: Scratch

Sunday, August 4, 2013


     In my last post, I wrote 'History is about lies'. I also wrote that lies arise from two sources: 1) ignorance, which is inexcusable, and 2) bias, which is tolerable.
     Why do I find ignorance inexcusable and bias tolerable?
     Bias is tolerable because a biased account can be weighed against another account with a different bias. The alternative is no account. Every writer brings a bias to his subject. If a writer states his bias up front, he is being honest with the reader, and the reader can trust or distrust the account accordingly. A writer who hides his bias and presents his account as true is dishonest and is lying to the reader. He cannot be trusted.
     Ignorance is inexcusable because it renders the writer's argument not just weaker but false in all. Last time I wrote about a history professor who stated that the firing rate of the Brown Bess musket was one shot every three or four minutes. He was mistaken. Where he got his information, I do not know. I do know that he was wrong. He made the assumption that he was correct and never bothered to validate it. Why did he not validate his assumption? Arrogance.
     He was wrong about muskets. What else was he wrong about? Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. (False in one, false in all.)
     Besides a degree in history, I have a degree in mathematics. Better than that, I have experience in applied statistics. By that I mean I have searched for the right data, collected the data, collated the data, performed analyses, and reported the results. Did my work do any measurable good? Yeah. It demonstrably improved the communications performance of the USAF Satellite Control Network (reduced network connections times from 6m50s to 4m10s at the 95th percentile) and saved $50 million a year in operating costs.
     (An aside: I spent months learning how to perform parametric analyses on normally distributed data. Away from academia and in the sogenannte 'real' world, I found most -- that is, almost all -- distributions to be right-skewed. Parametrics are less than worthless on right-skewed populations. They will yield answers that are meaningless, but they will yield them with such accuracy and precision as to imbue the reader with confidence in the answers.
     (I found that I spent 85% of my time collecting and collating data, 5% of my time analyzing data, and 10% of my time reporting the results of my work to decision-makers who didn't know statistics and didn't want to know statistics. They wanted me to find problems and recommend fixes. I found I got 5% of my payoff from collecting and collating data, 10% from analyzing data, and 85% from presenting the results of my work to decision-makers who didn't know statistics and didn't want to know statistics. I got to be real good at presentation.)
     I know whereof I speak. I also know how little I know. But I also know how little others know, and I know that they do not know how little they know. Did you get that?
     Any spreadsheet software will give you access to 90% of the most powerful parametric operations I know. In 5 minutes, you can do the statistics I spent months to learn and years to master.
     The difference between us is that I know when those statistics apply and when they don't. (Assuming you are not a statistician.)
     I know the right stats tell an intuitive truth and the wrong stats tell a convincing lie. Without my experience, I would not know the difference. Neither will you.

     In the world of today, everyone has the same religion, and that religion is called NUMBERS. People believe in numbers with blind faith.
     In the world of today, I am a heretic. I do not believe numbers. Not until I know where they come from and what they purport to say. And not always then.
     30% Thirty percent. Ebooks account for 30% of the book market.
     I have read this many times on different blogs. Dean Wesley Smith, whom I read and respect, has repeated it many times.
     I think 30% is a lie.
     What do you see when you look at that statistic? A number? Do you have faith in numbers?
     I see a bastard child, an illegitimate statistic. First thing I want to know is who's your father? Who's your mother? Are you from uptown, downtown, or the boondocks?
     Invariably, when I chase the statistic I find it comes from the American Booksellers Association. The ABA is that statistic's father. Where do the ABA get their data? From traditional publishers. They are the mother.
     Therefore, it is more accurate to say that ebooks account for 30% of the sales for traditional publishers.
     In contrast, in October 2011 Jeff Bezos stood before a graph that showed that Amazon sold as many eBooks as DTBs. That is, 50% of their sales BY UNIT were ebooks. DTBs tend to be priced higher than ebooks, so no correlation to revenues can be made.
     Now I have new questions. Is the 30% that the ABA reported by unit? That is, do ebooks account for three of ten books sold? Or do ebooks account for 30% of traditional publishers' gross revenues?  Or 30% of profits? Given traditional publishing's peculiar accounting practices, how much faith can I have in the accuracy of their data? That is, do their data reflect reality?
     I don't know. I doubt they know.

     What is the truth?
     The truth is that in 2011 Amazon was selling as many ebooks as DTBs. You can make your own projections from there to here and to the future. I have.
     Here is another truth. Over the last two years I bought 11 DTBs. During that same period I bought more than 300 ebooks.

     YMMV, but if it does I pity you.