Thursday, September 29, 2005

No, How’s It Like … Work?

What?  Didn’t I vague it up enough for you last time?  Ok, here’s the dilly in a little more detail.  The Director (a.k.a. Game Master) verbally describes the setting to the players, each of whom controls the actions of one character.  The rules describe the essentials for each character, traits like strength and intelligence and agility, which are represented by numbers.  Like, if Dori is a ten for looks then she’s a hotter hottie than Debbie who is only a seven.  

Success is determined by what you’ve got and by luck.  Sometimes in life you have to roll the dice, and the same goes here.  If Dori wants to flirt with Dave in order to crib off of his homework, then Jen who is playing the character of Dori will have to roll to see if Dori is successful.  For example, because Dori’s appearance is a ten out of ten, Jen rolls a twelve-sided die and as long as she doesn’t roll an eleven or twelve then Dori gets Dave’s homework.  If Debbie tried the same trick, though, then the player controlling her would have to roll a seven or below.

So that’s success for an individual engaging in an individual action, but who wins the entire game?  If this were Monopoly or Clue then one player would be trying to beat the other players, but thankfully it isn’t.  No disrespect to Parker Brothers, but that style of gaming can get old quickly, and doesn’t always make for spreading goodwill at family gatherings.  Instead, Interactive Fiction is cooperative.  The players work together to succeed as a group.  

Let’s go back to our earlier drama metaphor; think about your favorite dramatic television show.  It probably involves a small group of people who are trying to do the right thing.  Maybe they’re a handful of cops who work each week to put bad guys behind bars.  Or maybe they’re attorneys who struggle for justice in the courtroom.  They could be homesteaders in the days of the Wild West fighting against thieves and corrupt officials to keep their lands.  Or they might form the bridge crew of a starship whose mission is to boldly split infinitives while exploring the galaxy.  No matter the specifics, the plot of each episode doesn’t involve each staring character trying to defeat the other staring characters.  Had Captain Kirk spent all his time trying to poison Spock or push Bones McCoy off a cliff then Star Trek would have been a very different show.  

So the characters on television dramas and the ones in Interactive Fiction dramas work together, but the similarities don’t end there.  The characters in television serials, shows whose episodes link together and have continuity from one episode to the next, grow and change with time.  The young gun lawyers at the start of the season might get promoted by the season’s end, or the homesteaders might expose the dirty dealings of the bad sheriff and drive him out of  town, allowing them to finally settle down in peace.  

The equivalent of a television serial in the realm of Interactive Fiction is a campaign (more legacy terms from the days of wargaming), though some of us who were raised on TV call them series, and during the course of a series the characters are likely to change in many ways which can again be represented by numbers.  Let’s say Debbie’s friends help her land a job as a bank teller, and Debbie takes some of her hard earned cash to get herself a new wardrobe and a professional makeover.  Her appearance score of seven might jump to a nine.  By the same token, Dori might decide that she needs more than looks in life, so her friends help her hit the books each day, and she raises her intelligence score.

Next time, I’ll give a real world example of a series I created and how it played out.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

How Does IF (At Least the Pen And Paper Variety) Work?

Cops and Robbers is played in the backyard, wargames on big maps using model soldiers, but what about what the type of Interactive Fiction that Gygax and Arneson created?  How does role-playing work?

At a high-level, a group of people sit around a table, with each person controlling the actions of one character (remember Arneson’s contribution?) with the exception of one person who describes the action for the others.  A set of rules provides the all-important framework.

But that clinical description greatly oversimplifies what’s really going on.  Let’s dig a little deeper, starting with the person who is running the show.  Interactive Fiction of the pen and paper variety revolves around the writer and director of the action.  Now, some will disagree and say that it starts with the players and what type of experience they’re interested in, and there’s some validity to that, but in my experience (and I’ve been doing this for a quarter-century) it’s not the case.  I’ll be using theatre metaphors, so I’m going to refer to this person as the Director.  The Director, who is often but not necessarily the writer as well, performs the vital duty of describing the action to the players, what they see and hear.  She also knows the entire plot of the episode, she acts out the roles of supporting characters, and she arbitrates any disputes of the rules.  She’s the director of the theatre, the ancillary cast and the referee.

If that list of duties didn’t convey it yet, Directing is a big job, and it gets bigger once you add in the improvisational nature of Interactive Fiction.  You see, she may be describing the action to the players, but she doesn’t control them.  In the realm of Fiction, the author decides what the characters say and do at all times.  Not so here.  In Interactive Fiction, the players determine how the character they control will behave, and they may (and often do) things that the Director doesn’t expect and didn’t anticipate.  So, add to the list above the Director’s ability to improvise dialog and situations as needed.

You see why I’m saying the game revolves around the Director?

More on the mechanics tomorrow, and don’t worry … I haven’t forgotten about the history lesson.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Little Wars and Dragons

Sorry I’ve been away for a few.  I caught a bug that laid me out and I had to take care of the kids.

So, in our discussion of Interactive Fiction we talked about Pretend Play and I mentioned that without rules, the game quickly degenerates.  To more forward on the topic we need to go back to 1913, where celebrated novelist H.G. Wells is lying on the floor of his home, playing with toys.  

Two years before, Wells published a small volume titled Floor Games describing the miniature landscapes he and his two sons would create out of wooden blocks, plasticine trees, and model soldiers.  The fun in Floor Games is pretty freeform; like pretend play with tiny props, and years later the book will be used as the basis for the field of psychotherapy known as sandplay.  

But lying on the floor facing a field of meticulously crafted wooden soldiers, Wells works on rules.  He’s drawing upon the wargames of Prussian military commanders, called Kriegspiel, popularizing it into a pastime with another small volume titled Little Wars.  

With this book, Wells invents the hobby of wargaming, where each player controls a set of soldiers and usually simulates a famous historical battle.  Each model soldier on the floor or tabletop represents a unit — platoon, company division — whose size depends upon the scope of the battle.  

Since the new hobby grows from Kriegspiel, a very serious business, wargaming values realism.  Over the course of decades, rules grow increasingly complex to reflect the variables of battle.  Participants exhaustively research to the point of becoming amateur historians (if they weren’t already).  It’s all very proper, until a couple of guys from the American Midwest come along and take a turn towards the fantastical.  

In 1971, Gary Gygax, a wargaming enthusiast from the Lake Geneva area of Wisconsin, co-authors a set of rules for wargaming in Medieval Europe and adds something new — a supplemental set of rules for a Fantasy setting inspired by the legends of King Arthur and the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkein.  I had the pleasure of meeting and playing with Gary a couple of years ago, and he told me how surprised he was by the heaps of mail he began receiving about those supplemental rules.  To his amazement, the realism-focused world of wargaming found guilty pleasure in dragons and wizards.

One of those drawn to the fantasy supplement was Dave Arneson, who had begun to tire of the unit representation of soldiers on the field.  Arneson decided to have each player control only one soldier, and instead of that soldier only having two states, alive or dead, Arneson used a range of numbers to indicate health.  Now being shot didn’t necessarily mean removing your soldier from the field, just reducing the number of points incurred from being hit.  Arneson wrote up his rules and sent them to Gygax, and the two began a collaboration that resulted two years later in Dungeons and Dragons.  

How the game works, and how the wargaming aesthetic of realism lead to trouble, next time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Interwhative Whichtion?

I’ve been focused on my Interactive Fiction hobby for the past few days, so this is for those of you who have little or no idea what that means.  

There are, in fact, several types of Interactive Fiction, but most of these center more on differences in technology than what that tech is helping to represent.  I’ll start with the first interactive fiction that most of us encountered, which child psychology-types call Pretend Play.

Maybe you were exploring the surface of Mars, leading knights into battle, searching for pirate treasure, managing a house, cutting your way through the tropical forest, or busting some burglars, but in any case I’d bet money you’ve done it.  You’ve participated in an interactive fiction.  You may not remember it as such today, because the surface of Mars was your buddy’s backyard, and the machete you used to trundle through the jungle was a stick, but if you think back long enough you’ll recall that backyard was something exotic, even totally fantastic.  I recall black and red dragons flying through the air as my best friend and I dove over hedgerows hoping we hadn’t been seen.  

Regardless of the setting or situation, you and your friends got together and improvised a story.  It probably wasn’t a complex story, and it may not have even made a lot of sense, but you made it and it was fun.  This communal creation is the essence of Interactive Fiction.  Everybody is an author, and so it follows that everybody is also a reader.  After warning my friend about the dragons and diving over the “wall,” I thought we’d be safe long enough to come up with a plan, but then he announced that they’d spotted us, and off we were, running and dodging their fierce attack.

These earliest interactive fictions tend to have another trait that leads to their demise … no rules.  Did you ever shoot the robber but he said, “No you didn’t, because I ducked?”  Or maybe you were the teacher and she was the student, except that she decided that it was the other way around but didn’t tell you?  Without rules, the play devolves into a short shouting match.

Luckily, some grownups came up with rules, eliminating arguments about whether the robber got shot or not or who the teacher was.  I’ll get to how that came about next.    

Monday, September 19, 2005

Me Rusty

I ran an episode of Buffy yesterday, and it didn’t go as I would have liked.  I started with a bad call to wait for a new player who was late.  I decided to wait because it would have been a stretch to insert her character mid-stream and I couldn’t think of a graceful way to do it, but in hindsight the waiting cost me.  I could feel the energy of the room dissipate as the minutes dragged on.  

To make room for the new player, I temporarily removed Jacqueline, my main NPC, from the episode.  Big mistake.  Without her, I had no way to control the pacing of the episode.  When things got bogged, and they did, I had nothing, and wasn’t fleet on my feet enough to come up with another solution.

Then I allowed the first act to go on too long.  The late start threw me off my normal timetable.  With Act One taking an eternity, I of course screwed myself for time on the remaining acts.

Next on the list was my inability to control the off camera comments of a hyper player.  I made my usual “your character isn’t here” remarks, and even threw in a “no distracting the other actors” but that wasn’t enough to get the job done.  Thanks to the unwanted chatter, other characters who were on camera were distracted or lost the spotlight.  

Can you tell that I feel shitty about this?

So, what am I going to do about it?  I start as close to on-time as possible.  Either leave Jacqueline in or create a backup character who I can use should she be unavailable.  Keep closer tabs on whether an act is running over time.  Talk before the next session to certain player and ask for his help in keeping it quiet on the set, and stress at the beginning of the next couple of sessions that characters who are off camera are not to be heard as it’s not fair to others.

That should help.  But I still wish I had a time machine.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Meet Jules

As promised, here’s a taste of what I’ve been writing over the past few days.  Meet Jules …

Juliet "Jules" Johnson

Hi, I’m Jules.  I’m a Juliet, but that’s so 16th Century.  Not that I don't dig on the Big Bard — my first degrees were in World Literature and Drama — but History is more my thing.  And besides, me do seppuku over a cow-eyed kid?  C’mon!  Baby, if I’m going to off myself, it had better be because I’m doing it to save the world.  That or my ex-husband wants the Jaguar back.

Oh, don’t get me wrong.  It’s not one of those stuffy Jags, the kind that blue-haired grannies drive to their own funerals.  It’s a fast one, and I’m hoping you won’t ask me any more about it because I won’t know.  If a thing isn’t at least a hundred years old I don’t know jack about it.  Now ask me how a trebuchet works and I’ll be like, “Chinese or European?”  If you ever want to storm a castle, I’m your gal.

China’s a wonderful country.  I love the language.  Because it’s tonal, you’re singing all the time.  It’s like opera.  I saw a lot of beautiful things in China, and some that weren’t so … beautiful.  That’s where I learned that not all of the monsters in pre-modern texts were dolphins or elephants or someone’s opium nightmare.  Monsters are very real, and they are older than anything we know.

So, that’s why I got a call from an old friend saying I should come to Farmingham, New Hampshire.  This town is sporting the first new Hellmouth in I can’t tell you how long.  Well, I might be able to tell you how long but I’d have to think really hard, and besides, it would be depressing.  I used to get depressed a lot; it goes with the manic highs.  It was really bad after the divorce, but we all find ways to cope, don’t we?  Some people do therapy and Prozac, but I stick to the classics.  Ben Franklin said, "Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy."  I’ll drink to that.             

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Been Writing, But Not Here

And I admit that’s not an excuse.  I’ve been working on my interactive fiction hobby and doing a bunch of writing there (but not enough … never enough).  I need to figure a way to get more writing done here, and I think what’s been blocking me is that I’ve approached each day’s work here as an essay.  I’ll try and get my ramble on a little more.  Also, I’ll share some of fiction and interactive fiction work here.

I know that I’ve been writing muchly about politics lately, and I’m going to place a moratorium on that for a bit (Hopefully world events will comply.  Are you listening out there?), but one last note on that subject for a bit.  I’m not a fan of President Bush, but I was two days ago when he admitted mistakes made by the Federal government in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and took responsibility for them.  Some will see this as a sign of weakness, of Bush going soft, but they’re wrong.  There is no greater act of courage then to admit your mistakes, and no greater act of leadership than to take ownership of them.  

Sincerely, Mr. President, well done.  

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

FEMA Uses Firefighters As Props: Where’s the Accountability?

A few days ago President Bush said that FEMA director Michael D. Brown was “doing a heck of a job1,” even in the face of substantial evidence to the contrary.  That evidence just took a turn towards the revolting.  

First, the Los Angeles Times reports that "Hundreds of firefighters who volunteered to help rescue victims of Hurricane Katrina have instead been playing cards, taking classes on the Federal Emergency Management Agency's history and lounging at an Atlanta airport hotel for days.”  Hundreds of experience firefighters flown in from all over the country are doing nothing while fires are raging through New Orleans Warehouse and Garden districts.  

But the misuse of the firefighters gets better, because The Salt Lake Tribune reports one of the first teams of firefighters to actually get moved out of Atlanta was sent to act as a backdrop for the President.  “But as specific orders began arriving to the firefighters in Atlanta, a team of 50 Monday morning quickly was ushered onto a flight headed for Louisiana. The crew's first assignment: to stand beside President Bush as he tours devastated areas.”

Firefighters are flown across the country, made to wait for days, and then when a tiny number of them are used, they’re used as props for a photo op?  This is an outrage, and so is the President’s inability to see it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Remembering the Bomb

It’s interesting how surfing the Net can lead to switchbacks in your stream of consciousness, memories you haven’t touched in a long time but which are still visceral, like the way the smell of fresh cut grass can make you ten years old and standing on a ballfield.  

I get a newsletter called “The Straight Dope,” a site run by a character named Cecil Adams who claims to know everything but does his homework so well that we can forgive him.  In it, Mr. Adams answers readers questions to the best of his (and his staff’s) research abilities.  I’m a trivia buff, so I find the question of why outhouse doors have half-moons on them mildly interesting, but this afternoon one question stops me:  “Operation Able Archer:  Were the United States and the Soviet Union on the brink of nuclear war?”  I’m back in college and Vance, a well-read poli-sci major is telling me that Andropov became convinced that America was planning a first strike.  He began pushing a new directive; anytime Soviet radar detected something that might be an incoming missile the USSR would launch a counterattack immediately.  Thankfully, Vance went on to say, Andropov died and the plan died with him, because 57 false alarms were recorded on radar that year.  I don’t know if what Vance says is accurate, but the thought makes me queasy.

I’m back at my desk and I click the link and read about an earlier near annihilation, also featuring Andropov.  November, 1983, and the Russians are spooked.  Back in February, the U.S. prepares to deploy Pershing II nuclear missiles in West Germany, a short hop from the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact countries.  The following month, Reagan delivers his “evil empire” speech and a short time later announces the “Star Wars” missile defense project.  Then in September, two Soviet fighter jets blow Korean Air Lines flight 007 out of the sky after Soviet military commanders catch increasing heat for not responding to U.S. surveillance   October sees the U.S. invasion of Grenada.  Finally, November brings NATO’s annual military exercise, Operation Able Archer, and the Soviets start thinking that it might just be a cover for the real thing.  They go to code red and have bombers standing by with nukes armed.

I’m in the third grade, and we’re having a pizza party.  It’s supposed to be fun, but we’re talking about a movie called “The Day After” that’s got our parents worried.  The night before my own father put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You can stay up past your bedtime to watch this, Chris, because this might happen in your lifetime.”  I know what “this” means.  I’m talking to a classmate named Brett, and I ask him if he thinks that my dad could be right.  “I know that it’s going to happen.”  He’s looking far away out the window and I wonder what he sees, “We’re never going to live to be thirty.  I know it.”

I’m looking at my keyboard and trying to remember what special occasion prompted the pizza party.  I turn to Google to get more info on Able Archer and instead find Stanislav Petrov.  In September of ’83, he’s monitoring Soviet early warning satellites when the alarms start going off.  The boards say the attack is underway, five Minutemen missiles incoming and the system automatically notifies general staff headquarters.  They’re calling for confirmation, and he’s got less than five minutes to decide.  Another officer is shouting at him to remain calm and do his job.  Years later, he says his decision was based partly on a guess, that five missiles didn’t sound enough like the massive attack they’d all been expecting.  He reports a false alarm.  An investigation follows, and he’s interrogated about all details of the incident.  He later claims that investigators try to scapegoat him.  Once a twice-decorated young officer, he takes early retirement and suffers a nervous breakdown.1

I’m twelve years old and in my bedroom, surrounded by books like Alas Babylon, A Canticle for Leibowitz and On the Beach.  I’m watching Beneath the Planet of the Apes as the descendants of Humanity pray to a nuclear missile, “The heavens declare the glory of the Bomb, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork.”  I change the channel during commercial and the Reverend Pat Robertson is saying that the end times are nigh, and he knows the Soviets are the Beast of the Book of Revelation.  I remember what Brett said at that pizza party years before and wonder if he’s right.          

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Breaking Point of David Brooks

We’re still playing media catch up after our return home, so Friday’s “News Hour” is fresh for us, and boy it was refreshing.  If you’re not familiar with this PBS staple, it’s a segment that airs every Friday featuring David Brooks of the New York Times and syndicated columnist Mark Shields, gentlemen who resist the Crossfire-style shouting match and actually discuss.  Their analysis is sometimes insightful, often engaging, and always reasonable.  Shields speaks for the Left and Brooks for the Right, but this week he was voicing his anger at the Bush Administration, and it wasn’t just about the late response to Katrina.

Here’re Brooks own words from his essay “The Bursting Point:”

“Over the past few years, we have seen intelligence failures in the inability to prevent Sept. 11 and find W.M.D.'s in Iraq. We have seen incompetent postwar planning. We have seen the collapse of Enron and corruption scandals on Wall Street. We have seen scandals at our leading magazines and newspapers, steroids in baseball, the horror of Abu Ghraib….

“We're not really at a tipping point as much as a bursting point. People are mad as hell, unwilling to take it anymore.”

I know that I’ve been at the bursting point for months, wondering if and when those who supported the President would explode.  Now that the successor to William Safire has blown his top, I hope that he’s right and many more will follow.

Cops Are “Looting” Too

Amanda and I returned from Tampa last night and watched the “ABC World News Tonight” from Friday, which reported that cops from New Orleans Sixth Precinct were taking supplies from a Wal-Mart.  Unfortunately I erased the program before noting the exact verb used in the report, but I can tell you with confidence that it wasn’t “looting.”  

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Blacks Loot, Whites Find: Katrina, Race, and Word Choice

I think it was Wednesday night when we first noticed it; Amanda and I were sitting on the couch having gotten the packing for our Florida trip squared away, and we’re trying to catch whatever coverage we can find of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.  We’ve known the love of TiVo for over five years, so we’re blissfully unaware of most of the television sprawl, so we had no idea who CNN’s Nancy Grace was when her show began to air.  She’s older than the typical CNN I-was-a-model-but-decided-to-try-broadcasting talking head, so I figured that she must either know something or have a shtick.  I’m still not sure about the former but I quickly got convinced about the latter.  She began by interviewing Anderson Cooper, who was standing in the rubble of coastal Mississippi, the storm-tossed wreckage of a floating casino behind him in the middle of a parking lot.  Maybe “interviewing” is the wrong word … Ms. Grace seemed nearly manic with the news that martial law had been declared --- where she didn’t specify --- and she would occasionally pause her nearly frantic comments about looters to tell Mr. Cooper to get away from that barge before hordes descended on it and killed him for being nearby.  And while she was honestly appearing to Amanda and myself like a woman with a personality disorder, we noticed that the same ten second clip was looping almost the entire time:  various shots of black people looting what appeared to be a super market.

Now, I believe that stealing is wrong, but let me make clear that there’s a difference between looting for survival and looting for profit.  In fact, “looting” is the wrong verb in the former case, because the root of the term comes from the Sanskrit for “plunder,” as in a time of war.  People running away with television sets after a natural disaster may not meet the wartime criterion, but I agree that the term fits there.  But stealing baby formula and bottled water?  When the store is already waist-high with contaminated water in a city that’s drowning?  

But it’s still stealing, my inner voice says, and yes, it is, but for Reason’s sake look at the circumstances.  Do you think that super market they’re taking those items from is insured?  I’d bet it is.  And do you think that if any of those items were recovered they’d had a chance in Hell of being resold?  No, because I don’t think that any retailer has a “Soaked for days in sewer water” discounted item display.  Those items are already a write-off.  Now put your and your family in their place.  If everything around me looked like the aftermath of Noah’s flood for as far as the eye could see, and there was no sign of the government or military supplying aid or even direction, you can bet that I’d break down the door and steal a few cans of formula, even though stealing is wrong.  If doing the right thing means watching my infant son starve to death, I’ll take the damn formula and bottled water too.

Amanda and I couldn’t take more than five minutes of Nancy Grace, so we switched to MSNBC and wrote her off as a minor wacko, but over the next few days we saw similar depictions.  All looters were evil, regardless of what they were taking.  That is, until we saw a photo of two white people who “found” their supplies.  Now, to his credit the photographer who captured that moment said that the groceries were floating out of the store so the white folks didn’t have to enter the building, but this pattern of media coverage still stinks like the inside of the Super Dome.  Context in journalism, just like in real life, cannot and must not be ignored.  In circumstances less desperate, stealing is stealing … period.  But in this apocalyptic event, when a major city floats like a bloated and decaying corpse, stealing supplies isn’t; it’s survival.  And that’s the truth no matter what color your skin happens to be.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Big Ignore Of the Big Easy: A Billion In Prevention Worth a Trillion Of Rebuilding

Apologies for not posting over the past few days.  We’re in Florida, visiting Amanda’s grandmother, who has terminal cancer and recently decided to stop her chemotherapy.  She asked to meet Gabriel before it was too late, so we made hasty arrangements to get down to the Tampa area where she lives.  It’s wonderful to see her face light up when Gabriel flashes her one of his patented grins, but the situation makes the visit bittersweet.  Anyway, I’ll make better preparation to post while traveling in the future.

Had I been posting during the past few days, I’ve little doubt the subject would have been the tragedy in New Orleans.  Amanda and I have been saying for years that we’d better get down to the Big Easy before a big hurricane put it all underwater, and we’re wishing we’d listened to ourselves.  Amanda’s mom always wanted to visit the city, and Amanda planned a trip there just before her mom got sick with lung cancer.  

So we knew that this was coming for years, and so did a lot of people, but still nothing was done to upgrade the levees protecting New Orleans, or to replenish the wetlands that had provided a natural storm surge barrier before they were allowed to erode away.  Once the refugees have been evacuated and the levees have been temporarily patched, I hope people will cry out for answers and accountability.  

There was no dearth of experts reporting on the inadequacy of the levee and pump systems.  A few days ago, The World aired an interview with Bart Schultz, a senior adviser at the Dutch Ministry of Transportation, Public Works and Water Management.  As you might imagine, the Dutch know a great deal about living below sea level, and several years ago Mr. Schultz’s own assessment of New Orleans’ protection showed that it was about a thousand times less robust those in the Netherlands.  To paraphrase Mr. Schultz, the cost to upgrade New Orleans’ levees would have been a fraction of the cost to rebuild the city.  

Which makes me wonder, what explains the deaf ears?  Typical bureaucratic bungling, especially when large sums of money are involved?  But government spends huge sums on useless pork all the time, leaving me to wonder if it wasn’t the message but the messenger.  Many on the Right, especially in the Right-leaning sector of the media, have systematically ridiculed scientists who study weather for years, deriding the complex computerized climate models that predict global warming.  Those same models have predicted that as more energy is retained within the atmosphere we’d see a greater number of more intense hurricanes.  Maybe it’s because I’m writing this from a hotel room in Florida, but that sounds familiar.

Let’s ask the tough questions now and take action before we find ourselves facing more preventable tragedies.  To amend the old saw, “A billion in prevention is worth a trillion in rebuilding.”