Stone of Remembrance

August 23, 2006

Arizona and Worldcon (2)

Filed under: Commentary, Travel — admin @ 13:36

Our next few days at the Wigwam were very relaxing indeed. As related in the previous post, the Wigwam Resort is an amazingly guest-friendly place; we were always greeted by name, accomodated whenever possible, and allowed to simply de-stress.

August is off-season at the resort and in Arizona in general. (Huh. Wonder why.) That helps explain how something as downmarket as a Westercon could have scored it as a site; con goers are not exactly the spa facial and 18 holes of golf customer category. Still, we found ourselves uncommonly well treated, which I find immensely gratifying: the idea was to show off the place to my wife and A., who hadn’t been able to attend Westercon with me in 2004. We all want to go back, even if it’s offseason and hotter than $#$@$$%.

Another feature of our Arizona visit was the chance to hang out for a bit with Mike Mennenga and Evo Terra, who are responsible for The Dragon Page; I had a chance to hang out during one of the VoiceMail segments. It was hilarious. I was also interviewed on the regular show. Both sessions were accompanied by selections from Stone Brewing and also some local favorites for which I have no weblink. Note on the VoiceMail segment: colorful vocabulary was extensively employed, along with references to body parts and so forth.


Evo and Mike, Wingin’ It

Arizona is full of Mexican food. Lots of it. Pretty much everywhere. My cousin’s husband, who is a longtime resident of the Southwest, has no explanation for why people in a blistering hot part of the country enjoy hot food, but who knows. Our favorite Mexican was from a place called Macayo, where you can (if you choose) drink from Señor Bob and Cha-Cha’s heads. If you want.


Drink From Their Heads

In the evening we were back at the Wigwam for another movie – Muppet Treasure Island this time. Tim Curry really is a Muppet™, I think.

Next: Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter studio.

August 20, 2006

Arizona and Worldcon (1)

Filed under: Travel, Writing — admin @ 21:09

I’m planning to attend the Worldcon in Los Angeles next week, and on the way to the west coast my family and I have made a stopover in Phoenix. This is my second trip to the area: I was here a bit over two years ago at Westercon 57; I had a great time, met some tremendous fans and fellow pros, and came away wanting to bring my family out for a visit.

The site of Westercon was the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, a suburb west and a bit south of downtown. The Wigwam was the corporate retreat for Goodyear, but over the years has become a private resort – eating and swimming and family activities. It has the advantage of being a rather genteel, protected environment (like a Disney resort, except without the cartoon characters). August is, of course, right in the middle of Roast the Foolish Out Of Towners Season – excuse me, off-season – and that made our rooms quite affordable. We arranged for three nights at the Wigwam, following which we’d drive up to the Grand Canyon, see the sights, stay a night and return on Tuesday so that we could fly out to L.A. on Wednesday.

Thus prepared, we set off on our excursion on Friday the 18th, leaving T.F. Green Airport in Providence at 6:30 AM. It was remarkably crowded at 5:00 AM when we got into the queue(s) – one for ticketing, one for baggage scratch-n-sniff, one for security screening. We pushed more things into checked baggage than usual, due to the most recent terrorism scare, but it meant we traveled lighter overall.

Our first flight to Cleveland was on the next thing up from a puddle jumper but was without event (though we did take off in a thick fog). The second flight, Cleveland to Phoenix, was a bit of a nightmare: a woman traveling with two small boys basically bedded down and slept through much of their rampaging, which drove the flight attendants crazy. (We were two rows away. Tough ride for the folks just behind the little miscreants, particularly when boy #1 transformed into the Toxic Avenger. Mom had to be woken up to swap out the diaper after everyone in range complained.)

I assume that airlines have enough things to worry about without having to deal with this, but I wonder if they can do anything against such a passenger. Needless to say, we were glad when we got to Sky Harbor Airport, but not as glad as the heroic flight attendants who had to fight the monsters back into their seatbelts for the landing.

Here’s a news flash. Phoenix is hot. Not Fenway Park Bleachers in August hot. Not Fourth of July Picnic hot. Really unbelievably “who the hell opened the brick oven?” hot. I was braced for it, but my wife and daughter were pretty well stunned at first contact. Having been in transit for almost twelve hours – from the wakeup call at the airport hotel at 4 AM until we pulled out in our rental car – didn’t help much. But A/C and a good meal helped a great deal, and soon enough we’d reached our destination.

The Wigwam is located in Litchfield Park, which is a ways west of Phoenix proper. I hadn’t driven out there in ‘04; I didn’t have a car, but rather came from the airport in a shuttle. To the eye unaccustomed to the sight of large rectangular areas with nothing in them, it’s a bit strange to see tracts set up for development right near big box stores, restaurants and groupings of new homes; our overwhelming impression was of being in the middle of a SimCity game. “Oh, look,” my wife said. “That’s a ‘C’, and that one’s going to be an ‘R’.” Commercial zones, residential zones, but nothing in them yet. An imaginitive lot, we gamer types.

We were assigned a casita: a large suite with a king bed for us and a pullout couch for A. We wound up spending the afternoon and a good part of the evening at poolside; on Friday and Saturday nights they put up a screen and show a movie after dark, so A. (a devoted swimmer) got several pool hours and got to watch the new Herbie movie, the one with Lindsey Lohan and Michael Keaton. Having seen the original one almost forty years ago (gulp!) in the North Reading (MA) Drive-In Theater, the new one was a much more entertaining experience for A. than it was for me.

When the movie was over we retired to our casita, absolutely wiped out from the travel, but glad to be on vacation at last.

Day 2 next: an online podcast with the Wingin’ It folks, tasty Mexican food, and another poolside movie.

August 16, 2006

The Kid Can Play

Filed under: Commentary — admin @ 22:52

Music is not my life. I play no instruments, and though I do have a good ear I’ve never had the patience or the determination to pursue it. That all went to my brother, whose trumpet does the talking.

A recent visit by my nephew J. was a little déjà vu. Music is a huge part of his life; he’s a talented guitar player with a real feel for what he plays. Today, a few weeks afterward, I got a great e-mail from his dad saying in part

Last night we had the pleasure of seeing Buddy Guy perform at The Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Buddy turned 70 last month. Buddy did his customary walking down into the crowd playing his guitar.

When he walked past us I said, “Buddy: my son can play some blues guitar!” He just smiled. About a half hour later he introduced a young player he had met at the airport. He was about 10 years old. After that kid played Buddy said: “There’s a young man in the house whose father says he can play. Let’s get him up here on the band stand.”


My nephew jammin’ with Buddy Guy

[When he went up on stage] Buddy asked him: “Do you know your keys?” J. said yes. Buddy told J. to tell the band what he wanted to play.

J.: “Slow blues in the key of G”.

When the crowd (of about 1700) saw that he could really play, they were on their feet. When J. handed Buddy’s guitar back to him, J. told Buddy, “I love you, Man!”

Buddy’s response: “I love you too.”

How about that. My nephew J. has a lot of stuff ahead of him, but this has to be a terrific stepping stone to the life he’s going to have.

Congratulations, J. You’re a special young man. I look forward to seeing you up on stage.


The Kid Can Play

August 13, 2006

Heart of Darkness: Jack Chick

Filed under: Commentary — admin @ 20:42

3 Quarks brings us a superb article on Jack T. Chick, the loosely-wrapped evangelist who has made his mark as the author of fundamentalist Christian tracts. They can be found wherever his minions plant them, and also online. They feature Satanists with Semitic features, mad scientists who can’t refute creationist babble, and highly-developed paranoia that you can share – if only you’re willing to join up.

Jennifer Ouellette gives us an excellent insight into the “Heart of Darkness” – the article is worth reading in its entirety, but here are a few excerpts:

Chick took the biblical exhortation to spread the Gospel very much to heart . . . he hit upon the idea of evangelical tracts, inspired by their use as mass-market propaganda by Chinese communists. He worked days as a technical illustrator at Astro Science Corporation, and drew his comics at night. His first, and most popular, tract, This Was Your Life, appeared in 1964, in which a drunken, lustful, godless protagonist dies suddenly and is forced by an angel to view scenes from his “wasted life” before being condemned to the fires of hell. It is still in print today.

. . .

Chick comics are nothing more than propaganda masquerading as harmless entertainment. Their only purpose – overtly stated by Chick himself – is to quite literally scare the hell out of us. It’s a tried-and-true method of manipulation, used to great effect by evangelical groups in their zeal to “win souls for Christ.”

. . .

So what? You might be thinking. People like a good scare now and then, and besides, it’s only fiction. But it’s far more subversive than one might realize, especially since the line between fact and fiction is so easily blurred when it comes to things like Bibical prophecies and religious beliefs . . . CNN interviewed two writers of fiction as if they were expert scholars on the Middle East . . . That’s right up there with Congress asking Michael Crichton to give expert testimony on climate change.

Great stuff. Tip o’ the hat to The Nonist.

Suck and Terry Colon

Filed under: Commentary — admin @ 20:36

In the Day, as we used to say, it was updated daily and worth reading every day: Suck – “a fish, a barrel and a smoking gun.” It was a blog of sorts before there really were blogs, a political humor magazine like no other that was incisively witty and very topical. And yes, it was updated daily. It’s all still there, but hasn’t been updated since they famously went on vacation on June 8, 2001 and never came back.

Suck also featured terrific cartoon art by Terry Colon. While the Suck era is over, Terry Colon is still on line and has his own eponymous site.

In addition to reprinting some stuff from Suck, however, there are some great articles, profusely illustrated. For an example, check out How Planes Fly, which is one of the most cogent and entertaining description of that subject I’ve ever read.

It’s good to see that one of Suck’s best contributors is still fighting the good fight of signal against noise on the Internet.

August 11, 2006

More Evidence of the Islamic Enemy

Filed under: Commentary — admin @ 11:52

New Sisyphus has written an excellent article about the emerging truth of our enemy. It appears under the title The Cultural Tide Is Turning

I have long held that one of the benefits of having Islamic Fascists for enemies is that they are the kind of men who are so sure of themselves and their cause that they are largely unable to lie about what their goals are and how they intend to meet them.

. . .

On balance, however, most Islamists believe their cause to be so just, so obvious and so in line with the yearning of human beings that they see no real need to hide what they believe. That impulse, combined with the aggressive confidence on display across the Islamic Civilization right now, leads them to say what they mean and mean what they say.

Unfortunately, too many on the left don’t recognize it, even when it’s said in plain English.

For every “we can negotiate with these people” speech that comes from any governments’ spokesman, people are seeing claims from Islamists being reported that state quite clearly that there is nothing to negotiate about: convert or die . . . with the propaganda campaign in full swing, more and more people – not the true believers, not the conservatives, not us wingnuts – of average, everyday, non-jihadi obsessed natures are beginning to ask themselves: who are these people, what the hell do they want and why are they living here?

There was an interesting exchange on a talk radio program I was listening to a few weeks ago. A caller said that we should be negotiating with Hezbollah, not letting Israel kick the crap out of them.

“All right,” the host said, “you be the negotiator; I’ll be Hezbollah. We sit down at the table. What do you say?”

“What do you want?” the caller said.

“We want all the Jews dead and the rest of the world to convert to Islam,” the host answered. “You help us do that, and then we can talk to you.”

The caller didn’t have any response to that. But that’s the real problem, isn’t it? We can’t communicate with a culture that doesn’t want to coexist.

And more and more, as the CAIR spokesmen are given a free pass, as our media continues to gloss over the mania in the Islamic world, as our governments tell us there is nothing to worry about except failing in our duty to embrace diversity, as our law enforcement officials rush to tell us the latest massacre of Jewish women in the United States was not terrorism, people are going to start asking themselves:

Despite what I keep on hearing, when a people keep telling me they are going to kill me and desire my and my country’s destruction, shouldn’t I believe them?

Shouldn’t we stop them?

Yes. This has to stop. Sisyphus calls CAIR a fascist front group and he’s close to the mark, I think. While “condemning all acts of terrorism”, they waste bandwidth complaining about the use of the term Islamic Fascists to describe Islamic fascists. It’s a “hot button term”, they say. It “harms our nation’s image and interests worldwide.”

The only problem with that assertion is that it means nothing. Our nation’s image and interests are of no consequence to the Islamic fascists. They hated us when we were trying to “understand” them; they hated us when we tried to “make peace” with them. They have always hated us, and they will always hate us. And “us” means in particular the United States and Israel.

Oh, and by the way, this particular host ran afoul of CAIR a year ago, and a year ago it cost him his job with WMAL, a Disney/ABC affiliate. He refused to apologize.

There’s an old story about science fiction and Islam. “Why are there no Moslems in science fiction?” someone asks. “Because it takes place in the future,” the other guy answers. I’m developing the prequel to my science fiction series, and I’ve been trying to sort out the 21st-century background to my 22nd-century universe; more and more I think there will have to have been some sort of apocalypse that decimates the Islamic world. In my milieu, it doesn’t take the rest of humanity with it . . .

August 1, 2006

Masonic Compact

Filed under: Commentary, Freemasonry — admin @ 19:40

I am frequently asked the significance of my Masonic membership – why I am a Mason, what it means to be a Mason. This question is the most significant one that any individual Brother will be asked, and each should be ready to answer it. The Scottish Rite Northern Jurisdiction magazine Northern Light recently focused on this issue; and I just received a flyer from the Masonic Service Association including a text called The Masonic Compact. A PDF version of this text can be found here, and I have reproduced it below. (Tip o’ the Top Hat to the Grand Lodge of New York.)

These are not my words, but in general, and with remarkable eloquence, this is a good answer.


Masonic Compact

Because I am a Freemason…

… I believe that freedom of religion is an inalienable human right and tolerance an indispensable trait of human character; therefore, I will stand in my Lodge with Brothers of all faiths, and respect their beliefs as they respect mine, and I will demonstrate the spirit of Brotherhood in all aspects of my life.

… I know that education and the rational use of the mind are the keys to facing the problems of humanity; therefore, I will bring my questions and my ideas to my Lodge, and strive to advance the growth of my mind alongside my Brothers.

… I know that the rich tradition of Freemasonry and its framework of Ritual are important platforms for growth and learning; therefore, I vow to stand upon these platforms to improve myself as a human being, and I vow to help in the mission of the Craft to provide tools, atmosphere, challenges and motivation to help each Brother do the same.

… I know that charity is the distinguishing human virtue, and that personal community service is the best demonstration of one’s commitment to humanity; I acknowledge that words without deeds are meaningless, and I vow to work with my Lodge to provide service to the community, and to promote charity, friendship, morality, harmony, integrity, fidelity and love.

… I know that my obligation to community extends beyond my local sphere and is partly fulfilled in my patriotism: love of my country, obedience to its laws and celebration of the freedoms and opportunities it symbolizes.

… I know that leadership is best demonstrated by commitment to serving others; I will therefore participate in, and help work at improving individual leadership skills, and serve the Brothers of my Lodge to the best of my ability.

… I know that friendship, fidelity and family are the foundations of a well-lived life; I therefore vow to be a faithful friend to my Brothers, as I expect my Lodge to respect my personal obligations, and to treat my family as though my family were their own.

… I know that the last great lesson of Freemasonry – the value of personal integrity and the sanctity of one’s word – is a lesson for all people in all times; I therefore vow to be a man of my word.

… I know that Masonry’s power is best exercised when its Light is shared with the world at large; I therefore vow to bring the best of myself to my Lodge, in order that my growth might be fostered and nurtured, and to present myself to the world as a working Freemason, on the path to building a more perfect temple.

Because I am a Freemason,

these values and aspirations are guideposts for my progress through life.

Siggins

Filed under: Games — admin @ 11:36

Mike Siggins is well known in the Euro- and other gaming communities, and is posting articles to Funagain on his impressions and experiences. In a previous post I pointed my readers at his June article; here’s a link to his most current one. He comments extensively on “closed system” games – very astute, as might be expected.

I find it interesting that he’s not as high on Caylus as other Eurogamers, but is very pleased with Rüdiger Dorn’s Jambo – one of my favorite Kosmos two-player games. Mike obviously knows what he’s talking about. :-)

L.A. Con Schedule

Filed under: Travel, Writing — admin @ 11:27

Worldcon is the big event of the science fiction year, and this year it will be in Los Angeles – or, more precisely, in Anaheim. I am pleased to report that I will be a program participant and that I have received my program item schedule.

Hope to see you there!


Thursday, August 24

  • Real Aliens, 11:30 AM, with Greg Benford, Sheila Finch, David Nordley and Alastair Reynolds.
  • Designing FRP Games, 2:30 PM, with David Cake, Kurt Miller and Steve Jackson. Yep, that Steve Jackson.
  • Kaffeeklatsch, 5 PM. Looking forward to talking about my several ongoing projects.

Friday, August 25

  • Where Do Militias Lead?, 11:30 AM, with Richard Foss, J.G. Hertzler and John Maddox Roberts.

Saturday, August 26

  • Writing Non-Human Characters, 1:00 PM, with Greg Pak, Brandon Sanderson, Lawrence Schoen and Amy Thomson. This may be the panel I’m most anticipating, since alien characters are such an important part of my published series.
  • The Roles Of the Game-Master, 4:00 PM, with John Mansfield, Kurt Miller, Jamie Alan Sims and Randy Smith.
  • Aliens Beyond Probability, 5:30 PM, with Alan Dean Foster, Jody Lynn Nye and Bill Thomasson.

Sunday, August 27

  • The Sound of Thomas Jefferson Spinning in His Grave, 10:00 AM, with David Brin, Richard Goss, David Nordley and Darrell Schweitzer.
  • Autographing, 1 PM.

As indicated above, the programming committee will be keeping me quite busy. There is a segment of the pro community that doesn’t like to be programmed so much, but I believe that it gives me a greater opportunity to introduce myself (and my work) to the reading public. As always, I consider it a favor to me by the convention, rather than the other way around, to be a participant.

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