Friday, January 29, 2010

Breaking the Law... Godwin's Law

Forgive me Godwin, but I can't resist passing this on. It seems that not everyone loved the Ipad announcement. Poor, poor Hitler.

EDIT (6/17/2010) Link removed. I guess the owner of the hitler clip contested its use on youtube. Too bad, it was funny and probably gave that movie more press than it deserved otherwise. Hope you caught it while it was available. I'm interested in hearing from anyone who has taken the plunge and bought an Ipad.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Impressions on an Interesting Election Night

I'm watching the news and it appears that a Republican has won the MA sentate election. A candidate that has the support of the Tea Party movement has taken the seat vacated by the death of the lion of the senate himself. He did it by saying he would vote against health care reform in a state that elected the most passionate proponate for HCR, Ted Kennedy.

The AP has called the race for Scott Brown. Martha Coakly is minutes away from giving her concession speech. It's over.

It's over. I wonder how much is over.

This election wasn't about MA. It's about Obama. Let's do the math:

1) He promised "Change we can Believe in." Do you feel the change? Perhaps he meant he would change "business as usual" Republicans with "business as usual" Democrats. We have all watched for the change, what we have gotten is exactly what one would predict in one-party to rule.

2) He gave huge bailouts to banks and auto manufacturers.

3) Signed a stimulus bill that was full of shameful pork with such alacrity that it was physically impossible for anyone to read. He continues to spin the success of this obvious failure by saying that he has "created or saved" millions of jobs. Does anyone believe this crap? Yes, the Obama administration seems to believe their own propaganda.

4) He has put all his eggs into HCR even as the nation shouts louder and louder that we don't want it. He failed to lead and propose legislation, and rather let the congress create the bill for him. The people of the USA have seen the horrendous deal making they need to pass the bill even with their supermajority.
5) He has lost virtually every bellwether election since getting elected himself. Dems are looking at huge losses in 2010 and if our congress continues to ignore public opinion I see is possible they could lose on of the houses.

6) He made promises about transparency of government. We now see that transparency is reserved for non-controversial subjects only. Give me a friggin' break! Obama has been as closed as the Bush admin, and that is saying something.

7) His only popular decisions have been the ones Bush made on foreign policy. With some high-profile exceptions like Gitmo and trying terrorists as criminals, Obama's foreign policy has been Bush-lite. It was a wonderful irony to see him get the Nobel peace price weeks after committing to his second surge into Afghanistan.

8) He promised to be a uniter. He has presided over one-party rule and wrote off the Republicans as irrelevant. Perhaps this election has changed his mind.

Will he have his "Clinton moment?" I wonder. If he doesn't, he will have passed all his 1st-term laws in 2009, and he will lose big in 2010 and 2012. If he crosses the aisle, slaps the dictatorship that has been congress, and actally works with the other side, he may find something people will support.

Every rooky has their moment when they realize the majors are hard. I hope he finds a way to be a uniter and finds a way to govern from the center. He's tried governing from the left, and it has failed him miserably.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Shinkendo on NBC

Yes, my ugly mug appeared on national TV this weekend. A show that appears on NBC Saturdays showcased our dojo in Little Tokyo. I'm in some of the shots, albiet way in the back. I think their good judgement cut all the shots where I was front-and-center. :)

Anways, there is some good footage of Obata Kaiso showing us how tamashigiri is done.

Check it out.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Years Resolutions

1. 100,000 situps

I'm not kidding either. Since starting Shinkendo, I have lost some fat and gained some muscle, but instead of 6-pack abs, I still have a full keg. So I'm going to try this experiment. 300 situps a day for 365 days is 109,500 situps. I can have 26 days off and still make this goal. We'll see if it works. Perhaps I'll post progress, though I'll spare you all the before and after pictures of my amazing disappearing potbelly.

2. Fully document my Shinkendo notes.

I have been working on a project to document each form in shinkendo. The idea is that if I have a comprehensive set of notes for each form, when Kaiso says something about it I will be able to add those quotes to the notes, see changes, note the key concepts and ideas for instruction. We at the Honbu Dojo have a unique opportunity to see Shinkendo develop, and I feel I have been losing a lot of the lessons because I just don't have time to take notes during or after every class.

By the end of 2010 I want to have a complete set of personal notes in a wiki style format. The original concept had videos of each form as well, but that isn't paramount. However, I will complete a comprehensive glossary of terms.

3. Spend at least one evening a week entirely on a creative project.

Painting, writing, working on a board game idea, Sumi-e, inventing something. I have lots of ideas that remain just that. It is time to make something tangible, which leads into my 4th and last resolution:

4. Sell one creative product.

Get a short story published, or maybe sell a boardgame idea: get paid for doing something creative that isn't work-related.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Cthulhu for Children!

If you are a grandparent like me, you have probably wondered how best teach you little ones about the Great Old Ones without scaring them and giving them nasty nightmares. After all, nightmares are just for grown-up cultists!

Well, YouTube to the rescue. Now lil'Cthulhu and all his friends can be enjoyed by even the youngest future cultist. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Where do I get my ideas from?

This is a question oft asked of fiction writers. We love them because we can express the depth of our souls, the dark places we journey to to find that gem of an idea that at once spins a great yarn and expresses our loathing of some aspect of reality (or society, art, politcs: pick one).

Well, actually, this is all crap. We use a chart. This has been a craft secret for many centuries until some jerk over at Wondermark spilled the beans and went all Penn and Teller on our artform.

Full disclosure: here is how we come up with all our ideas. Yeah, that goes for all of us, even the ones who don't like to call themselves "Sci-fi" (I'm looking at you, Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut).

Well, since that ship has sailed, I guess I should start writing literary fiction instead. There has to be a chart about that here somewhere...

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Hold a Sword

I think I have found the source of an oft quoted simile in swordsmanship: hold the sword like a bird: not to tight or you will kill it, not too loose or it will get away.

I have seen this accreditted to Musashi Miamoto online and even from one of my sempai in the dojo. It's a useful idea for beginners who tend to hold onto their bokken with a white knuckled death grip and blow their wrists out by the end of the first week.

But did Musashi, the great Japanese swordsman/painter/strategist say it? Apparently, no. There is nothing in The Book of Five Rings about it, for certain, though he does go into detail about how to hold a sword, descibing each finger's pressure. Perhaps there is another text that he has written or in which he has been quoted that says this, but I can't find it.

It's a logical step to hear this quote and think Musashi. He took lessons from birds, and one of his most famous Sumi-e paintings is of a shrike (a personaly favorite painting of mine).

From what I can tell, those great line actually comes from a master of ::drum roll:: movie swordfights. The master. Errol Flynn.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eulogy for My Mother

My mother died last Monday after a long illness.  Below is the eulogy I wrote for her funeral.


First, I want to thank our Pastor for reading this for me.  Mom always asked me to write a eulogy whenever someone in the family died, knowing full well that if I were to present it myself I would end up balling like a baby, which of course would make everyone else cry harder, and we would never get through it.  So, thanks Pastor Jim for helping me out, again.  Mom didn’t ask for this one directly, but like so many other things about her, I just know it without having to be told.  Mom, I’m trying hard to make you proud.

I can’t sum up what my mother meant to me, so I won’t try.  What I can say is that she was the most influential person in my life, and it has been hard for me to admit that.  She is the person I have known longest, has always been there for me when I needed her—even when I didn’t know it or want it—and because of this I am who I am.  My wife, my kids, even my grandchildren owe some part of who they are today to the impact my mother had on me.

Growing up, I’ll always remember my mother as this stalwart wall of protection, love, and rules.  She was the lawgiver in our family, the one with magical powers to see through lies and sense evildoers around corners.  She was there at all my baseball games, bike races, swimming meets, boy scout ceremonies and hospital stays.  She was at once over-protective and surprising lenient.  As a parent, I think I understand how well my parents found the careful balance between keeping us safe and letting us flourish.  Bekkie and I weren’t easy to raise, and they did a pretty good job.

As a child, I was always amazed that such a tough, iron woman, who saw through all my lies and suffered none of my BS, who managed my constant fights with my sister, who survived by broken bones, concussions, and third-degree burns without flinching (at least where I could see), who always carried herself with such confidence and power…would scream and run at the sight of a harmless little cricket.  When I was young this was very confusing for me, and I honestly still don’t get it.  She could be so strong at the same time so very fragile.
There was this time when I was four and decided I wanted to go play at the park.  So I went.  I just walked out the door and down the street to go play at the local school playground.  Don’t think that my mother wasn’t good at keeping me safe, it’s just that I was better at getting into trouble.  After a half hour or so of playing I got bored and started walking home, though I had no clue which way that was.  I even got to ride in a Sheriff’s car, which for the moment was pretty cool.  I don’t have many memories of my early life, but I do remember clear as day my mother standing in the middle of the street waiting for me.  I remember the look on her face when I got out of my first cop car.  This was maybe the first time I realized that my decisions affected others in a big way.  It was a lesson she never let me forget.

Mom was a precious work of modern art:  delicate and priceless and often completely misunderstood.

She was quirky, weird, and eccentric, and in our family that was high praise.  Ask anyone who knew her.  Have them tell you the story of “the pink nighty and the bear,” or ask about my mother’s most famous creation: turkey soup.  There are thousands of little ways we will remember her.

I’ll remember her teaching my dog to say “please” while she fed him Smarties from the giant bag she always had hidden near her chair.  She always had candy hidden somewhere, especially when she wasn’t supposed to have it at all.  This kids and animals knew it.  We knew it and there was nothing we could do.  And my dog is still fat.

I’ll remember the long conversations with her, and let’s be honest, most conversations with her were long.  Often a conversation that started with “I know you are in a hurry” would last an hour.  She could talk to anyone about anything, as long as you didn’t feel the need to stay on subject.  My mother liked a two-way conversation, but that was never a necessity.  She had an interest in everything and wanted to hear about your day, your life, your thoughts on something she had seen on TV or read about.  I think she felt the need to be engaged on a close and personal level with us, and talking was her favorite way to express this.  

Even the last couple of years, when she was getting weak and her illness was a burden, she never lost her enthusiasm.  She was always full of life, which is why we are still in shock that she is gone.

You can’t understand my mother without grasping the depth of her love for my father.  My parent’s marriage is a model for my own and their love should be a goal for us all.  In a world where most marriages end in divorce, they stayed madly in love with each other for over forty years.  Their example has been a subtle lesson for me all these years, and I hope my marriage can do theirs honor.  Dad, this is a gift I only recently began to appreciate, and I thank you both for it.  My wife thanks you for it.  What better way to teach children to love than to have parents like my Mom and Dad, leading by example every day of our lives.

My children got to see their love up close and I hope they were paying attention.  Think of what my parents created, what they endured, how they survived and adapted and thrived.  It’s a rare, special thing.  It inspires hope just to know such things are still possible.

Mom, thanks for bearing me and bearing with me.  Thanks for letting me grow up, for being there the countless times I needed you, and even for all those times I didn’t think I needed you.  Thanks for being there for my children and my grandchildren.  I hope they remember all of who you are and pass that on to their children and grandchildren as I will try to do.  Happy Mother’s day.  We’ll miss you forever.

The life that I have is all that I have
the life that I have is yours
The love that I have for the life that I have
is yours and yours and yours.
A sleep I shall have, a rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
for the peace of my years
in the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours

(Leo Marks)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Yet Another Sword Style

For the past couple of months I have added another weapon to my arsenal: the Longsword.

My main martial art remains Shinkendo, but for a while I have been looking for another style to act as my "minor" art, something I could use to counterpoint and put into perspective the skills I learn in the Japanese sword style.

I tried Iaido with my son under Michael Kazmer Sensei, and he has an excellent group here in Lancaster who take their art very seriously, but there is something about kneeling on a hardwood floor for four hours on a weekend that just didn't work for me. My knees just didn't handle it all that well. My "old" is beginning to show more these days.

Quite by chance I found Shay Roberts and his German Longsword class being taught in Van Nuys. I figured that learning a western style would be a good choice, and I'm very happy with how it has gone so far.

It has been something of a culture shock for me. I have been going to Shinkendo three days a week on average (seven days a week if you count home practice), so my body has learned to swing a sword in that style. In western longsword those moves just don't work, at least not the way I'm doing them. I swing a beautiful kasumi block and find a German sword pointing at my nose.

While Shinkendo is a comprehensive sword style, it doesn't include free play sparring. German Longsword does. We have to get protective gear (similar to fencing, but heavier) and eventually will be facing an opponent in an unscripted battle. I won't likely be qualified for free play for another couple years, but the idea of it makes me work harder. I can't wait.

This sword geek is moving upward.

An Inspiration to Me

This mugshot of Phil Spector, famous music producer, creator of the wall of sound effect, and psycho gun-waving murderer is fast becoming an inspiration to me.

No, not in that way. My wife is safe. (Who am I kidding, if I threatened her she'd kick my ass down the street.)

However, this mugshot is awesome. You just know he was being a smart ass during his processing, trying to hold onto the last vestiges of his atrophying ego, and the guard just said "fuck it, you want it you got it." ::SNAP::

I have been mulling over a few horror story ideas and this mug has my juices flowing. If you willingly forget the context and just look at this photo as if he were some guy coming up to you on the streets of LA, what would you think or do? This pic is a dissonant note, hanging in air like a scream. Add the name "Spector" to it and it gets better. Phil the Spector. Damn, this guy looks like Rorschach unmasked.

I hope he carves something into his forehead while in prison. Manson needs the competition.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Shinkendo Update

This week I have been thinking a lot about my very brief trek into swordsmanship. I've only been at this for about a year and a half, and in a couple weeks I take my test for yet another Shinkendo level, along with Toyama Ryu and Aikido. Slowly I have been kneeling more to the right of the dojo when we bow in and out of classes, and the more junior shinkendoka have begun calling me Sempai (title given to the advanced students in the dojo).

Sempai. I don't feel like one. Sempai. That is real pressure. That means people are watching me and doing what I do. I shiver to think of all those bad habits being learned behind my back as we practice. Those poor unwitting naive fools thinking they can advance by watching me!

Well, I guess it's not that bad. This Fall I tested for and received my first teaching certification which essentially allows me to train the first three levels in Shinkendo (Shinkendo doesn't use the dan ranking system that other martial arts use; i.e. no "black belt"; teaching certs are a seperate ranking path). Althought this hasn't happened yet, if I am asked to teach a class, when bowing in and out I will be referred to as Sensei.

Sensei. Okay, Sempai is enough pressure, but Sensei? This is going a little fast. But I have earned it and I really do enjoy teaching. I have a ways to go before I feel I truly deserve that title, even if I am only the lowest ranking Sensei possible. Sensei literally means licensed instructor.

This December I was told that it was time for me to purchase a shinken (a real "sharp" katana). This is something of an honor. If all goes well, I should have one next month. They are very expensive as we aren't allowed to do Tamashigiri (test cutting of soaked tatami-omote mats) with cheap blades; cheap blades have been known to break and send the razor-sharp shards flying. We do a lot of demonstrations (and we pride ourselves on not killing our audience), so Kaiso tests all the swords and we use only the best. By best this means a very good quality sword that is in the price range of mere working-class mortals like us.

A sempai described the swords we use as "Ford Trucks" not "Ferraris." A good metaphor as some hand-made swords in Japan can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. My shinken will have "Shinkendo" on the tang and will have been tested by Kaiso personally. I can't wait to use my own shinken for Tamashigiri. Maybe this year I'll be asked to do real cutting at one of our demonstrations. Wow, that will take some time to sink in.

So Shinkendo is working out well for me, as is Aikido. We have even started studying the bo staff, though I am only a few lessons into that path. And to top it all off, next month I am sitting in on a class in Van Nuys that studies western martial arts: German Longsword. If all goes well I'll start there soon. I think I have found my art form. A long sharp shard of metal is my medium, and I look forward to every session.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fallout 3: My Review

I have been a huge fan of the open world style of RPG that Bethesda Software has been putting out for a while now. Morrowind was huge, almost scary big, on a scale with established MMOs, which made it unique in the world of single player games. You could run off in any direction and find an adventure. You could create another character and always find new experiences by just taking a different path. Unlike most RPGs, where you essentially cover all the content on you path to winning the game, Bethesda has created a niche for themselves as producing "choose your path" RPGs.

Because of this I was excited at the prospect of Fallout 3. This was supposed to be Elder Scrolls in a the Fallout world: a post nuclear war wasteland with mutant monsters and guns. Those that I know who played Fallout and Fallout 2 were all excited (I never played those).

When I loaded the game, the opening sequence got me very excited. You pan out of a 50s style radio playing "I don't want to set the world fire" to see the DC mall, now called the Capitol Wasteland. The ironic theme of clean cut very pure 50s "Leave It to Beaver" white culture contrasting with the very disturbing evil world you roam in where cannibalism is the norm and normalcy has taken some very sickening turns made the game even more intriguing to me.

But that didn't last very long. First, the game just didn't work on my system (and I have a pretty good system for games like this; made for MMOs). The wonderful music can be played all the time on a radio system, but when I did I crashed horribly. My game locked up, frame rate would drop to less then 1 FPS, would skip, save games would be corrupted, even NPCs would wander the world and die so I couldn't complete the quests. Bethesda has been silent on these problems, leaning on the user community to fix its own problems while we wait (still waiting as I write this almost two months after release). These user-made fixes include everything from deleting codec files to editing your registry. The game is pretty much unplayable. I have since learned that this is the norm for Bethesda: their games have major issues after release and they are slow to respond. As an example, they have already released an editor for the game (G.A.C.K) but the game still crashes in many strange ways. Why in the world would they not have every person on the project who could write code working on making their game playable?

Still, I have been playing it, saving often, and in the month or so I have had it I have already completed the game three times. I said "complete" deliberately. When you finish the finale of this game it is game over, with credits and back to the main menu; there is no way to finish the main quest and keep playing, which is silly in a world that is supposed to be huge so you can explore.

There is the rub. Fallout 3 is not huge. It's not even big. While there are many map locations (maybe about half as many as Oblivion, and many of those are not dungeons but just areas with a few monsters roaming around) it is completely plausible to see most of the content very quickly. You level up fast, which is very disappointing as there is a level 20 cap, so most players will see most of the content of the game at level 20, assuming they hold off finishing the main quest.

There are some pros. First, while there is less content, the content is much more developed. In Oblivion, when you randomly found a dungeon you would quickly find yourself running through one of a few maps with one of a few themes (e.g. caves with trolls, dungeon with bandits), with random treasure in chests. It made the game a little tedious. This is not the case in FO3. When you find a new POI you are going to be surprised.

Second, some of the quests are very well narrated and acted. All the quests that appear on your quest log include voice actors. There are tapes thrown around the world that include tidbits of history from the game world. I especially liked those that recorded what it was like immediately after the bombs fell. Many of the dialog options when talking to the NPCs in the universe also bring you into the horrific universe. This form of information is much better than the dozens of books that were in Oblivion, which I doubt anyone ever read.

Lastly, some of the dungeons are downright terrifying. There is a homage to Lovecraft (Bethesda has done a Call of Cthulhu game too) which should have been more scary but had me interested. The graphic representation of the world is awesome, and I felt a cold chill many times while exploring. The quests are equally disturbing (in a good way). This is no "find the crown to save the princess" game. You can rescue hookers, assassinate innocents, capture and sell slaves, give drugs to addicts, and even explode a nuke on the main town in the game (I highly recommend even the most heroically good player create an evil toon to do this).

There is one last huge problem which overshadows most of the games good points. The game is embarrassingly easy. There is a level 20 cap, you experience up very fast, and skills are maxed at 100. The last character I played was on the highest difficulty level and never once died (though I did have to get creative at lower levels to afford healing). Even at max settings, I was able to have a character with the best gear in the game, the best weapons in the game, all my important skills at max (which is very easy to achieve, as the limit is 100 and you have multiple ways to raise a skill), and all the main quests completed. This final character took me only about 10 hours of playtime.

If you are interested, I strongly suggest waiting for about six months for Bethesda to fix this game. They apparently have a bad record on quickly fixing problems. I played Oblivion only after it came out packaged with both expansions and never had a problem even at max settings. If you are expecting Morrowind (or even Oblivion) size, forget it. This game won't keep you interested for very long.

My recommendation: don't pay full price. Wait until this game hits the $20 rack, or borrow it from a friend who "won" the game the first weekend they owned it.

And never buy a Bethesda game when it comes out; wait a good six months so they can fix what should have been fixed prior to release.

Monday, November 17, 2008

My Thoughts on the Republican Defeat

A doctor in Denver has a great editorial that resonates with me. Give it a read. I think Paul Hsieh's views mirror my own in many ways, though I didn't vote for Obama like he did.

In his October 24, 2008 radio broadcast, Rush Limbaugh told pro-choice secular
supporters of limited government such as myself that we should leave the
Republican Party. Many of us have already taken his advice and changed our
affiliation to "independent."

The news narrative for last week was the Republican Party in turmoil, with no leader, second guessing its mission. This is a good thing.

When I first voted I registered as a Republican and I stayed that way through the Bush 41 and Clinton years. But ever since I began voting I have been an agnostic, and this has been in conflict with the major force of the Republican party. For the past 25 years the Republicans have increasingly relied on the religious right to make up their base, a group with whom I disagree on almost every issue important to them: gay rights, religion in schools, right to choose, birth control. Bush won the 2004 election largely on the gay rights issue getting his "base" of strong Christian voters to the polls.

The power of this group over our national agenda has reached its zenith in the Bush administration, and the fall of the Republicans from power may be a reason for hope for conservatives like myself. There are a large number of younger conservatives that don't buy the social platform of the Republicans but don't want government being the dominant entity in our lives. Some have gone to the Libertarian extreme, but I linger in the limbo between parties still. If the GOP were to reform itself in the image of Barry Goldwater, perhaps I could rejoin.

I don't have high hopes.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The One is The Man

Congratulations Barack Obama for becoming the first black President of the United States. I didn't vote for you, but I'm not at all ashamed to call you "my president."

No matter who you voted for or what your politics are, you have to admit that the USA feels like it grew up a little yesterday. Race is still an issue, but this event is a milestone of our progress, and we should look back to see just how far we have come, then look forward again to realize how far we still have to go.

Now, Mr. President, try and win my vote for 2012.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Just Shut Up and Write

The month of November is just ninety minutes away, and somehow I am going to write my Great American Novel before December. Progress, whining, feelings, tips for cafeinated drinks, and maybe even some excerpts will all be posted on my NaNoWriMo blog.

This blog will be restricted to all my other rambling thoughts that don't relate to this insane project called NaNoWriMo. As none of the words I post here count toward my 50,000, I will likely be kind of absent here for the month. Also, as I am going cold turkey from writing pundit political crap starting after the election, the flavor of this blog will change a little.

Wish me luck. If you are interested in reading more of my novel, you can drop me an email and maybe you can be a proofreader for me. I doubt I'll have much worth proofreading until early next year; it will take me until then just to get a significant part of my manuscript revised. The main rule of NaNoWriMo: no revision until December.

The Last Four Days

As we enter the last few days of this election year, we find McCain in Defiance, OH. Looking toward the last days of this campaign, here are the cities we will find the candidates and their surrogates in:

Barack Obama
Bird In Hand, PA
Smoketown, PA
Neversink, NY
Red Bank, NJ
Red Hook NY
Red Lick, MS
Apex, NC
Santa Claus, IN

Election Night: Satan's Kingdom, VT

Flushing, NY
Gap, PA
Little Hope, PA
Dumfries, VA
Needmore, AL
Hope, AK
Wiener, AK
Slaughter, FL
Zigzag, OR
Drain, OR
Fossil, OR
Hell, MI

Election Night: Tombstone, AR

Mooselookmeguntic, ME
Lost Creek, PA
Munday, WV
Cut-n-Shoot, TX
Ding Dong, TX, OR

They are keeping him gagged and locked in the room under the stairs in Santa Clause, IN until election night. However, Bill Clinton will be covering many events in his stead.

Bill Clinton
Blue Ball, PA
Intercourse, PA
Hornytown, NC
Hookertown, NC
Sugar Tit, SC
Hard Up, UT
Virgin, UT
Packwood, WA
Tokeland, WA

Election Night: back in Hookertown, NC

Get out there and see your candidates!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A new blog for a new novel

Starting November first I am going to write a novel as part of NaNoWriMo 2008. Writing about my troubles with the novel, issues I have with the characters and such will go here. The novel itself will go in a new blog:

If you are interested in reading a novel hastily written as part of an attempt to complete a first draft of a 200 page novel (50,000 words) entirely in the month of Novemer, please do so. If not, I don't blame you. The work will be rough as I won't be doing any major revision before December, so other than a very basic spell check, I'm not going to worry about details much.

The novel I intend to write is a fantasy that I have been working on for years without any serious attempts at writing the narrative. I have the history, the magic system, and many of the major characters already created--all in my head. There are some deepish subjects I want to address, so it won't be an elves with bows and dwarves with axes kind of story.

Why fantasy? First, it's easier to write, and I have a lot of the background already created. I doubt I could write a science fiction novel in the same time: the world building and science background would make for too harsh a revision from the first draft. Given that I intend to write at least ten pages a day until I reach 200, easy is a good plan I think.

A Political

As the election approaches and all the hopes and promise yet again evaporate into the standard political kabuki theatre, I'm beginning to wonder why I write about it at all. Everyone has opinions, and I have more than most I think, but in the end political writing without an activist edge to it is pretty much just mental masterbation.

When I take a hard look at myself and go back to read the writings I have made on this blog and on the various forums I participate in, it all sounds like wannabe pundit crap. Predictions, general outrage, but never anything that will change anything. And what is politics if you aren't changing things?

The things I am really passionate about don't reflect my politics. To be honest, politics is so shallow and my attitudes toward most people with strong opinions so cynical that it just isn't more than BS. This blog is supposed to be a tool to keep me writing, even though I am the only frequent reader I know about for sure.

Political writing is easy, and like most easy things, really not that worth while. So, I'm going to stop. For one year, starting the day after the election, I'm not going to make a single political post here or on other blogs regarding politics. Cold turkey.

I have some ideas about what the content here will be next year. Some real blog stuff: what is happening in my life, my daily thoughts, my hope dreams and aspirations--at least the ones I am willing to share with the internet. Maybe I'll post some pics of my oil paintings, Sumi-e, photography. I may also start up a seperate blog where I will post fiction, maybe a novel as part of NaNoWriMo, which starts November first. Philosophy, science, links to stuff that is interesting.

But no politics. Call it a year committment. After I vote I will go clean. Maybe a year without expressing these opinions will focus my politics into a passion that will translate into some real activism, by which I mean I will speak with actions and not just words. Maybe in a year I'll have something to say that is worth saying to the world, but only if there is action behind it.

So, a political will be apolitical. For a year.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I am Joe

It's entertaining how the overconfident left is so sure they will win the election this year in a big way, yet when anything comes up that may challenge this they go mean fast. This week, Joe the Plumber became the narrative, much to the chagrin of the Obama campaign. Joe is an ordinary person, with ordinary troubles and a down-to-earth work ethic. He is also a conservative that made The One look bad. Because of this, we are watching the entire MSMedia apparatus digging up all the dirt they can find. Similar to the way they overreacted to Palin last month, they can't help themselves. Any datum that doesn't fit their apparently tenuous grip on their opinions is cause for a vicious backlash.

Does anyone believe that Obama is a normal American? He is an elitist. If you like that kind of thing, by all means vote for him. But one this is apparent to me. After you tear down all the "post-racial" "post-partisan" "post-political" BS, the Obama campaign is just John Kerry with bigger ears. Hope you can believe it? Hope is right. Hope is what you need if you want to vote for a political upstart who leads by emotion not policy.

Here are some things I won't take from the left anymore:

- Bush stole the election. One acronym means you can never say that again: ACORN. We have known for years that voter fraud was an unspoken grassroots effort of the left, and ACORN is proof of this. You aren't mad that Bush stole the election, you are mad because you think he stole your stolen election. Look in the mirror moonbats.

- The Republicans can't win unless they Swiftboat. Right. The word for this tactic is ad hominum, and almost every attack on the republicans this cycle has been ad hominum. Look at Palin. Look at Joe the Plumber. Look at Bush. Look at all those opiners on the vitriolic left you can't trust McCain because of his "fighter pilot mentality." How about the lies about Palin's daughter really giving birth to Trig? I wasn't a big fan of the "Swiftboat veretans for Truth" but the left has lost all credibility on this issue. You are like pacifists with guns. You can't use this as a weapon, then say you are doing it because they are. Give me a break. Your mother taught you better than that.

- Democrats are more in touch with the regular joe. Ask Joe the Plumber about that. Which Obama do you want to believe in: the one that says higher taxes will make the US more fair, or the one that says you cling to your religion and guns. He is an elitist. If you want to vote for someone who thinks they are better than you, Obama is your man.

I guess this is as good a time as any to come out for McCain. I won't be voting with the Obamatons this election. To be honest, like Joe, I can't afford Obama.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Why I am Optmistic about America

There is a storm outside, that is for sure. The markets are a rollercoaster without a working lapbar, and everyone is scared. Banks are closing, the dow had its worst year ever, and debate about if a recession is coming seems part of the good-ole-days (i.e. three weeks ago).

In the world, we are facing our impotence: Iran will have a bomb it seems, which will likely start a slow arms race toward a completely nuclear Persian Gulf. Isreal will attach someone in response, maybe soon. Russia seems unimpressed by NATO: we are back to paper tiger status with them. They are sending arms to Huga Chavez, including long range bombers and nuclear warships.

The election has turned nasty (as usual), and whether Obama wins or loses, it is obvious that racism will be a factor. Neither candidate has a grasp on what to do about our economy. Anti-Americanism seems to be in style again, especially inside America.

And this makes me feel optimistic.

First, we are having problems right now. For a brief period of time we see the situation as it is, we see reality. The bubble has popped, or is popping. We will fall, get hurt, cry a little, then get back up and keep going, maybe a little wiser. At least we will have a chance to prevent these problems from happening again in this way. In this time of rollercoaster markets and turmoil, I see opportunity and hope.

Second, the fact that no one in America ever seems happy is a good thing. I personally don't have much time for those that seem to blame the US for our problems. A great example is all those 911 toofers out there that can't accept that someone outside the US could actually want to harm us here; it's so much easier to say the REAL enemy did it: the US Government. But the fact is that we in the US are never happy, which is exactly why we lead the world. I personally don't care if the USA is the leader of the free world. I DO care that the USA remains free.

Think about this. We have a history of racial relations in this country that ranks near the bottom. You have to go to Hitler's Germany or Stalin's USSR to find a more repressive society than the USA in the first two hundred years of our country. Because of that we have made the most progress. BECAUSE of RACIAL TENSION we are in fact leading the world in racial relations. I live in LA. If we had the problems you see in Europe here in LA we would have riots: so many races living so close together.

We see it as horrible, but I would rather have our problems than just about any other country in the world. And we are improving exactly because we think things are so horrible. If we thought things were fine, nothing would change. So the next time you talk to someone who smugly says how great things are elsewhere, think how static they must be, and what is under their rug.

Fat and happy means fat and lazy. Comfort is the best way to stop working you can find. We in the US see ourselves as the worst in the world--most often when we are actually near the top--and because of this we are constantly striving to improve.

I believe:

- We will lead the world in green technology
- We will be the most significant reason the world will avoid another world war
- We will invent the next technology that will be followed by the word "revolution"
- Our standard of living will remain one of the best in the world
- We will be the most significant reason the the standard of living in the rest of the world will rise
- We will suffer another terrorist attack, and we will rise to that challenge
- We will be find the balance between safety and freedom

Our inherent pessimism is a major reason we are on top. We are always striving to improve, even when it seems that we are going backwards. WE KNOW WE ARE GOING BACKWARDS. That is my point. It's all those wingnuts and moonbats that keep us that way. The MSM is always looking at what is wrong, not what is right. And though it would be nice for some kudos every-so-often, it is not required and likely just emotional drag anyways.

Even when times are high and everyone is happy, we will too busy complaining about how much better if could have been if we had done things differently. So, to everyone who thinks the USA is going down the toilet: Thanks for keeping us number one!

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Which Celebrity will You Vote For?

Take a minute and think about this. Do you know how each of the four players in the presidential election stand on the issues? In the past few weeks, has your understanding of their standing been increased or not?

I know for me I have learned next to nothing in all the speeches and debates. The candidates know that being specific can cause them to lose voters. Obama especially has been playing fast and light with the issues, saying just enough to make me think he thinks like I do. When I look at his record, I see a die-hard liberal who votes the party line almost always. When I hear him talk, he is mister mainstream.

But this election is not about issues. In fact, there has been precious little about issues in the media coverage. Whether its Chris Matthews getting a thrill up his leg for Obama, or Sean Hannity throwing softball pitches at Palin, this election is turing into the People's Choice awards.

As a diehard moderate, I always feel like an outsider to both parties. But this year it is extreme. The campaign--the longest ever in history I believe--has given us nothing but play-by-play pundits, gotcha questioners, and dances with Ellen. Each candidate has figured out that issues don't matter, even as they say that what we really want to know is the issues.

This is the Entertainment Tonight Election, and I have no clue what either ticket will do or not do for the country. Will Obama push forward with half a trillion dollars of health care reform after we just gave 700B to the financial bailout? Will McCain do anything different than Bush on the war? What will either candidate do to stop global warming? When you parse the speeches, there is little there. No specifics, no plans deeper than bullet points. If I am wrong and there are specifics, please respond with the links.

The media has not done their job. Coverage has been almost entirely about the "phenomenon" of Obama, and more recently Palin. The mainstream media falls over itself to make Obama look good. Foxnews (and to a lesser extent than normal, talk radio) have given McCain the same treatement. No one has really given a rundown of the issues, nor have they challenged the candidates into giving specifics. It has been all about the horse race. Who is up today. Will x get a bounce from the convention? What is the Palin factor? What about the elderly white woman vote? Will there be race riots if Obama loses this fall?

Crap. It is all crap. We are in a war. Our air is poisoned and our planet is warming. Banks are folding hours after we find out they are in trouble. Russia is selling their nuclear bomber to Chavez, and Iran is laughing at the IAEA. Talk is no longer "if" we will have a recession, but how bad it will be.

And we don't know anything significant about how McCain or Obama will deal with the issues. Both are worthless in economics. The only reason Obama is leading on this issue is because people don't think: dems are better at economy, reps are better at foreign policy. The old stereotype.

I will vote. Though I voted for Bush twice and really like McCain in 2000, I am having a hard time this year. Obama is a rock star, and I don't vote for rock stars (and I live in CA, we had that opportunity not too long ago). McCAin is a war hero and moderate, or was. Now I can't tell. Both are pretending to be something they aren't, to get elected, and I'm not sure who they are.

Given what I have seen of politics lately, there is only one thing I think we can be sure of:

We're Screwed.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Coming Disaster

or Why You Should Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Bailout.

I was listening to an old recording of Frederich Pohl and Isaac Asimov, and Pohl said something that I think applies to this discussion. He said (paraphrasing) that the world of the future, as seen by us today, will be a disaster. The transformation to the disaster will be slow and the changes will be accommodated, such that those living in the future will not see it as a disaster. Their main concern was overpopulation but I think this is true of any gradual change.

I will plead ignorance to the financial problems whose solutions are way over my pay grade (pun intended). I have a sharp pain in the place where I keep my fiscal conservatism right now. On one had, the pols are saying that a bailout is required to stop a crash leading to a long recession. On the other hand, bu-bye free market controls if bad decisions by the market can be fixed by Mommy (gov) and a can of Bactine (bailout).

All I know is that Warren Buffett, the one capitalist with enough street cred for me to believe right now, says the bailout is needed. So I guess I'll take some pain meds and wait and hope. The whole situation really pisses me off, though. I hate having solutions forced down my throat because the options are worse, especially when the problem could have been avoided.

Maybe what we need, once all the pieces are put back together, is a more heavily regulated financial environment, with ALL the regulation geared at making the playing field even and transparent. The reason I have been against regulation in the past is that they become tools for the pols in power, pushing the ideology of the time, with regulations fluctuating with the political winds. That kind of regulation is all drag.

Regulation should be like the referee in a basketball game (well, the non-corrupt referee, if they still exist).

I first posted this on the Brights Forums.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Palin Needs Some New Cue Cards

If I hear Governer Palin say "We said thanks but no thanks for the Bridge to Nowhere..." I'm going to vote libertarian this November.

I have complained all year about Obama's empty rhetoric. Now we have Palin taking the Obama style one further. Not only is her rhetoric empty, it is the same speech over and over. Not just talking points (which both sides love to push incessantly) but the same damn speech.

It was a great speech. But the minute she gave the speech again, it lost all its lustre. If she can't be trusted to say more than one speech in a month, then how is she going to be able to handle the presidency.

I don't know enough about here to vote against McCain because of her, but whoever is planning Palins events should be tarred and feathered, then run out on a rail.

I want a press conference. I want to see her handle the full blunt attack of the press that is almost unanimous against her. I want to see her admit to what she doesn't know, intelligently and humbly, and expound upon her strengths. Because every attack on her experience after such a show would be an attack on Obama, whose only real experience is that he has campaigned for 2 of his 3 years as Senator.

Oh, and everyone with an IQ over 10 knows that Obama didn't call Palin a pig. If they think we are buying that, they need to smoke better stuff.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Some Advice for the McCain-Palin Campaign

...because you know they want my opinion.

First, let me state my current political position: I am leaning toward McCain but am not decided. Obama hasn't won me over, and unless he starts getting specific will go the way of Kerry and Gore (I didn't want to vote for Bush twice, but I did because of their empty rhetoric). But the McCain that I voted for in the CA primary in 2000 is not the McCain of today, and I am not going ga-ga over Palin they way the Nutroots is over Obama.

I am an independant waiting to be won.

So, back to my advice for McCain.

I listened to the Palin's speech live on NPR and wow, it was great. It beat Biden's speech by miles and IMO beat even Obama's. Still, it was a speech. She passed test #1: she didn't fold in her coming out party. Still, what I have seen since then is depressing.

Like when someone tells a good joke and gets a great laugh, then goes on to tell the same joke for the next week expecting everyone to laugh just as hard, Palin has been doing almost nothing but her convention speech. What is up with that? Maybe that RNC speechwriter took a vacation.

Speeches don't win elections. Debates do, and real interviews. Palin is scheduled to go on ABC this week, but she should be lined up after that. I want to see her on Face the Nation, Meet the Press, The O'Reily Factor, Larry King (well, not Larry; we need hard interviews). She needs to suprise everyone and hold a press conference, then let the questions go for an hour. In short, she needs to prove to us that she can handle the media.

So far the only qualification that Obama has that Palin doesn't is that he has proved to be a good campaigner. In fact that seems to be the Obama-Biden talking point answer to the comparison between his and Palin's experience. And it has some merit. He has run an excellent campaign, beating the heavyweight tagteam Clintons in their best event (campaigning of course). His fund raising and primary skill show a level of tactics worthy of Karl Rove. But other than that, he is a lightweight whose main claim to fame is that he was against the war in Iraq back when he had no real say in the matter (unlike McCain, Biden, Kerry, and both Clintons).

Yet in their overconfidence the progressives are going full tilt at smearing Palin. If she is the lipsticked Pitbull conservatives are making her out to be, where is she? Why are her speeches so obviously retreads. Why haven't we seen any unscripted moments? The answer may be that she isn't ready. And if she isn't able to handle the campaign/media/press conferences, she should not be one heartbeat away from the president.

From the little I've seen, I think she can handle herself. They should take off the muzzle and let her go. That is what a VP candidate is for: attack dog.

With lipsick.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Happy Blue-Footed Booby Day!

Sunday, August 17 is Blue-Footed Booby Day.
If I don't hear at least one person come up to me and say, "Happy Blue-footed Booby day" I will be upset.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Always look on the bright side of life!

If you are like me and live in a world where there is nothing "supernatural," that the world is one of physical laws that have a universal jurisdiction, then take a click on the Bright logo and take a look. If you are a believer in God, click anyways and see what the sinners are up to.

Being a "bright" means that you believe in a naturalistic world view, as opposed to being a "super," or one who believes that things exist that are outside the realm of natural law (god, ghosts, magnets that heal, cards that tell the future). It doesn't equate with "atheist" though there are many atheists in our group. I am an agnostic. There are a fair amount of humanists. The thing that is common among us is the agreement that there is no supernatural anything.

The forums are pretty decent if you like shooting the shit with people who like talking about deepish subjects.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Last year I decided that I needed some form of regular exercise. My reflection was getting to be a little more pear-shaped than I liked, and before that happened to me I figured I better start working out. I have tried the local 24 hour gym, and that was a bore. Bowling doesn't qualify, which is about as close as I have gotten to exercise lately.

So I thought "I need something with a high fun factor, something I could really geek out on." As a long time card-carrying nerd, I love fantasy and have always wanted to learn to use a real sword. So I started looking for something I could do daily that involved sword training. Kendo came to mind first and I had my eye on a couple of dojos when I stumbled on a website for something called Shinkendo. It had a cool mpg of a japanese guy that looked really familiar (later found out I saw him on Teenage Mutent Ninja Turtles the Movie, and a couple cable documentaries). I gave the dojo a call talked with someone who said to come in and watch a session. I did, and from that moment on I was hooked.

The dojo happened to be the world headquarters for the Shinkendo Federation--the Honbu dojo-- and my "sensei" was actually the Kaiso of the artform: Obata Toshishiro, and that someone I talked to on the phone was his Mrs. Obata.

For those that don't know, Shinkendo is a martial art that teaches practical fighting techniques using a katana. We don't use shinai (bamboo wrapped in leather used in Kendo) but wooden practice swords called bokken or bokuto. We also do not use armor; just a judo gi and hakama (looks a lot like a skirt). And here was the deal clincher for me: we progress to using a shinken (live "sharp" blade).

Training under Obata Kaiso has been a life-changing experience for me. I attend about 4 times a week and work out on my own at home each day I don't attend practice. For a time I also tried Aikido, which Obata Sensei also teaches, but my 40-year-old back hasn't taken kindly to being tossed around, so I am taking a month break while I try and strengthen it.

Even though I have only been a shinkendoka for less than a year, I already plan on opening my own dojo sometime in the distant future. My wife has already been informed that we cannot move out of range of Kaiso until I am that level, and if I have my way I'll still be close enough to attend the Honbu at least once a week.

I could go on about the spiritual and philosophical affect is had had on me, but I'll let that be a future article. After nine months I am Jiho rank (second), have begun training with iaito (unsharpened metal sword) and have performed tamashigiri (test cutting tatami omote mats using a live blade) once a couple weeks ago. John Lui made us DVDs of that event, and once I can figure out how I'll post my first baby steps into the worlds of real swords.

Every practice I feel I am walking the first mile of a very long, steep, beautiful mountain trail. So much to see and experience and I don't really know what is in store down the road. My goal is to feel this way every day from now on, even after I am "Jim Sensei."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Deep Thoughts

What do atheists say to someone who sneezes?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

What my fortune cookie taught me

Listen to friends with an ear to the future.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A Note about Tim Russert

Today was a sad day.

I am usually pretty jaded about celebrity deaths. I'm not sure why, but hearing that someone famous has died usually doesn't matter to me. But when I heard that Tim Russert had died suddenly today, I felt the loss in a real way.

No I didn't know him, or meet him. Meet the Press was always on my DVR list, but I often fast forwarded through his soft interviews. I didn't read his book.

But in an era when the media has turned almost entirely to position politics, taking sides like Fox News or NBC, and not even hiding their biases in their reporting, it came as a shock that one of the last real journalists was gone so suddenly.

His reporting style was always worth watching, especially when he was facing off with people in real power. Okay, his style of pulling up quotes form 20 years ago sometimes was tiresome at times, but when someone was trying to spin the truth Russert was able to cut through that and show the truth, or at least expose the liar. His everyman style made him always watchable and interesting.

NBC news has skewed to the left lately and seems to be carving out a niche on the left similar to where Foxnews is on the right, and of all their personalities, Russert was the one who I felt had resisted letting that show in his work. Yeah, it didn't take an expert to see where his politics were, but everyone has a bias and his shows were fair. And Fair is high praise in this era. NBC is in huge trouble now. I can't imagine anyone who could step into the Sunday slot and make Meet the Press even a shadow of what it has been in the past.

I'll watch the show this weekend and mourne Tim Russert's loss.

The fourth estate has lost something that cannot be replaced.

Another Worthless Prediction

I think I like making political predictions for the same reason I like putting $10 on a hockey game: I can put my money where my mouth is.

Prediction for 2008

Obama will win (with a few IFs)

IF #1: Obama can find a way to rebuild that "post-racial" persona that was shattered with his springtime faux pas: Wright and other BLT preachers, Michelle's "Proud to be American" comment. In short, if he can tell the people he has used to get to where he is in the past to be quiet for a few more months, he'll be able to secure the independent white vote.

IF #2: Obama can break his "sweety" habit. I don't think he's a sexist, and I don't think most of Hillary's supports think he is sexist, but if he keeps making slights like that he will alienate enough politically-borderline women to lose.

IF #3: He can show us enough to not fall into the traps that each of the past couple Democratic nominees have fallen into. Specifically, he can't be seen as an elitist liberal. In fact he has to downplay his liberalness, which never plays well in a general election (ask Mr. Card-carrying ACLU member Dukakis). He also needs to mend the hurt feelings his "bitter" comment caused in white rural voters.

If #4: If there are no more Reverend Wright level problems in his future. I can imagine some real killers for him here. If a tape exists with a Wright giving a controversial speech with Obama in the audience would be a big one, as Obama's excuse that he never knew how bad Wright was is flimsy at best. There will be some kind of "swiftboat" attack, probably more than one from (supporters of) both sides. Obama, as the relative-unknown, is particularly vulnerable to this.

and the biggist IF of all:

If # Last: Obama has to actually commit himself to real policies. This was my problem with Kerry (as stated here a few years ago): there just wasn't anything there but "I'm not Bush." Well, Obama is trying the same failed tactic with the "Bush's third term" thing. But other than a couple whitepapers on his sight, there is very little know about what he would do as president when you tear away the fluffy glittering generalities.

Obama has to make his case that he is different. McCain will try and paint him as the stereotypical elitist liberal masquerading as a moderate. Given that Obama has friends (parishoners?) in the mainstream media and a war chest that could fund a small government, I think I have to give the race to Obama.

What I didn't factor in: VP. Who cares with Obama (as long as it isn't Hillary, and it won't be). I can't imagine a candidate that will help him in a significant way. My guess is that he will choose a Biden-like figure to fill a policy gap and not get a candidate that helps him in a particular state.

McCain may be able to nudge the vote his way a tad with a surprisingly good choice. Condi would be such a choice, but my guess is that she will say no. Leiberman would be another, but I can't see that helping him much.

As for the rest of the election, only two things are apparent to me:

1) The dems will win a big and perhaps veto-proof margin in both houses of congress, sadly.

2) California will vote in favor of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman, effectively ending 4 months of same-sex marriages. Sadly.

Other predictions:

  • Ducks will make it into the Stanley Cup finals in 09 (but I'm a fan)
  • Dodgers will do great for a while and fail to make the playoffs, again.
  • Jimmy Johnson will threepete the Sprint Cup (but I'm a fan)
  • Lakers lose to Boston in 08 finals (but they are already 1-3 against the Celts already, so...)
Edit: had to add the sports predictions. Politics is just a spectator sport, really.

I promise not to promise to write here more

That subject is getting a little old.

Here is a quick update:

Still working, same job, survived another round of layoffs.

Started shinkendo, which is a form of modern japanese swordsmanship using real (sharp) katana. I'll be performing this weekend at the Queen Mary, though they don't trust me with shinken (live, sharp blades) yet, but more experienced people will be doing cutting there if you get the chance to watch us. Me? I'll be the bald guy in a skirt (hakama) swinging a stick (bokken).

My oldest has another child on the way. At 3 grandchildren now I suppose I should feel more old. My two younger children are starting their sophomore year this fall. Old. yeah.

I have spent some quality time on blogs lately, just not my own. I like, though lately they seem to think I'm a troll because I had the audacity to question Charles himself in a public posgt. Doh, I said "audacity," that must prove I support Obama. I'm outed for sure now!

Edit: Charles emailed me apologizing for implying that I was a troll. I do admire his site, even if I disagree with half of what he says. That is about how much I disagree with everyone else anyways.

I browse the left-wing side too, but to be honest the left side of the blogosphere is so vitriolic that I have nothing to say to them. What is the point saying things to people who just shout their idiology back at you? I get that on the right wing sometimes too, but on average I get more real responses from right-wing bloggers.

The contrast on the internet is always so high middle-of-the-road people like myself have a hard time finding a voice. Maybe someone can point me to some "moderate" blogs. We should have a newsgroup just for us:


Wednesday, September 12, 2007


It has been a while since I last posted here. To be sure, my readership has always been low, but now I fear it is about a low as it can go: it has just gone up from zero to one now that I have returned.

My last whining post was over a year ago. Consider this the executive summary to you--my implied reader--of where I have been in the past year. I'll conclude it with my optimistic insistence that I really do intend to write regularly again, something that at this moment in time I actually believe.

This July I was officially rehired into the job I had been laid off from a few years ago. Now at parties I can go back to telling people I'm a process engineer and enjoy their confused looks. Business process engineering: who does what at what time and in what order. I guess you can say I am getting paid to be a writer, finally, even if it is slightly less interesting than stereo manuals written in Chinglish. The nice thing about selling your soul to the third-largest IT outsourcing company in the world: it pays well.

And there are some perks. I had to get a car to make the commute to Long Beach, which was as good an excuse to buy a Miata as I will ever get. My new 2007 MX-5 is like my favorite pair of underwear, fits comfortably and snug and I never want to take it off. I know what you are thinking, and NO the passenger side is not nipple-high with discarded In-and-Out burgers and Mt. Dew bottles. The nice thing about having a no back seat and a trunk the size of a travel toothbrush is that you have to clean up after yourself regularly. I still know what you are thinking, and yes I can clean up after myself.

If you have ever wanted a convertible and didn't think it was practical, get one anyways. There is something about being part of the environment that comes from driving with the top down. Somewhere I once read (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I think) that the scenery from a car is like watching it on television, but put the top down and you insert yourself into a sensual connection with your surroundings (I think the author was talking about a motorcycle, but it still applies if you ask me). Even the various and often repulsive smells of Los Angeles are worth experiencing. For you roofies who drive with the windows up, take a tip from your dog and stick your head out every once in a while. The Angeles Crest smells like Geoffrey Pine: maple mixed with the dry mustiness of the chapparelle. Los Angeles reeks of multiculturalism. Drive through the neighborhoods around dinner time and you will get what I mean. There is one part of Fullerton that inexplicably smells like a dump. Lancaster still smells like beige, unless it is about to rain. I'll keep you posted when I make new olfactory discoveries. Perhaps I can form my own niche in the California travel writing scene: something like Hughe Howsner's "California's Gold" but the smelly version.

If you haven't heard, I am now a grandpa. James and Deanna had Isabella ("Bellaboo" to you, "Izzy" to me) earlier this year and she is now at the age--six months--where she is so cute is it painful. Donovan is going to be five at his next birthday, but as he is still living with Deanna's mother we don't see him that often. I said I am a grandpa, but really I am "Nano." You begin to realize how young you are not when you have to think about what you want to be called by your grandchildren. So I am Nano, bowing to the loosely held ethnicity of Susan's side of the family; I don't know what a Scott calls his grandfather in any case. All I know of that part of my heritage I learned from Groundskeeper Willie.

Jessica and Griffin started high school this month. Griffin is in the band with his tenor sax. Jessica is popular and too beautiful for her own good, so we keep her in all-star cheer leading. Susan is back in school and working on a pre-med degree; at the urging of the doctors she works with she is going to become one of them. I always wanted to be a doctor's wife...

As for my art, it has been lacking. I have the will to write, just not the attention span. This means that I am very good at generating story ideas which I am terrified of addressing seriously because I know I lack the will and confidence to do them justice. Still, I keep promising myself I will go back to writing soon, and I will. No, really. I promise.

Recently I took up oil painting. This is nothing serious. I was up way too early and saw a Bob Ross show on the local PBS channel and decided it must be easy to make great works of art. So I went to my local Michaels and bought a few hundred dollars of supplies and have been creating great works of art ever since. Okay, maybe less than great, but more than horrible. Struggling with a new visual art form has forced me into looking at things in a new way. A tree used to be a tree. Now it is a shadow, trunk lines and texture, covered with leafy highlights: in short I see the world analytically as a procedure for replicating itself. Did I mention that I am a process engineer? I am also starting on watercolor (which is much less forgiving than oil), and yes, there is a TV show for that too. I wonder what pallet triad represents me as a person.

Photography has taken a back seat to painting lately, but I hope to go back to that soon. My dichroic enlarger still awaits a proper darkroom, which I may have in a few weeks by converting an old fifth wheel (no, I am not kidding). The more everything goes digital, the more I want to do chemical. That won't stop me from getting my digital camera (Sony a100, because all my lenses and stuff are Minolta). I'll post some of my work once I return to making pictures. My hope is that teaching myself to paint will actually help my photography and writing. Tolkien did watercolor, and if it worked for him...

For all of youse guys who know me as Dainn, the erudite bald black enchanter-type int-caster of the various fantasy and sci-fi worlds, I am still between games. Not sure if I will go back to playing them again, but Conan looks interesting. I recently left Lord of the Rings Online, and before that Vanguard, and WoW. Like that first meth high, I keep trying to go back to the experience I had in Everquest and not quite reaching it. The days when grinding was fun--quadkiting raptors or wyverns with Maggot...sigh, those were the days--is over, at least for now. If there are any of my old EQ etc. buddies out there, drop me a line. I heard from Maggot a couple weeks ago, and would like to hear from you.

So much for the executive summary part. So, to make a short story long, I am back for now, and I promise that I will start writing regularly again.

No, really.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Apple = Lemon

A year and a half ago I placed high in a bowling tournament and got enough cash to buy an Ipod. What I bought was an Ipod 40gig clickwheel. Since the day it arrived it has been a complete problem child, and knowing what I know now I would be very hisitant to buy another one in the future.

I am a PC user, though according to the Apple propaganda this should not be an issue. I use my ipod heavily--when it is working--listening to very large audiobooks and leaving it running for hours at at time. Still, this should not matter. I keep it well protected, the battery well charged, and it gets better care than my laptop. Still, I have sent it to Apple 2 times now and just ordered the box for time number 3. All for the same problem: hard drive failure. In fact the Ipod I have now that just crashed on me is one that I got as a replacement only a couple weeks ago.

Apple touts itself as a crash-proof manufacturer. Don't believe it. They have a lemon in the 40gig clickwheel, they have to know it, and even their tech support aren't allowed to admit that it is a design failure. According to this study the 40gig clickwheel has almost a 30% fail rate, with some reported problems being repitious. Notice that they no longer put out a 40gig version.

I paid the extra $60 for the Applecare plan, which is going to buy me another year of replacement Ipods, but I fully expect them to fail one after another until Apple gives me the finger and refuses to replace it anymore (this Feb).

...and when that day comes the odds of me buying another Apple product are slim to none.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Politics: The State of Bias

The nation is polarized.

You hear this so much these days. Democrats will blame Bush for this, or Fox News, or some conservative bombthrowers that appear on AM radio. Republicans blamed Clinton for the same thing a few years ago, the media, special interest groups like Democrats blame the war and Bush's unwillingness to get international approval before acting on foreign policy (read: Iraq). Republicans point to ... hell it doesn't really matter. It's all the same bullshit.

Here is the scoop, so listen good. The nation is polarized because YOU make it that way. Polarization goes both ways, by definition. Saying the other side is polarizing the debate is like blaming your children for not calling you that often: the phone lines go both ways.

The hard and true fact is that politics in America is polarized because people LIKE IT THAT WAY. Politics is the new fan-based sports entertainment. Who would want to go to a football game and agree. That is not the american way. We fight. We boo the bad calls the ump makes against our team and cheer the bad calls the ump makes in our favor. If there happens to be a bench-clearing brawl, we stand up and cheer and then blame the other team for starting it. Same thing with politics, we just put on fake aires and pretend to be thoughtfull about it all.

If you are on the left, you think that the right are dim-witted foggy-eyed corrupt jerks who think that waving an american flag and a cross is all the thinking necessary. You read the papers, especially LA and NY times op ed, you think that Air America is a great idea, agree that Cindy Sheehan is the only one qualified to have an opinon on the Iraq war, and you probably paid to see Farehneit 9/11 in the theatres. You have lots of opinions about Fox News, but you have never really watched it, and you can quote lots of bad things about the Oreily Factor, another show you have never seen. The only AM radio you can stomach is Air America, if you can get it. You get the newletter, and your mailbox is filled with campaign fundraising mail from liberal causes.

If you are on the right, you think that the left is trying to take God out of the nation and replace it with a loose set of athiestic morals. You blame the Media for a lot of this, even though the only media you really get consists of Fox News and various AM Radio programs. You have lots of opinions about the NY times, something you have never read, hate that guy Michael Moore and his pet Cindy Sheehan, though you didn't see Farenheit 9/11 except the clips they showed on the Oreily Factor.

If you are a moderate you feel like a lonely person at a football game with two teams you dislike equally.

I really hope you don't fit either of my stereotypes above. But look into your behaviors and see the facts. When was the last time you spent the time to thoroughly read through something that you disagreed with? Even if you don't claim to be a liberal or conservative, where do you get your news, and do you think that "your" choices are unbiased? I sumbit that all the news out there is biased, and if that you think you are getting both sides from one organization you are fooling yourself.

I have tried hard to break out of this mold. I try to have political discussions with people that disagree with me about religion and politics. Because of this I have few of these discussions; people don't like to talk about stuff like that and think its rude. People that do talk about it tend to be convinced believers, and are as fun to talk to as missionaries that knock on your door at 9am Saturday mornings. But I try, and some of my friends, even the extremist believers, tend to at least try to talk. They all (both the right and the left) think I am whatever they are not. That is the way it goes when you are a professional contrarian like me. But at the end of each discussion I have learned something, and so have they, even if it is only more ammunition for their cause.

Politics is trench warfare in America because we have made it that way. It is unpolite to talk about religion or politics because we are all fans, and the only polite way to deal with a fan is to be a fan too.

  • We get all our information from sources that have a bias we agree with
  • We consider our point of view fundementally more intellectual or morally superior than the opposing side
  • We carry strong opinions of the other side with little or no accurate information about what they really believe
  • We are comfortable

Next time you hear someone say that so-and-so is a polarizing figure, think about it and try to work out who is really being the polarizer.

It goes both ways.