All posts by Rob Darnell

Soul’s Blood, by Stephen Graham King

41j55fpceFL__SX322_BO1,204,203,200_There’s lots of action in this new science fiction novel by Stephen Graham King. Soul’s Blood doesn’t begin with an explosion, but with a comfortable flow that leads to excitement. With rolling prose, Stephen settles you into the environment with ease and brings his characters alive.

Keene and Lexa-Blue are in the space shipping business. They haul merchandise through space from one port to another, but they also have a reputation for being very skilled fighters. Their ship is the Maverick Heart, but it’s more than just a ship. The Maverick Heart is also the body and mind of Vrick.

Think of Kitt from Knight Rider. Vrick is the ship. Ey thinks, ey talks, and ey helps Keene, Lexa-Blue and their friends. If Vrick was human, I imagine ey would wear a leather jacket and shades. Just like Kitt, Vrick is cool.

Keene’s former boyfriend, Daevin, is like the King of Brighter Light, a city state on another planet. Daevin wants Keene’s help in dealing with conflicts between two different cultures that don’t understand each other.

At first Keene is not so keen about helping Daevin, but eventually he agrees to, with Lexa-Blue and Vrick coming along. There is much conflict, a romance rekindles, friendships are made and mass destruction is witnessed.

Soul’s Blood was a fun read. I was impressed with the world building and I could relate to what some of the characters felt.

The Internet Lied To Me About Switzerland

Yeah, I really bought into some articles I saw a  few years ago. The articles described Switzerland as a country with a very strong gun culture and a very low crime rate. They had me convinced that just about every home in Switzerland had at least one fully automatic SG 550, that most children learn to use guns at an early age and people are often seen open carrying.

There is much I admire about Switzerland. It seems to be a country governed by commonsense and open-mindedness. One example is the stance the Swiss took during World War II. They held their borders against the Axis and the Allies, refusing to take either side in the war, and yet they welcomed in refugees fleeing the Third Reich.

Being the gun nut that I am, I was kind of excited about Switzerland’s awesome  gun culture. I mentioned it in arguments about America’s gun culture, upholding Switzerland as an example of how more guns in the hands of good, responsible people could mean a lower crime rate.

Well, I recently had the privilege to talk to someone who lives in Switzerland and I found out that what I heard about Switzerland’s gun culture is not entirely true. I’m now under the impression that the articles I read a few years ago were written by right wingers bent on spreading propaganda.

Switzerland does have a gun culture, but it’s not as popular as I had thought. Guns are tightly regulated in Switzerland and permits to own guns are expensive. Some homes might have full- automatic rifles in them, but those are likely the homes of people serving in the Swiss Army, as soldiers are allowed to bring their issued weapons home with them. Switzerland’s lower crime rate probably has more to do with the population not being as large as it is in the United States.

None of this changes how I feel about guns or my belief that guns can and do deter crime. But Switzerland might not be the best example of that theory functioning. While I’m mildly disappointed about that, I enjoy learning about different countries and I still think there’s much to admire about Switzerland.

Tula .357 Magnum Ammo Might Be Wrong for Your Revolver

1Okay, I know Tula Ammo is cheap. But I’ve been using it in my 9mm for a while now and have had no problems. In fact, it seems to run better than some other brands of ammo that I put through my 9mm. Some people say it’s dirty ammo, but far as I can tell, it doesn’t dirty up my gun any faster or worse than any other ammo I’ve used. Maybe some day I’ll do a throughout experiment on the dirtiness of different ammunitions, but for now I just have a glimpse observation and I don’t notice a difference.

I buy Tula Ammo because it costs less than pretty much everything else. The Tula Cartridge Works, as a company, has a long history. They’ve been a manufacturer in Russia since 1880 (I’m not sure if The Tula Cartridge Works is part of Tula Arms Plant, which has been making guns in Russia since 1712.). So, I wouldn’t dismiss Tula as a maker of junk. If you have a Russian design, such as an AK-47, SKS or even one of those Mosin-Nagants,, I think Tula Ammo will run like a dream through it. But there are non-Russian designs that don’t like Tula Ammo.

The other day, for the first time, I tried .357 Magnum Tula Ammo. I loaded the six chambers of my Rossi R461 and fired at the target twenty feet away. No problems there. It fired like it always had. But when I rolled out the cylinder to remove the empty casings, the casings were stuck.

The empty casings couldn’t be pushed out and they couldn’t be pulled out. I had to hammer a screwdriver in through the front of each chamber. That’s what it took to get them out. It wasn’t terribly difficult, but it was a hassle.

I tried the Tula Ammo twice, shooting a total of twelve rounds, just to be sure. It was the same thing with all of them. Every empty casing was stuck in its chamber and could only be removed by hammering a screwdriver in through the front.

My dad and I inspected the empty casings. The casings were swelled. That would be why they were stuck in the chambers. My dad has a tool for measuring things down to millimeters. He measured the widths of a live .357 Magnum Hornady round and a live .357 Magnum Tula round.

The Hornady measured 9.59 millimeters and Tula measured 9.56 millimeters.  I’m not a hundred percent sure that this is why it’s happening, but I think because the Tula is a pinch thinner than the Hornady that there is space in the loaded chamber that gives the Tula room to expand when fired.

I didn’t have any other .357 Magnum brands, but my dad had a .38 Special round that he also measured. .38 Special can be fired from a .357 Magnum pistol. The Tula round was a pinch thinner than the .38 round.

So, it would seem that Tula .357 Magnum rounds are thinner than they’re supposed to be, which might very well mean they have room to expand in the chambers. I think my gun might have been damaged if I had continued firing this ammo. I won’t be using anymore Tula in my .357 Magnum revolver.

Goodbye Megatron

Well, wow. Wasn’t expecting this. Calvin Johnson is retiring from NFL. Johnson, man, he ruled. Season after season, I watched the Lions, missing very few games. Johnson was one of the players who gave us hope for a winning season. I think Johnson was the best thing to happen to the Lions since Barry Sanders.

But I understand why Johnson is retiring. He’d gotten pretty banged up in the course of his career and he’d dealt with several injuries in his last few seasons. Thirty years old seems pretty young to be retiring, but not when you’ve spent years getting smashed into by really big guys .

We’ll miss you, Calvin. Good luck in whatever you do next.

Why I would rather be a Smurf instead of a Care Bear

This is one of those things that needs to be explained. I’m going to get it out of the way so we can move on to the next thing. There has got to be a million people asking, “Hey, why would Rob rather be a Smurf when he could be a Care Bear?”

I know. Care Bears. They’re cute, cuddly teddy bears. They’re blue, red, yellow, pink, purple. You get a whole rainbow of those little buggers. There’s Bedtime Bear, Cheer Bear, Friend Bear, Funshine Bear, Grumpy Bear, Love-A-Lot Bear and so on. They’re a nice bunch, full of unconditional love for you and me. Who wouldn’t want to be a Care Bear?

Although I like tattoos, I’m really don’t want a huge tattoo of a heart, rainbow, flowers, the moon or rain clouds on my stomach. Some people might be down with that, but it’s not my thing.

Care Bears come from Care-a-Lot. It’s a magical place made of clouds and rainbows. Ooh! In Care-a-Lot, everyone’s happy because Arthur Bear and the Knight Bears are sitting at the round table discussing ways to keep Care-a-Lot sheltered.

All that care and love, it’s overdone. It feels false, unrealistic, not convincing. It’s also lame, boring, even annoying.

Now the Smurfs, man. Little blue dudes with grain sacks on their heads. They live in mushrooms. That where the la-la-la nonsense comes from. ‘Shrooms, man. In order to move into the mushrooms, they had to hollow them out. What do you suppose they did with the insides of the mushrooms?

Think about it. Smurfs are not sheltered cuteness from a Sword in Stone knockoff kingdom. They’re free roaming rodents with a sense of adventure. Smurfs do more than love you to death. They’re clever, sneaky and they do all kinds of fun stuff.

There’s Papa Smurf, the wizened old badass. Papa Smurf knows just about everything. He has the answer to all problems. When Papa Smurf arrives on the scene, you know everyone is saved.

And then there’s Smurfette, Hefty Smurf, Brainy Smurf, Grouchy Smurf (Does every group have a Grouchy or a Grumpy? Did this start with the Seven Dwarves?) Clumsy Smurf, the comic relief. There’s Greedy Smurf, Jokey Smurf, Handy Smurf, Scaredy Smurf, Tracker Smurf, Sloppy Smurf.

The list goes on and on. There’s a Smurf for every talent, personality and character flaw. So, you see, Smurfs are more interesting than Care Bears. That’s why I would rather be a Smurf instead of a Care Bear.

Now everyone knows and we can put this nonsense behind us.

Life After Death, by Damien Echols

51sn9YGYKtL__SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Remember the HBO documentary Paradise Lost that aired back in the 90’s? Where three teenage boys were charged for the murder of three younger boys in West Memphis, Arkansas?

Damien Echols is one of the West Memphis Three. His book Life After Death tells about the crazy ordeal he experienced from the time he was arrested for murder to the time he was released from prison in 2011.

Despite the lack of evidence and questionable actions by the police, in 1994 Echols was sentenced to death. In Life After Death, he describes the corruption of the system and life behind bars. In August 2011, due to new evidence, Echols was released along with Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin.

Life After Death is very well-written. I found it hard to put down. It’s also very educational.

Mossberg 500

Photo-0018You can’t go wrong with a Mossberg 500 pump shotgun. I bought this baby eighteen years ago and it still runs like new. Mossberg 500s are made in different sizes and for different purposes. There are the long ones, which are meant for hunting. There are the short ones, which are meant for defense. Some have shoulder stocks with pistol grips and some just have pistol grips with no shoulder stock.

Mine is a long hunting shotgun. It is my primary hunting gun. Sometimes I hunt with an old single shot 20 gauge that I got for Christmas when I was thirteen, but usually I use the Mossberg 500 because I prefer 12 gauge power.  I feel that a 12 gauge is more liable to nail a deer than a 20 gauge.

Mossberg 500s are affordable shotguns. I bought mine brand new and it cost around $250.00. Not a bad price for a gun that stays reliable for a long time.

Defiance (2009)

51AJhKR7FHL__UY200_It’s 1941. Germany occupies Belorussia. The Jews are rounded up. Within weeks 50,000 are murdered and a million more will be deported.

Defiance is based on the true story of the Bielski brothers who are credited for saving 1,236 Jews from extermination.

Zus and Asael Bielski return home to find their parents murdered and their youngest brother, Aron, hiding in a cellar with a knife. The three head to a familiar location in the Lipiczanska Forest. That’s where Tuvia, the eldest brother, finds them.

Later, Aron finds a small group of people in the woods. He leads them to his brothers and the brothers agree to let them stay. As time passes more people make their way through the forest and the group grows.

They are all Jewish. All of them are fleeing the Third Reich. Tuvia becomes the leader of the group and welcomes new arrivals. His role comes with heavy responsibilities that he takes very seriously. He puts a system in place to make it easier for the growing community to survive.

Every member of the community has to work. Everyone is assigned to a job. Everyone also learns to use guns. The Germans are hunting them. There are several conflicts between the Bielski Partisans and the Germans.

I’ve watched Defiance several times over the last few years. It is one of my favorites. It’s a very convincing movie and one I recommend.

The Seer’s Choice: A Novella of the Golden City, by J. Kathleen Cheney

Image1A decent novella by J. Kathleen Cheney. The Seer’s Choice: A Novella of the Golden City is set in Europe (I’m not sure if it’s England or Spain or some other country, but it’s definitely Europe.). The year is 1903, so you get that whole Victoria feel.

There are two point-of-view characters, Genoveva and Rafael. Both of them are police officers, but they’re part of a special unit. All the officers in the special unit are witches of sorts. Genoveva is a healer. She has the ability to heal people simply by laying her hands on them. Rafael is a seer and he can see the future, though his visions are not always clear.

A madman is stalking Genoveva. The madman has powers of his own that are apparently deadly. It is believed that he wants to hurt  Genoveva because of what her father did to his son years ago. Genoveva  and Rafael work together and try to capture the madman.

It was a fun read. A nice mystery-fantasy mix. I enjoyed the Victoria setting. Well done.

This song came to mind while I was writing the review:

 

Yes, I have tattoos and I’m afraid of needles

12438981_1195105717186186_3345092446280937646_nMy year started off a bit rough. I had a hernia that was getting worse and needed to be fixed. Went to see my doctor about it and he referred me to a surgeon, who I saw the next day. Two days later I was at the hospital for the operation.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had surgery. I had surgery for another hernia twelve years ago and I’ve had three different surgeries on my eyes when I was a kid. But even so, surgery isn’t something too many people get used to.

I admit, I’m always pretty scared before going into surgery, and I don’t like being poked with needles. That shit hurts. I yowl every time. It doesn’t matter if they’re injecting me with something, drawing my blood or inserting IVs. Those needles are dreadful. I deal with pain and fear by cussing and swearing, which is what I did.

So, I was wheeled into the operation room. I joked with a nurse about being on M*A*S*H, and then I woke up in the recovery room.

Oh, there was pain. That’s the worst part about surgery. Being in terrible pain afterward. But the pain was forgotten when the nurse showed me that there was a catheter hooked up to me and a plastic bag strapped to my leg. I freaked out. Last time I had surgery, there was nothing like that left on me.

I immediately thought something had gone very wrong during the operation and I started asking questions. But the nurses in the recovery room didn’t have the answers. At one point one of the doctors who was part of the operation came in and asked how I was doing. “I’m just freaking out,” was my reply. He did try to explain why there was a catheter in me, but I couldn’t hear him very well.

After they rolled me out of the recovery room and into a more private room, they filled me in on what was going on. The operation went well, but, yes, there was a minor problem. The problem didn’t have much to do with the operation, but they had a catheter in me during the operation. When they were done with the operation, they took the catheter out and I guess there was blood. So, they put the catheter back in to stop the bleeding. At least that’s how I understand it.

That fucking thing was a nightmare. I’m terribly sensitive about things like that. Just looking at it gave me the creeps. I don’t care how many times people told  me it was a plastic tube and not a needle, it felt like a needle.

I spent the first couple days at my mom and dad’s house, mostly staying in the recliner in the living room. The pain from the surgery was constant, but it was the catheter that caused the most discomfort.

On my first morning after the surgery, I woke up around 6 AM screaming in pain. I was feeling constant stabs around the surgery area. Later that day I went back to the hospital because the pain was too much.

The doctor I saw said I should take two of the pain pills every five hours instead of one. That made a difference. The pain was still pretty bad, but two pills every five hours made it more bearable.

I stayed at mom and dad’s for two days. I came home on the third day. I spent most of my time on the couch watching my old DvDs.  Young Guns, Jakob the Liar, The Bourne Identity, Amos & Andrew and so on.

I had the stupid catheter in me for a week. It was horrible, and I said at least twice that the damn thing was going to cause an infection. I hated that thing. Who wouldn’t?

I was terrified when I went in to have the catheter taken out. In the examination room, I explained to the nurse that I was afraid there would be a problem when she took it out, but at the same time I wanted to get that stupid thing out of me as soon as possible.

Before the nurse pulled it out, I asked her if it was going to hurt. She said, “Usually it doesn’t.” While I hoped I would be one of the usual, I really didn’t think I would be. I was reduced to a whimpering mass as the nurse prepared. When she pulled the catheter out, I yelled so loud everyone in the building heard me.

My mom was in the hallway. She told me later that the doctor walked up to her and asked if I was a young guy. She told him, “Yes, he’s 38.” The doctor said, “Young guys are usually more sensitive.” At 38, I don’t really think I qualify as a young guy anymore, but I am sensitive to catheter removals. That was horrible. I hope I never have to live through that again.

When the doctor entered the examination room, I was sitting in the chair hugging myself. He asked how I was doing and I said I was in pain. He checked me out and said everything looked right. The removal went well and there was, thankfully, no blood. I finished up there and left.

The next day I posted this on Facebook: “I’m not feeling well today. I have a headache, I’m dizzy and I sweated all night. And since the surgery, I’ve been dropping things a lot. Last night I dropped and broke a cup my grandma gave me for Christmas. I think it’s the medicine that’s causing all this and I decided not to take it anymore.”

The comments I got suggested that it could be an infection and fever. I agreed. I went to see my doctor a couple hours later. He looked me over for a few minutes, and then sent me to the hospital.

I spent hours lying on a bed in an examination room while they ran tests. Doctors and nurses were in and out. I was taken out for some x-rays, and then brought back. An IV was plugged into my left arm and I had to keep that arm straight.

Because of that, I couldn’t text on my phone anymore. Texting was too difficult to do with one hand and with two hands I had to hold the phone so far away I couldn’t see what I was doing. Before they put the IV in, I’d been passing the time texting with a friend.

The doctor overseeing my case decided it was time to take the tape off the three incision areas on my lower stomach. The tape had been there since I got out of surgery the week before. The doctor instructed while the nurse did the work.

That was extremely painful. I yelled and cussed loudly the whole time. The nurse said it was just tape, but it felt like she was digging needles out of my stomach. I guess it took between five and ten minutes for her to get all the tape off. She apologized for causing me so much pain. I told her, “That’s okay.” I apologized for swearing. She told me, “That’s okay.”

My mom had been outside the room. She came in and asked if I was okay. My response was, “That was bad.” I thought I was bleeding, but the nurse said there was no blood.

After a while, a doctor came in with my test results. He said it was an infection caused by the catheter and I would have to stay the night at the hospital to make sure the infection didn’t get worse. They wheeled my bed out of the examination room, through the maze of corridors and up a couple floors to the room where I would spend the night.

I had a roommate, but I couldn’t see him because there was a curtain between us. I guess his situation was worse than mine and I don’t think he was able to walk. He had quite a few people coming in to visit and they talked a lot. He also conversed with the nurses quite a bit.

11138130_1200845986612159_4553840272060965075_nThe TV was a tiny little thing about a mile away. Most of the time there wasn’t anything worth watching, but I did find basketball games here and there.

That night they wouldn’t let me eat anything solid. Everything they fed me was liquid. Nurses would come in, take my temperature, check my blood pressure and draw blood. Every time they were about to stick a needle in one of my arms, I’d worry that they would damage my tattoos, but they never did put the needles through the tattoos.

12670436_1200838986612859_4230247493135319137_nI slept. The fever was gone the next morning. Breakfast was scrambled eggs and some potato stuff. I found out they were going to let me go after lunch. Lunch was a chicken salad sandwich and soup. It was all right.

A few days later, I had my follow up appointment with the surgeon. Everything checked out. After seeing the surgeon, my doctor wanted to see me.

Well, the reason my doctor wanted to see me was the x-ray I had at the hospital showed there was some scarring in my lungs. He wanted me to go back to the hospital in a week or so and have that checked out. He also wanted the hospital to run a test to make sure the infection from the catheter was gone.

I had those tests over a week ago. I haven’t heard anything since, so I guess all is well. If there was a problem, I would have heard from my doctor.

I’m doing much better. Sometimes there is pain, but it’s not constant and it’s not unbearable. I’ve recovered from this surgery much faster than I recovered from the surgery I had twelve years ago.

All of the doctors and nurses I dealt with during all this were awesome, even the cleaning lady at the hospital was helpful. Wish I knew all their names, but I’m hard of hearing and I missed a lot of what was said to me. The hospital was McLaren Lapeer Region.