Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Day With the Gamers

Escape to Another World

I got out of the house today and out of my routine.  I drove across town to attend the final day of the MidSouthCon 30 here is Memphis.  It has been a long time since I attended a convention of any type. Fifteen years ago I went to a STAR TREK convention in San Diego.  Things are done differently on the West Coast.  Most notably the number of celebrity guests is always higher as many active and retired stars live in easy driving distance.

One thing that hasn’t changed much is the guests.  Nerds still look like nerds and gaming geeks still look like gaming geeks. What has changed is nerds, geeks and gamers are no longer social outcasts.  Nerds have become socially acceptable over that last few decades after the general population took to computers and discovered that nerds are not only useful but they have the potential to earn vast amounts of money.

Another thing changed from my early days of geekdom is the ubiquitous electronics; they were everywhere.  I was there pushing my own eBook TULA WARS for the KINDLE.  When I purchased a book from an author she read my card using a banking app on her cell phone.  Guests had the schedule of events on iPhones and tablets with events they were interested in highlighted and posting audible notices when set times approached.

Electronics were at the gaming tables as well.  I started out when Dungeons & Dragons© was played with stacks of books, bags of dices and paper character sheets.  We used to draw maps by hand on graphing paper – not anymore.  Today I saw Role Playing Games (RPGs) of all sorts where the Game Master sat behind a laptop instead of a cardboard screen.  Everything he needed was indexed and searchable.  One of the players had his character sheet on a tablet.  Dice still clattered on the table but not much else remained from the early days.

My Superman tee-shirt gave me adequate cover to blend in but my ball cap started and carried most of the conversations.  It read “Navy Retired” along with the gold braid.  Many people wanted to hear about my time in the service.  I spent most of my sea time on a ship with the most recognizable name in geek world, the USS ENTERPRISE.  You might as well walk around wearing a flight suit; you couldn’t capture more ears with any other name.

I swapped business cards with a lot of local writers and hope to set up an online interview sometime soon.  Overall, it was a good experience.  I recommend attending a convention of some type at least once.  You are guaranteed to come away with interesting stories.  You will meet unique people with a different take on the world.  You can take some great pictures of attendees in costume (some of them quite pretty and scantily clad!)  Most of all, you just might learn something. 

Don’t forget to buy a t-shirt!

Saturday, March 17, 2012


Defenseless in the Face of Danger

The most bizarre thing to hit the news circuit this week is the concept that self-defense is never warranted.  No, no one explicitly stated it that way, but it is implied in the diplomatic messages sent from the United Nations to Israel.  It seems that bloated body of parasites thinks that any attack on Israel is justified and therefore should be silently endured by that nation.

In fact, there are actually two places where unprovoked murder of and mayhem on civilian populations is deemed acceptable: Israel and the United States.  Israel is a legitimate target for anyone who is having a bad hair day because very few countries are interested in their continued existence.  Americans are targeted both because it is an open supporter of Israel and because it is also a nation that few others wants to see continue to exist.

In a rational world, when a country’s citizens are subject to a sudden barrage of missile from across the border, that country would be justified in gathering its military might and rolling across said border in massive retaliation.  That is the very purpose of having a military.  That was the reason the United States entered World War II.  That also is the reason the US and allies mounted up and rolled into South Korea, Kuwait and many other countries over the years.  It is acceptable to defend oneself and one’s allies from armed aggression – except if the victim nation is called Israel.

Imagine the US sends a covert ops team south of the border to kill a drug lord who had been targeting American Border Patrol agents for interfering with his export business.  Also imagine we have a president not named Barack Obama.  This other person would actually care enough about American citizens to act with force instead of immediately apologizing to everyone and everything in sight.

Now suppose this dead kingpin had bought powerful allies in the Mexican government and they responded to that assassination by firing rockets and missiles over the border at cities in California and Texas.  What would be an appropriate response?  Long ago America sent Army expeditions south including a young firebrand cavalry officer named George Patton searching for Mexican bandits who had been raiding over the border.  A modern US Army force has a lot of options at their disposal and could move in unrelenting force at the direction of Congress and the President.  No posturing by the UN could stop us from acting in such a case.

Yet just this week, the UN and nations around the world either ignored Israel’s plight (like Obama did) or they called on Israel to “use restraint and restore peace.”  Calling on the victim to restore peace is not rational.  That is like asking a rape victim to remain calm while the attack is in progress and not to retaliate when it is over.  No civilized mind could think in those terms.  They do in Muslim countries but that merely proves my point.

Fact: Arabs the world over want to kill Jews. Fact: people running the United Nations don’t mind if they do. But it is also a fact that Israel will never go down without at least giving it a fight.  Too bad others lack the courage to call a bully a bully.  They cower in fear on the Potomac or in New York hoping the Islamic murderers won’t notice them.  The final fact is, if Israel falls, anyone else could be next.  And don’t expect any help or support from any of the other nations cowering against the walls. Like townsfolk in old Western movies, they know somebody has to stand up to the bad guys; it just won’t be them.

1.      Palestinian terrorist photo courtesy of:

3.      Photo of Pershing and Patton in Mexico © CORBIS, source:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

An Offensive Defense

I recently read up on the Israeli missile defense system “Iron Dome.”1  It has shown excellent real world performance in recent days shooting down over 90% of the missiles fired across the border from Gaza at Israeli population centers.
Iron Dome was developed following experiences during the 1991 Desert Storm conflict. Sadaam Hussein attempted to drive a wedge between the West and Arab allies by dragging Israel into the conflict.  He ordered SCUD missiles fired into Israel hoping to force retaliation.  Muslim countries could not stand against a fellow Muslim (even one as reprehensible as Sadaam) alongside Israel.  They would rather lose to a morally defunct dictatorship than suffer that indignity.
The United States countered that strategy in two steps.  First they deployed a radical new anti-missile system, the Patriot missile to cities in Israel in range of Scuds.  Second, American commanders retasked fully one-third of their air assets to hunting for and destroying the missiles and their launchers.  The first part is defensive; preventing damage by knocking down missiles in flight.  The second part is offensive; preventing those missiles from being launched in the first place.
That is the problem of relying on the Iron Dome systems alone; no offensive punch.  Iron Dome systems are like the goalie in a football game (or soccer for Americans).  The goalie blocks most shots most of the time but some do get through. 
One of the big drawbacks of any anti-missile system is cost.  Hamas and other terrorists can assemble large quantities of Kassam rockets and missiles in an average garage cheaply.  These rockets do not have to be accurate; they just have to “go over there and go BOOM!”
Anti-missile systems need sophisticated search and track radar and highly accurate, high-speed missiles aiming to hit a target less than a foot thick moving at high speed through the air.  The analogy of hitting a bullet with a bullet accurately describes the challenge here.  A missile that can meet these challenges is necessarily expensive.  Each Iron Dome missile costs an estimated $50,000 while the Kassam rocket costs only a few hundred dollars to build.
With this disparity, the terrorists can hobble the Israeli defense budget with a constant need for expensive replacement missiles at a very low cost to themselves.  All they need is a sponsor willing to funnel money and materials into the Gaza region.  We are certain that part is taken care of.  The evidence being that the insurgents were able to mount a sustained barrage of projectiles over a four day period on a moment’s notice; all they were waiting for was a trigger event. That came with the IDF’s assassination of Popular Resistance Committees leader Zuhair al-Kaisi.  His killing was probably justified and carefully planned to avoid collateral damage.  The Palestinian response to events or instigation of hostilities never takes that into consideration.
But the cause of this latest exchange is not germane to this piece.  What is important was how the Israelis reacted.  Iron Dome performed very well living up to its original purpose of saving Israeli lives. After four days of bombardment no ne were killed and “only several were injured.”2 The same article reports 22 terrorists killed when Israeli jets responded to the launch.  Fourteen rocket launched teams were struck before they could launch their projectile.  That is offense used for defensive purposes.
No system is perfect in defending against an enemy assault. Castles seldom held out against attack for long with relief forces arriving.  Carrier battle groups have layered defensive rings to intercept aircraft, missiles and shells before the strike the expensive target floating in the middle but a determined effort by a sophisticated enemy can succeed.  However, retaliation for that success would render the initial victory irrelevant.
The lesson from the past weekend’s Middle East action is no system is perfect in defense. It must be coupled with an offensive response that is swift, accurate and relentless.  Stopping the launch of projectiles and killing those who make the attempt is far simpler and more effective than trying to shoot down a bullet with a bullet.