Checking In From . . .

. . . well, not the best place in the world.

Numbers of infections & deaths continue to rise here as so much of the world gets things under control. The one ray of light is that the current regime seems to be getting hit hard by their absolute failure to respond adequately to the pandemic. 45* has falling approval numbers, increasing disapproval, dismal turn out at events, and is getting beaten in campaign fund raising. So, we have hopeful signs he’ll be out in November, in a fair election (assuming little to no voter suppression, etc.).

In the meantime, my college is continuing online only or 90% online for the foreseeable future. But, of course, aikido is shut down indefinitely beyond what little home practice can be done (weapons kata and basic movements).

Writing continues. Putting the finishing touches on the magic book. That’s currently sitting at over 56,000 words and 191 pages. Probably start looking at publishers soon.

Also working on a multiverse world build for fun. About 14-15k into that so far. Mostly working on iPhone Notes app then transferring to Word, converting notes to paragraphs, then editing & expanding a hard copy.

Watching ST: Discovery season 2. We’re down to the last couple episodes. I think the plan is to subscribe to Disney+ at that point. Continuing Mythbusters with the kid and introduced him to ST:ToS.

Also added some Discworld art from the Discworld Emporium in the UK.

My Martial Arts Truths

Since the aikido dojo I attend has been closed since my state’s lockdown began, I’ve been limited to weapons practice, movement, and thinking about practice. Thought I’d throw out my reflections on some of the “core truths” I’ve learned in the last 12 years of training.

1. If it looks easy, it’s not.

2. If it looks hard, it is.

3. What you think is happening in technique is not what’s happening in technique.

4. You will not master anything in a week. You may never feel like you’ve mastered anything, even after 30 years.

5. Everything deepens. Wrist technique is not about the wrist. It’s about the elbow. But, it’s not really about the elbow, it’s about the shoulder. But it’s not truly about the shoulder, it’s about the opposite hip.

6. Ignore the point of contact. The opponent expects to fight there.

7. Change the line. Even a few degrees, moreso 45 or 90 degrees, weakens the opponent’s power.

8. There’s always going to be someone bigger and stronger. Technique, changing the line, ignoring the point of contact will overcome strength.

9. The best technique is no technique. But, you must learn and try to master technique in order to grasp the principles that make “no technique” effective.

10. Adapt. Do not get locked into making a particular attack or technique “work”. Be willing and able to let it go and move to something else.

11. Find what else can move. Your grabbed wrist is immobile, but your elbow, shoulder, hips, and legs are not trapped. Move them.

Quarantine Activities

Keeping active during quarantine has, obviously, been a major thing for many people.  I imagine there are tens of thousands of videos online about such things.  As a mostly introvert, and reader/writer, it really hasn’t been a huge thing on my mind, personally.  But, keeping some skill sets in practice has been a concern.

Like most people, we’ve been doing walks, usually around the neighborhood.  Fortunately, we have a small city park that’s roughly 1.5 miles (~2.4 km) round trip from home, including a turn through the park.  Alternately, we’ve done trips to the local metroparks, which are extensive and varied in our area.  My spouse and kid have done more of those, often while I’ve been working or in a weekly Zoom meeting with the aikido school I attend.

Speaking of.

The second most common activity I’ve been doing is aikido weapons work.  From suburi (sword cuts) to eight direction cuts to kumi tachi (sword kata), or jo basics and kumi jo (short staff kata), that’s been a way to at least get a little practice and keep some basic movements in practice.  Fortunately, a lot of open hand technique mirrors weapons work, so hopefully those principles are being retained as well.  This has been mostly a good weather, moderate temperature activity.  A few weeks ago, I began working an alternate method for indoor practice suggested by Wendy Whited sensei: substituting the shoto (short sword) for the bokken (long sword) for indoor practice.  Basically holding the shoto the same way as the bokken (two hands) and going through the movements.  The weight and reach is different, obviously, which takes a little adjusting, but the motions remain the same.  (She also recommended wrapping paper tubes, or related non-wooden objects.)

Most recently, for the last week, there’s been yard work.  Last fall, I cut down and chopped up (for firewood) a whole bunch of invasive honeysuckle that had been taking over the back corner of our yard.  For the last week, (coincidentally as exercise) I’ve been digging up the stumps so they won’t come back.  And so we can plant grass and shade/bee friendly wildflowers back there.  That’s been all kinds of fun, because honeysuckle roots intertwine with their neighbors, or multiple plants sprout from the same roots, or tap roots can go straight down or sideways, or . . . the tenacious buggers are all kinds of fun to deal with.

Quarantine Watching (TV)

So, during the quarantine, we’re also getting into or caught up with some series.

As lifetime Star Trek fans raised on ST:TNG, we started watching Picard, and enjoyed the first season.  It was nice to get back into the world.  Seeing Picard, Riker, Troi, Seven of Nine, and Data again was a great nostalgia trip.  And the writing was well done.  It was also nice to see the world outside of Starfleet and non-military Romulans.

After Picard, we turned to ST: Discovery.  We’re part way through season one, and it’s been pretty good. The writing is good, the characters are good.  I’m amused by the continued use of Sarek to link different Trek series together, though.  I did find myself wondering why it seems to be that every other series or so feels the need to reinvent the Klingons.  Not so much their culture or history, but their appearance.  Going from TOS to TNG made sense (better make up, less campy aliens, etc.), but the shift from TNG to Discovery Klingons is rather dramatic and odd.  Though, I suppose they’ll eventually explain it (and/or go back to the retcon they explained in Enterprise).  Thought the “reinvention” of the transporters (vertical pads) was odd and unnecessary, though.

On my own, I finally got around to checking out Lost Girl, and managed to get through the first four seasons before Netflix lost it.  Those seasons were fun, intriguing, and kept my interest.  They made some odd decisions (ex. loki is a species, Mongolian death worms are people, but basilisks are animals), that became odder as season five started (ex. loki is a species, but Freya and Odin are people, and Odin is also Zeus and Amun, but Hades isn’t also Hela or Osiris).  Rally, season five (which I’m half way through) kind of jumped into strange territory.  It’s hasn’t completely jumped the shark into bizarre land, like True Blood did (the books were odd enough at some points, but the show said “Hold my beer”), though, so we’ll see what the rest of the season is like.

Quarantine Reading

During the U.S., really my state’s, “lockdown” or “quarantine”, my reading quantity really has not changed significantly.  But, I figured I’d throw up a post to share what I’ve been reading and let everyone know I’m still alive.

As everything started here, I was in the middle of Fonda Lee’s Jade War, the second in her “Green Bone Saga” after Jade City.  It’s significantly longer than the first, because Lee falls into the camp that believes sequels should be longer than the first book in a series.  (I don’t believe that, but whatever floats your boat.)  The action expands beyond the island of Kekon (a fictionalized semi-modern Asia, incorporating elements of Japan, Hong Kong, and other sites) to see other parts of the world.  That element is cool.  Basically, the whole series is best summed up as The Godfather meets Hong Kong wire fu action movies (which were also the author’s two main influences).

I finally got around to Brian Jacques’s Redwall, which I somehow missed as a kid.  The book was first published when I was nine (the age my son is now, and he’s devouring the first four books).  While it was somewhat formulaic and, by current standards, “typical” aside from the switch to animal protagonists/antagonists, I think I may have enjoyed it more if I’d gotten to it as a kid.  I also take into account that what seems “trite” about the book now was not so much in 1986, before the genre really exploded.  In that respect, I think it was ahead of its time and formed a sort of bridge between the talking animals of folklore/fairy tale and modern children’s fantasy.

Wu Cheng’en’s Monkey (trans. Waley) is another that I finally got to.  I was first introduced to Wu Cheng’en and The Journey to the West while in China in 1987 (about 9 ½ years old) through some, now beaten and battered, illustrated kids versions of the story.  Unfortunately, I only had five of those books (out of many).  I always wanted to get to the rest of the story, but it fell in and out of mind; I had problems finding a good translation.  Then I stumbled across Waley’s translation at a library book sale.  Looked him up later and found that it’s an edition commonly assigned in university level Chinese literature/religion (in translation) courses.  Sadly, it only includes 30 of the original 100 chapters, but the foreword notes that they are representative and some of the best chapters.  So, there’s that.  Over all, it’s a fun book and story, from Monkey’s birth through the completion of the journey and his ascension to enlightened status.  I only wish the translator had kept the character names largely untranslated (or translated them in footnotes, as I understand some of them are puns).

With those books read and the libraries closed, I went back to my re-read list.  Started back into Michael Scott’s The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series.  Finished The Alchemyst and I’m currently about 1/3 of the way through The Magician.  Enjoying them again, the second time through.  The worldbuilding and history Scott created are both interesting and multi-layered.  The time travel element is handled well, as is the “physics”, or perhaps metaphysics, of Shadowrealms and the passage of time.  On the whole, still greatly enjoying these books.

Unmourned Demise

Yesterday, Harold Bloom died at the age of 89.

For those who aren’t familiar, Harold Bloom was a giant name in academic literature criticism circles. His books and articles were taught in virtually every English department.

He was the last gatekeeper, the last great, staunch defender of the Western (read “great, white, male”) literature canon.

He hated any study of literature that went beyond aesthetics.

He hated popular culture, which is ironic because his most beloved author (Shakespeare) was the epitome of 16th century popular culture.

He was a literary elitist and published a lot, by academic standards.

He was also well known among English faculty and grad students as a predator, repeatedly accused of sexual harassment and assault for virtually his entire career. One of my grad school profs was one of his victims. Sadly, his victims will never see him punished.

He is also reported to have told his undergrad classes at Yale to go ahead and report his homophobia and sexism, because the department chair would rather hide under his desk than cross Harold F-ing Bloom (not in those exact words, but close).

In short, there are many whose deaths I mourn: Tom Petty, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Pratchett, Aretha Franklin, Carrie Fisher to name some of the most recently lost . . . but, Harold Bloom will not be among that illustrious crowd.

Reclaiming the Narrative

Copied from a friend. A lot of this rings true

I’m getting a little tired of being told what I believe and what I stand for.

I’m a liberal, but that doesn’t mean what a lot of you apparently think it does.
Let’s break it down, shall we? Spoiler alert: Not every liberal is the same, though the majority of liberals (that I know) think along these same lines:

1. I believe a country should take care of its weakest members. A country cannot call itself civilized when its children, disabled, sick, and elderly are neglected. Period.

2. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Somehow that’s interpreted as “I believe Obamacare is the end-all, be-all.” This is not the case. I’m fully aware that the ACA has problems, that a national healthcare system would require everyone to chip in, and that it’s impossible to create one that is devoid of flaws, but I have yet to hear an argument against it that makes “let people die because they can’t afford healthcare” a better alternative. I believe healthcare should be far cheaper than it is, and that everyone should have access to it. And no, I’m not opposed to paying higher taxes in the name of making that happen.

3. I believe education should be affordable and accessible to everyone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free (though it works in other countries so I’m mystified as to why it can’t work in the US), but at the end of the day, there is no excuse for students graduating college saddled with five- or six-figure debt.

4. I don’t believe your money should be taken from you and given to people who don’t want to work. I have literally never encountered anyone who believes this. Ever. I just have a massive moral problem with a society where a handful of people can possess the majority of the wealth while there are people literally starving to death, freezing to death, or dying because they can’t afford to go to the doctor. Fair wages, lower housing costs, universal healthcare, affordable education, and the wealthy actually paying their share would go a long way toward alleviating this. Somehow believing that makes me a communist.

5. I don’t throw around “I’m willing to pay higher taxes” lightly. If I’m suggesting something that involves paying more, well, it’s because I’m fine with paying my share as long as it’s actually going to something besides lining corporate pockets or bombing other countries while Americans die without healthcare.

6. I believe companies should be required to pay their employees a decent, livable wage. Somehow this is always interpreted as me wanting burger flippers to be able to afford a penthouse apartment and a Mercedes. What it actually means is that no one should have to work three full-time jobs just to keep their head above water. Restaurant servers should not have to rely on tips, multibillion-dollar companies should not have employees on food stamps, workers shouldn’t have to work themselves into the ground just to barely make ends meet, and minimum wage should be enough for someone to work 40 hours and live.

7. I am not anti-Christian. I have no desire to stop Christians from being Christians, to close churches, to ban the Bible, to forbid prayer in school, etc. (BTW, prayer in school is NOT illegal; *compulsory* prayer in school is – and should be – illegal). All I ask is that Christians recognize *my* right to live according to *my* beliefs. When I get pissed off that a politician is trying to legislate Scripture into law, I’m not “offended by Christianity” — I’m offended that you’re trying to force me to live by your religion’s rules. You know how you get really upset at the thought of Muslims imposing Sharia law on you? That’s how I feel about Christians trying to impose biblical law on me. Be a Christian. Do your thing. Just don’t force it on me or mine.

8. I don’t believe LGBT people should have more rights than you. I just believe they should have the *same* rights as you.

9. I don’t believe illegal immigrants should come to America and have the world at their feet, especially since THIS ISN’T WHAT THEY DO (spoiler: undocumented immigrants are ineligible for all those programs they’re supposed to be abusing, and if they’re “stealing” your job it’s because your employer is hiring illegally). I’m not opposed to deporting people who are here illegally, but I believe there are far more humane ways to handle undocumented immigration than our current practices (i.e., detaining children, splitting up families, ending DACA, etc).

10. I don’t believe the government should regulate everything, but since greed is such a driving force in our country, we NEED regulations to prevent cut corners, environmental destruction, tainted food/water, unsafe materials in consumable goods or medical equipment, etc. It’s not that I want the government’s hands in everything — I just don’t trust people trying to make money to ensure that their products/practices/etc. are actually SAFE. Is the government devoid of shadiness? Of course not. But with those regulations in place, consumers have recourse if they’re harmed and companies are liable for medical bills, environmental cleanup, etc. Just kind of seems like common sense when the alternative to government regulation is letting companies bring their bottom line into the equation.

11. I believe our current administration is fascist. Not because I dislike them or because I can’t get over an election, but because I’ve spent too many years reading and learning about the Third Reich to miss the similarities. Not because any administration I dislike must be Nazis, but because things are actually mirroring authoritarian and fascist regimes of the past.

12. I believe the systemic racism and misogyny in our society is much worse than many people think, and desperately needs to be addressed. Which means those with privilege — white, straight, male, economic, etc. — need to start listening, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing, so we can start dismantling everything that’s causing people to be marginalized.

13. I am not interested in coming after your blessed guns, nor is anyone serving in government. What I am interested in is sensible policies, that just MIGHT save one person’s, perhaps a toddler’s, life by the hand of someone who should not have a gun.

14. I believe in so-called political correctness. I prefer to think it’s social politeness. If I call you Chuck and you say you prefer to be called Charles I’ll call you Charles. It’s the polite thing to do. Not because everyone is a delicate snowflake, but because as Maya Angelou put it, when we know better, we do better. When someone tells you that a term or phrase is more accurate/less hurtful than the one you’re using, you now know better. So why not do better? How does it hurt you to NOT hurt another person?

15. I believe in funding sustainable energy, including offering education to people currently working in coal or oil so they can change jobs. There are too many sustainable options available for us to continue with coal and oil. Sorry, billionaires. Maybe try investing in something else.

16. I believe that women should not be treated as a separate class of human. They should be paid the same as men who do the same work, should have the same rights as men including decisions about their own bodies, and should be free from abuse. Why on earth shouldn’t they be?
I think that about covers it. Bottom line is that I’m a liberal because I think we should take care of each other. That doesn’t mean you should work 80 hours a week so your lazy neighbor can get all your money. It just means I don’t believe there is any scenario in which preventable suffering is an acceptable outcome as long as money is saved.

I shared this because I can relate.
The Author is unknown.
Feel free to copy and paste if you feel the same.

Border Anxiety and the Computer Age

It’s no surprise that border anxiety, a focus on attempts to affirm borders and create “impermeable” borders, has been on the rise since the so-called Computer Age began.

We live in an era in which the fiction of borders, imaginary lines on a map that continually shift while giving the facade of permanence, is being challenged. We live in an era when the interconnectedness of the world and its inhabitants has never been clearer. Today, a drought in central China affects stock prices in London within hours. The decisions of a CFO in New York lead to 500 Australians losing their jobs within a day. The choices of a South African plant manager affect fishermen in Alaska. Students in Maine can video chat with students in Peru at will. A person in Italy can video chat with family in Japan in real time at virtually no cost.

These challenges to the fiction of borders are profoundly disturbing and scary to some (particularly conservative) elements of society. Those who have bought into the fiction of borders. Those who define themselves as “not the Other”. Those who have bought into the fiction that imaginary lines on a map define people. Those who accept, unquestioningly, the fiction that division is more important than unity & connection. Those who are privileged enough to be lucky in where they were born, such that they buy into the fiction that the random chance of where someone happens to be born should define their entire life arc.

It seems to me that the connectivity of the Computer Age, the Digital Age, the Information Age, whatever you wish to call it, has resulted in such (ill conceived and impossible) backlash as Brexit, China’s internet censorship, or Trump’s (increasingly fictitious) border wall. The connectivity, the access to information, the ability to see global unity via a device that fits in a pocket, I think, brings out an anxiety in people who define themselves by division. It shows those very divisions to be permeable, false, and imaginary. What they thought was solid bedrock is increasingly shown to be a veneer, a false front, smoke and mirrors. And when the foundational bedrock of a person’s identity are removed, they tend to react without thought, with violence, and to excess.

Origins Game Fair Day 2 (2019)

Busy second day at Origins, which is why this is late.  We played or watched nine games, and re-played Deadly Doodles.  And visited with Mercedes Lackey, the Author GoH, once we eventually caught her at her table.

Catan: Cities & Knights (Catan Studios)

Almost identical to regular Catan, except that the robber works a bit differently.  Introduced invading barbarians and knights to protect against them.  The game also adds city walls and city improvements that grant development cards and other bonuses.  On the whole, I really enjoyed it and would definitely play it again.

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Catan: Rise of the Inkas (Catan Studios)

We only watched this one, so I didn’t get as good a feel for it.  According to the guy running the demo, it’s about 75% normal Catan with a Small World (Days of Wonder) style “civilization in decline” element and the ability to take over other players’ territory.

 

Schrodinger’s Cats (9th Level)

We didn’t get to play this, only have a talk through from one of the booth workers.  Unfortunately, that didn’t really have much detail of game play and didn’t help.  My son decided that it was the game he wanted to get this year, though, so we’re muddling our way through it.  The concept is a basic bid and bluff or build style game.  Each player is a scientist trying to prove or disprove Schrodinger’s famous experiment—alive, dead, empty, or Heisenberg Uncertainty (e.g. wild card).  Each scientist has a special power that can be used once per game and a feline parody name like Albert Felinestein, Sally Prride or Neil deGrasse Tabby.  The concept is amusing, but the rules are not written clearly.  We’ll need to check some YouTube play throughs to really figure out how to properly play the game.

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Blob Lobber (SJGames)

Not my favorite of the day, by far, despite my love of SJGames.  Basically, the play area is populated by a blob and four blob queens.  Cards are dropped from at least 12” above the play area and must flip over at least once.  If they land of blobs that are not your color, you get points.  If they land of friendly blobs (your color), you lose points.  If they land blob-side up, there are more blob targets available.

 

Bunny Kingdom in the Sky (Iello)

Expansion of Bunny Kingdom that builds onto the board.  Nothing majorly interesting or notably different about game play, except for a few cards that drastically change resource availability and, therefore, scoring.  Honestly, if I were to get Bunny Kingdom, I wouldn’t bother with the expansion.

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Tsuro: Phoenix Rising (Calliope)

Unfortunately, this is not available until September.  But, once it is, it is definitely on our purchase list.  A variation on basic Tsuro, except that the players are lantern hunting (to get stars) phoenixes.  As phoenixes, they also get extra lives (one each), so going off the board can be a strategic move as the player can “die” and return anywhere along the board.  Tiles (double sided, both sides can be played) also allow for movement across corners, which changes strategies considerably and the board begins mostly populated with tiles.  As the demo guy (Chris Leder) said, you really have to unlearn everything you know about Tsuro in order to play Phoenix Rising.  But, it was a lot of fun.

 

Kanagawa (Iello)

Interesting, if somewhat complex, game of “painting”.  A lot of resource management (paint, mostly) and figuring out what, exactly, you need to get the diplomas that carry points.  It was interesting, but I don’t think we were playing exactly 100% by the rules after the first couple rounds, once the demo guy left to help some other people with a different game.

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Legendary Forests (Iello)

Fun and simple little game in which the players are dryads building the best forest floor.  One player randomly draws tiles (full stack – 5, so not all tiles are used).  Every player uses the exactly same tiles, but orients them differently and gets different forests by the end game.  Some tiles have a different color number, which causes every player to draw trees to grow in their forest.  The trees are what give players points, since every contiguous group of a color of forest floor that has one tree in it scores points at the end.

 

Spymaster (Calliope)

Unfortunately, not available until September.  Fun game of strategy, resource moving/building, and deception.  Every player is the head of a spy agency, with three field agents (whom only the player can move).  There are also a dozen or more “neutral agents” (whom anyone can move).  The game revolves around collecting intelligence (which allows players to move agents and “pay” for missions) and moving agents.  Each face up mission (6, one per inhabited continent) has a cost in agents (agency, neutral, or both) and intelligence.  Movement can be used to get your pieces in position, or move the pieces another player needs out of position, or to feint and try to get other players to think you’re going after one mission instead of your actual target.  Looking forward to the full release on this one.