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: