Monday, October 27, 2014

Whose Job is it, anyway?

Greetings, fellow castaways.

I have summed up the conflict of conservatism vs liberalism in one phrase. Yes, indeed, everything that everyone has been fighting for and over, every little squawk and squabble from the left to the right and back again, can now be stated in one simple question:

"Whose job is it, anyway?"

There is a wide difference between the European model of government and the American model. European governments, in almost all cases, are derived from monarchies or dictatorships. In those models, "Government" is "Mom," who makes sure everyone is fed, clothed, housed, and supplied for. And maybe that works okay for Europe. Okay, except for Greece, who went bankrupt. And maybe England, who had to cut way back on social spending or they were going to go bankrupt. Or Germany, who went bankrupt. Or France, who went... You get the idea.

Now, let's compare that model to the representative republic model upon which the United States was founded (not a democracy, as some have led you believe): Old Tom Jefferson said, "Government at its best is a necessary evil, and at its worst, an intolerable one." Westward expansion (whether you believe it to be a crime or not) left many communities in situations where there were no government programs for the destitute. In fact, most of the immigrants moving west were destitute, which was why they were moving. To get away from their poverty and circumstances, and make a fresh start for themselves and their families.

Let's look at our rule-book. It's called the Constitution. The preamble, if you recall, says, "We the people of the United States, (Why?) in order to form a more perfect union, (for what purpose?) establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, (do what?) do ordain and establish this constitution for the United States of America." In other words, "We, in order to accomplish these things, do this."

The Constitution, in other words, lays out the jobs of the government. None of those jobs is to provide any assistance for anyone. I know it sounds cold, but hang with me here, and let me clarify, please.

In the old day, there was no government help for the destitute. But there was help. From whom, might you ask, did this help come? It came from charitable organizations funded by private parties. In other words, "We the people" provided for our own needy. So guess whose job it is to provide assistance? It's OUR job, NOT the government's. Which, of course flies in the face of the European model.

Now, before we travel too far down the road, can anyone (I present this as a challenge), and I mean ANYONE show me in our constitution the part where our federal government has the responsibility to set out "safety nets" for the needy? Please, anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

No, it's our job. It's the job of everyone who has the means to voluntarily give to organizations who provide food, clothing, and housing assistance to our needy.

I firmly believe that the programs initiated in the '30's should have gone away a long time ago. They were instituted partially as a means of keeping people dependent on government for their daily livelihoods.Maybe there was a need, on a temporary basis, to provide some help, as jobs were nearly non-existent. One of three people eligible to work in 1933 had no job, and had no way to get one. My grandmother used to go out with her 10 brothers and sisters and round up rotten apples from the ground in the neighbor's orchard, cut off the bad parts, and keep whatever was left for their apple pies. Their uncle Mark raised all eleven of them single-handedly after their parents died within months of each other. Believe me, I know hardship. I've had plenty of my own.

But it wasn't a government program that helped me climb back. I borrowed from friends, took jobs as I could (burger flipper, janitor, drywaller, roofer, day by day, week by week) until I could get a steady job that turned into a career. I've been homeless, hungry, and living in borrowed clothes. I've started over more times than I can count. I collected unemployment for about six weeks in all that time.

I believe it should never be the government's job to provide those "safety nets" because in abdicating our responsibility to a faceless commission or agency makes us lazy. We lose touch with the needs around us, and become harder people when we aren't directly involved in helping the needy. Some nameless, anonymous "them" has the issue, so we get to forget all about it and go our catatonic way down the road.

But that's not what happens, is it? Because we still encounter the needy all around us, but now we don't see anyone helping, mainly because the agency in charge of giving assistance is absorbing 70% to 90% of your tax dollars for its own employees and bureaucrats. So now, we have to blame someone, and in most cases we blame those who have more than us: "The Rich." Oh, hell let's just blame them anyway. It's their fault that homeless people don't have their own houses, because they aren't sharing from their wealth. So along with all that self-righteous indignation that comes from having poor people all around us is compounded by the anger at rich people for daring to have more, to earn more, to keep more than anyone else.

And we all know who throws gasoline on that fire: Our own wonderful news media, who have forsaken the art of journalism for their agenda. Which agenda, you say? Why, to make America more like Europe, of course.

We'll go more into that in future posts.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Challenger, Continued

Greetings, Castaways on the raft in space we call Earth. This week, I want to continue in the same vein we started last week. What follows is the scene in Unalive that involves the aircraft type we discussed: The Challenger 604.

Real quick, here's the cover art for Unalive, my second novel. Feel free to click on it to find out more about the book. I'll let you buy it if you want. More about the cover: The Model (I've had many of the mechanics at work ask) is Danielle Harris, the Hollywood scream queen who gained her name in Rob Zombie's Halloween movies. I sent her a copy of the book. Let's see if she's sufficiently impressed to land me that movie deal, eh?

So, without further ado, Unalive, featuring the Challenger 604 jet.


Phil Baterson looked up as the Challenger jet’s galley door opened. A plump brunette in a
black and gold attendant’s uniform stepped through. “We’ll refuel in Hanoi and then Moscow. If
you need me, just press the crew call button in the VIP armrest. Dinner will be at seven. Can I
get you anything now?” A couple of hands went up; the attendant took some drink orders and
receded into the galley to prepare them.

Anna Spielberg rested, drowsing on the divan on the right side of the 604’s spacious forward
cabin. Her wounded arm was suspended in a sling and secured to her torso for further support.
Her face betrayed the drug-induced stupor and fatigue she must have been feeling. Sofi sat
quietly next to her mother, watching a movie on a small video monitor mounted on a swing-arm
from the drink ledge. Two other beefy men played cards at a foldout table. A sour-looking,
middle-aged woman lounged in another seat, reading.

Jenna came out of the office in the rear of the cabin and slid the door closed behind her. Phil
could tell she wasn’t in prime shape herself. He’d seen others coming down off of combat
stimulants, and it was never pretty. But Jenna looked like she would drop any second.
She’d sent her report upline, but he wondered how coherent it was. He knew she needed to
get it sent while the details were still in her mind, but still…if they had any questions, they could
always ask them later. Phil was sure there would be questions, judging from her current

He had seen Jenna Paine before, in better times. The dark circles under her eyes, and her
pale, sweaty appearance, the way she slogged across the carpet, told him these were definitely
not better times. How is it she’s still conscious?

Jenna flumped down into the leather seat and a sigh escaped her chest.

“Hey, you.” She lifted her head toward the source of the voice. Anna smiled at her from
across the aisle. “Thank you.”

“I’m so sorry, Anna,” said Jenna. “I should have…done something before—”

“Jenna, you saved our lives.” Anna sat up higher in the divan, straining from the effort. “My
daughter and I owe you, twice over from what I understand. Don’t sell yourself short. I don’t
believe anyone else could have seen that coming and taken the actions you did. I can’t even
begin to thank you enough, my friend. You are an amazing woman. Now, get some sleep; you
look like hell.”

“I’m all right, Anna. I’ll see you through to Prague, and then get some rest when we get
settled in. The hospital gave me these,” she said, and pulled out the bottle of stims.

“Let me see those.” Anna held out her good hand. Jenna handed the bottle over. Anna took
out one of the small blue tablets and examined it closely. “You shouldn’t be taking these, Jenna.
With your metabolism, there’s no telling what these would do.”

“I only took one, Anna, but if I have to, I’ll dose up again.”

“Phil,” said Anna, “Relieve this woman so she can get some rest, please?”

He laughed and shook his head. “I tried twice, Doc, but she don’t listen real good.”

Anna glared at Jenna. “I think we’ll be all right now, Jenna.” She gave the bottle to Phil.
“Now get some sleep; you’re worthless to me in your condition.”

He leaned over and whispered in Anna’s ear, just above the noise of the engines. “Just keep
those uppers from her and give it another ten minutes. She’ll be out like a light.”

“If she does drop off, I want a pulse and respiration check every ten minutes,” she whispered
back. “Seriously, Phil. Understand?”

The good-natured smile faded from his face as he comprehended her concern. “Yes, ma’am,
I get you.” He set the timer in his watch to repeat a ten-minute countdown before settling back
into his book. About a minute later, he looked up. Jenna’s eyes were closed. Her head lolled back
against the headrest of her seat. He slowly got up and approached her, watching for any sign of
awareness. Finding none, he pulled the release lever on the seat and reclined it all the way back
with his other hand. Jenna never even twitched.

Phil looked over at Anna. She nodded. He checked Jenna’s pulse. Finding a beat, he nodded
back at Anna, who closed her eyes and sank back under the influence of her painkiller. He
opened the cabinet at the back of the cabin, pulled out a blanket and spread it over Jenna, and
then sat back down.

* * * *

When Jenna opened her eyes again, the plane was on its final approach into Prague. Her
sweat-soaked blouse clung to her body, and her skin was clammy to the touch. “Anna? Sofi?
What the…” She twisted around in her seat and almost fell out. When she tried to stand up, her
vision closed into a tunnel in front of her face. She couldn’t find her balance. “Anna!”

Hands supported her as she fell in the aisle. They laid her back into her chair, and her head
began to clear. Her entire body tingled. Someone belted her in. She tried to get back up, but a
hand pushed her back down. She heard Phil’s voice reassuring her. “Miss Paine, just relax, okay?
We’re landing. We have an ambulance standing by, and we’ll make sure everything’s secure.”
Jenna didn’t remember the ride to the hospital. In fact, she barely remembered Phil carrying
her down the Challenger’s air stair. The ambulance waited on the ramp between two black
Mercedes sedans.

Another team of four waited in scattered array while the ambulance crew loaded Anna and
Jenna. The sour-faced woman carried Sofi’s sleeping form down the steps and placed her gently
into the backseat of one of the security sedans. The team members split up between the cars. Phil
jumped into the back of the ambulance, and the caravan took off across the ramp toward a chain
link gate leading out onto the highway toward Trebenice State Hospital.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Aircraft of The NADIA Project: Challenger 604

Greetings, fellow Castaways.

This week, I'm doing something I've been meaning to do for some time. I have an opportunity to share some visual details from my series, and in addition introduce readers and writers alike to some overlooked items that tend to slip through the cracks, mainly those little technical doodads that some people always notice, like that scene that starts on the ramp next to a tiny little Citation jet that suddenly has the interior space of a Gulfstream. And just the fact that most of you don't even know what I said tells me you're in the right place.

"So what?" you ask. "Why should I even care about details like that? They don't make a difference as long as the story is good. It's fiction anyway, right?"

And to an extent, you would be right. By all means, go ahead and write in whatever kind of airplane you want you characters to ride in. But those technical details all add up to the difference between bringing readers into your world, and holding them at arms' length.

You could apply the same logic to the scene where the bad guys gun their 400-cubic-inch Yugo and peel off around the corner while the good guy watches helplessly from the driver's seat of his AMC Gremlin. It's about being believable, folks, and being believable means research.

Fortunately, I happen to work in aviation as a trade. I've always been a big fan of airplanes, and my books feature some. I want to cover a few of those with you, just for the sake of putting a face with a name. So, may I introduce you to: (Drum roll, please)

The Challenger 604
Let's go inside, shall we? The bar just above the stripe line releases from the side of the aircraft and when one turns it, the air stair swings down on balanced springs.

At the top of the steps, our flight attendant waits, in impeccable uniform. The pilot and copilot are already in the cockpit, going over their checklists. This is after their pre-flight visual inspection, where they do a detailed walk-around of the entire aircraft, checking tires, control surfaces, wings and stabilizers, antennas and sensor probes.

When we enter the aircraft, we pass the galley.

 Make no mistake. It looks like koa wood, but it's actually a veneer over a light honeycomb structure. Remove the drawers, oven, microwave, and coffee maker, and two men can lift out that entire cabinet to remove it. Weight makes a big difference to an airplane. Notice on the right, the drinking glasses rest in cutouts so they don't slide around in flight.

Okay, so our friendly flight attendant ushers us back to our seats.

This cabin is not your average airliner, is it? The seats are comfortable and soft, and there is plenty of room to lie back if needed. These flying offices stay in the air for a long, long time (the official stat sheet for the 604 cites a range of over 4,600 miles!), so comfort is a premium.

Now, if we're going to be in the air for that long, we probably need some kidney relief. So that little room farther back is the lavatory. Seat, sink. Nothing special. Notice the monitor screen on the left side of the doorway. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so movies (and yes, video presentations) can be shown on the monitors. There's one on the forward bulkhead (wall) as well, so two different video sources can be playing, with the passengers watching with headphones. But these babies have some killer audio systems as well, so if everyone wants to watch Air Force One, they can make the crew sweat pretty good.

Now, this one is not sub-divided. But some of these aircraft do have separate little micro-offices where Mr Big (or Mz Awesome) can sequester themselves for private conferences. The planes have WiFi, fax machines, and phone systems that allow instant contact all over the world. Like I said, flying offices.

So now, let's look at the "driver's seat."

Now, I will try not to get too technical here. If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me privately, and I'll do my best to answer you.

There's a lot of information a pilot needs to fly his aircraft safely. In your car, you need to know speed, fuel quantity, coolant temperature, engine rpm, and maybe you have a GPS so you don't get lost. A pilot needs all that information, too, only the highways at 40,000 feet are invisible, laid out by radio navigation systems on the ground. So our pilot has to know where these highways are, so he doesn't put himself and his passengers in danger (this is not to slight the female captains and first officers out there. I use "he" and him" generically here).

So, from left to right, we have Display Units 1 through 6 as follows:

DU1: Pilot's Primary Flight Display (PFD). Which way is up, how high are we, how fast are we going?
DU2: Pilot's Multi-function Display (MFD). Where are we going, what compass heading are we on, where is the highway line?
DU3: Engine Indicating/Crew Alert System #1 (EICAS). Engine readings, system alerts, warnings, etc.
DU4: Engine Indicating/Crew Alert System #2. Whatever doesn't fit on EICAS 1. Also, look at control surface positions, hydraulic systems, electrical systems
DU5: Copilot's MFD
DU6: Copilot's PFD

Notice there are at least two of everything. Sometimes, there are three of a certain sensor or radio,so failures don't mess up anyone's Sunday. In addition, the screens can swap information, or call up information from other sensors.

The row of dials above the dispays is the standby instrumentation, Left to Right: Airspeed (how fast), artificial horizon (which way is up), altimeter (how high are we), and the cabin pressure indicator (how much air pressure between inside and outside)

Here's another look at a fully functional display pair (PFD/MFD)

Notice the blue/brown horizon display. It's really important to know which end is up. Blue means sky. Brown means dirt. Dirt is bad for an airplane that is doing its best to stay away from it. Notice also the blue label in the MFD that says "TERRAIN." It means that screen is set to tell the crew when dirt is getting too close to the airplane. That system (Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, or EGPWS) wasn't invented when Reba McIntyre lost her entire band in a wreck in California. Now, it's mandatory equipment in all charter aircraft.

One more thing to look at, down between the pilots:

Don't worry, I'm not going over every switch. I just wanted to cover two items. In the top pic, those two screens are the controls for the Flight Management Computers (FMC). The pilots use this to plan the flight, find the highway lines, and keep them informed on "the Big Picture" of the flight. In addition, the FMC can automatically tune the radios to the next navigation beacon on the route, tune the communication radios to the air traffic centers along the way, and keep the compass systems honest.

The bottom picture shows the Radio Tuning Units (RTU), the display controllers, and some of the other functions that make the flight smooth and safe for everyone.

A performance datasheet for the Challenger 604 can be found here.

So that's this baby in a nutshell. Hope it showed you something new, and helped to introduce one of the "toys" that I feature in my books. Feel free to use it in your own.

See you next week with another random act of writing.