Friday, January 29, 2010

Our Menagerie

Yep.  I got 'em.  My wife calls 'em furkids.  I call them self-motivating obstacles.  Especially the Big Dog.  She likes to lay right in main path through the living room.  She's a big sweetheart, but she's taken to chastising Kharma, our Pomeranian Devil, for no discernible reason.  She's a dog wrestler, intent on pinning her opponent.  He's getting a little old and she not only pisses him off, but she hurts him while doing it.  He thinks he's the dominant dog, so having her do this makes him a bit crazy.  He's smart, but a bit... narrow.  Can't conceive of not being the alpha, so the whole thing confuses him.


So, left to right, we've got Kitsune, Bella, Bejjing, and Kharma.
Dog-wise we started out with Kitsune, then got Kharma to keep him company--and because the wife thought she wanted a lapdog.  Kharma turned into a 30 lb Pomeranian Devil, and therefor not lapdog material.  He's our watch dog.  And, yes, yappy as hell.  He's bitten my dad twice, but there's certainly no love lost between them.  Dad doesn't like little dogs much and Kharma knows Dad doesn't like him.  So he makes his own mutual dislike known.

This is Kharma with our poor lost Dami-cat.

We don't get a lot of company, and probably won't until we relocate to a place where we can... isolate... the little beast.  Unlike Jing, he doesn't take our word for it that someone's okay.  They have to prove it.  And then he's just annoyingly friendly.

Boo's the min-pin.  Momma's baby.  She's a bold, energetic, black and tan piglet.  Who sleeps under the covers between us in bed.

Boo hanging out with my cat Bastion

Kitsune's the world's friendliest dog.  He just loves people.  Particularly people he doesn't see all the time or he hasn't met yet.  He wasn't a decent watchdog even before he got old and lazy.  Fair warning:  his is not a typical Shiba attitude toward humans.


Bejjing's a rescue, and the reason we had to quit fostering.  She decided that no other dog not already in the pack had any right to get between her and Mom.  Which really wasn't fair to the poor fosters.  But she's fiercely loyal to Mom and far more trusting of me than she started out.  She'd been abused and didn't like or trust men in general for the longest time.  Even now she's not a big fan of anyone in a uniform.  She's Kharma's silent backup--55 lbs of canine recon specialist.  She moves damn silently for a dog.

Jjing--taking a well earned break from guard duty

On to the cats.  It wouldn't be fair if I didn't introduce our late Dami-cat.  My wife had him before we met.  He tried to brain me with a potted plant by dropping it on me when I was housesitting soon after we got together.  I was amused but I always got the feeling he was waiting for me to take my revenge.  He got diabetes and despite all our efforts we lost him in the end.  He passed in my lap late one night.  You'll see him above in the picture with Kitsune, sitting by the heater.

Now we've got Bastion, Deja, and Sterling.  Bastion chose me the moment we went to see him as a kitten.  He's a weird cat, but not quite near as weird as Sterling.  Deja's a long-hair, which means he's a 24/7 cuddle.  And more or less a normal cat.  Bastion, on the other hand, acts as though he thinks he's a dog.  He comes when he's called--every time--and actually does what he's told most of the time.  He also likes to close the door and lock himself in the bedroom--and then bitch about it.  And he doesn't like wet cat food.  Dry only, thank you very much.

Bast showing me what he thinks of photography in general

Sterling has a fascination for water.  Flushing the toilet or running a bath will bring him straight away.  He's thrown himself in the bathtub more than once without first checking if there's water in it.  He's not so weird that he actually likes getting wet.  But he likes playing in the bathtub right after it's drained.  Apparently he enjoys wet feet.

He's a polydactal.  Six-toed cat.  Into everything.  He likes finding bits of plastic and dragging them out of various places to play with them.

Which leaves us with Deja.  He's just a sweetheart.  Who doesn't eat nearly enough.  He's all fur.  Bastion, like Dami before him, is a brick with legs.  Deja is like a big fluffball with no substance.  He's taken Dami's place as Mom's cat.

Deja as a kitten.
So that's our menagerie from bottom to top.  It's only been through great effort on my part that we haven't found ourselves with a miniature goat or domesticated pig.  That and the fact that we have hunting dogs--as I keep telling my wife.  A big goat, maybe.  But a miniature one?  Forget it.

Goats and pigs don't belong in the city.  Having grown up on a farm, I know a little bit about it.

Labor's Love Lost

Those of us fortunate to have a job right now, particularly with a big corporation, are beginning to notice a certain trend, though maybe we haven't precisely put our finger on it yet.  Those of us who remain at our workplace are being asked... no, expected... to do more with fewer resources for no more pay than we were already receiving.  It'll be passed off as a "everyone has to pitch in and contribute a little more," but what it translates to is that they intend to squeeze every last drop of blood from you until you crack, or until you fail.  Either way it hardly matters, since you're eminently replaceable.  We all are.  A corporation's only moral and ethical duty is to maximize its shareholders' profits.  The physical and emotion stress laid upon its workers to accomplish this is of no concern.  It is a vampire, draining you dry, and you have no recourse other than either complete surrender or allowing yourself to break beneath the lash.  If you're an ordinary citizen in this country, driven to the edge of solvency by the multitude of things on which you must spend money, you cannot afford to break.

In a just world there would be some recourse, some way that you, as an individual, could somehow fight back and still retain your position.  Some way that you and others like you might stand together to show that you are not grist for their mill, that you are more than simply meat to be fed on until you are gone.

But those of us of Generation X and later generations came into this with a vague and unnamed feeling of betrayal, that somehow organized labor had let us down.  It made us more than a little vulnerable to the lies of the Republican party, and the various and sundry corporations who spend millions every year to produce propaganda attacking organized labor.

It never occurred to me to wonder why until I began thinking about it this very evening.  What was it that broke labor in this country, that turned a movement that used to involve a reasonably large percentage of the American population into a shadow of its former self?  I have a few theories, but honestly I believe it began when organized labor declared victory, beat its swords into plowshares, and sat down at the table to dine with those who would be our masters.  Labor began in opposition to the system, but it was eventually co-opted by it.  Its leaders were brought to the table and allowed to "negotiate" with the people who made the decisions.

This wasn't what killed it.  It just made it vulnerable.  Labor wanted this access, this... acquiescence.  Its leaders were tired of fighting, particularly since some remembered when it was really a war out there.  When people actually died fighting for the things we've since learned to take for granted.

Then the counter-culture had its semblance of victory at the end of the Vietnam war, and through the scandal of Watergate.  The Old Guard was thought to have toppled, to be replaced by young and vibrant people interested in changing everything from the inside.  Except it turned out that, at least to some extent, the forces that ran things in this country were a bit like ancient China.  In conquering it, invaders found themselves becoming Chinese.

We stumbled through the next few years, and watched as a wise man failed miserably as President to be replaced by someone who believed government wasn't worthy of his greatness.  When Ronald Reagan became President, he broke the back of the Air Traffic Controller's Union and, in so doing, broke the back of organized labor.  The Air Traffic Controllers were the only union that supported his candidacy, and almost immediately he turned on them.

And when it happened we saw precisely what union solidarity meant in this country.  Nothing.  No one wanted to risk their hard-won access, their place at the table.  In one fell stroke it became illegal for those in occupations "vital to national interest" to strike.  The capitulation became finalized because their ultimate weapon had been stripped from them.  And no one else dared strike in their stead.  From that moment on, organized labor became a bit like a toothless dog.  It could bark, but became very unlikely to draw blood.

Employers found ways to make organizing less attractive.  They saw the value in treating their employees with some measure of respect, in offering benefit packages that might draw the best and brightest into their fold.  Why pay union dues when you could get the same thing for nothing?  What could they offer that the employers didn't offer already?

Aided by the so-called "liberal" media, strikes began to be seen as the actions of greedy workers just "out to make even more money than they already do."  Rumors began to circulate, sources unknown, that they protected lazy, unproductive workers and did nothing else of import.

So now we stand fractured, in the middle of the worst economic downturn in decades, unable to even stand up for ourselves against the cry of "more profit, damn you!"  We are islands in a sea of mindless greed, alone beneath the lash.

We are not ourselves blameless, of course.  We took the beating, accepted their vampiric bite year after bloody year, and did nothing even when we knew we should.  We stood by and let anti-labor people conquer the polls time and again, saying nothing, doing nothing.  When we heard the word "labor," we thought of the unions, of the organized labor we felt had abandoned and betrayed us.  But they're not the only aspect of labor that exists in this country.  Most of labor is unorganized.  It's us.  The little people.  The modern peasants so easily dismissed.

But the irony is that we have the greatest tool of organizing there has ever been.  We have nearly instantaneous communication and social media to make it all possible.  We could do it ourselves, without the unions who have so clearly failed us.

But only if we have the courage and strength of purpose to stand not up not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors.  Imagine--a spontaneous protest nationwide at any one employer... where 50, 75, or even 90% of the employees simply walked out into the parking lot and said "We have had enough.  We will not return until something changes."

It could happen.  They forget, this is a pyramid.  It is the people on the bottom who keep everything going.  If "Atlas Shrugged" no one would even notice.  The world would keep turning as it was.  But if we shrugged it would be a whole different story.

Would it not?

One of the richest men in the world, Warren Buffet, said "This is a Class War, and we're winning... even though we shouldn't be."

Why should we stand by and let them take potshots at us from  higher ground without ever once firing back?  Yes, it's a class war, but it wasn't the lower classes who started it.  But it is the lower classes that can win it.  Unless we follow in the footsteps of organized labor and simply surrender.

Doesn't sound like much of a plan to me.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Used to be wild, now... not so much

Some folks might know I went out and injured myself a couple of weeks ago falling down an embankment.  The wife was a bit miffed at me.  I wanted to take some pictures of a couple of my old haunts, starting with Game Farm Park.

 A nice little waterfall along the White (Stuk) River trail.
 The White (Stuk) River.  In the Spring it looks like milk--I'm told it's the glacier runoff.  I'll try to get another pic in the Spring to show you all.

 The trailhead to climb the hill from the back of the park.  This is quite a climb, especially for a middle-aged dude like me.  I wasn't happy when I got to the top, but I did it.

A view of the river from the top of the hill.

A view of the park from our old hangout, a place at the edge of the hill we used to call "The Grove."  It used to be really nice but now it's littered with garbage and the trees marred with graffiti. Who the fuck writes on trees?  Oh, yeah... This jerk who calls himself "Mimic."  What a fuckhead.

I fell down coming off the hill and injured my right arm/shoulder.  It's been a couple of weeks and now I've finally got about 75% of its mobility back, though I still can't put too much pressure on it.

I swallowed the pain so I could visit and photograph one other location in Auburn.  This is what I presume to be Auburn's newest park--or prospective park.  Back in the day it was our favorite camping/party spot.  While all the other kids were out at Beer Bottle Beach or 3 Bridges, we were at Big Bend.  It was a swimming hole and a great place to host a small party because it never got busted.  For my 19th birthday we carried a keg through the woods in a blanket--one of us on each corner--and drank for 3 days on it.

Good times.

This is the entrance now.  Some 24 years later.  I feel slightly violated.

And here's the crook in the Green River known as Big Bend.  In Winter.  I took my boys here last Summer and noticed it's easily a more popular swimming spot now than it was back then.  More of the local teens know about it, at least.  It was a well-regarded secret back in the day.  Local legend has it that THIS was the spot CCR sang about in their song "Green River."  It looks a LOT different in the Summer.

Retail Hell Part II

Okay... So my last post outlined the annoyances of working retail.  Mainly obnoxious, inconsiderate, and sometimes downright disgusting customers.  It's not uncommon to find half-chewed food lying on the floor, dropped and left there by someone's child.  I'm not sure how someone can walk away from that... I'll bet they also do the same thing if their dog shits on the sidewalk.

Anyway... So this elderly lady--I think she may have been French, but I'm not sure.  The accent wasn't all that clear--just definitely not American.  She came in looking for one of the new Zero Water filtration pitchers she'd apparently seen on TV.  It always amuses me when the customer looks at me and asks "So, what can you tell me about this?"

My answer, if I'm being honest, and I really can't help myself, is "Pretty much what it says on the box."

She seemed a bit disappointed, but not upset.  We just sell them, we're not given any training on the items we sell, or a free trial to see how they work.  I opened a box and looked for some documentation at her request, but found none.

So I pointed to one of the PUR filtration pitchers and said "That's the one I have.  I imagine it works pretty much the same way."  More or less.  I have one of the flavored pitcher ones, though we haven't bought any more of the flavoring since we first got it.

I explained how it worked and showed her the display model.  She wasn't interested in the flavorings, but seemed to really appreciate that I didn't know something about that particular item.  She thanked me for my assistance and sent me on my way.  As far as I could tell she intended to buy one of the PUR pitchers because, first of all, it had documentation, and, second, it had been personally recommended.  I certainly like it.  The amount of water I drink has gone up considerably since we got it--mostly because I can't stand the taste of chlorine in water.  Comes from growing up drinking well water for a good part of my childhood.  City water tastes like crap.

I like helping people find what they're looking for.  It's one of the things that makes it worthwhile.  And one of the reasons I know the store as well as I do.  Yeah, I know sometimes people are just out buying crap they don't need for whatever reason, but that doesn't matter as much as the feeling that I'm making someone happy.  It's especially gratifying when I help a parent or grandparent find a particular toy for a grandchild for their birthday or Christmas.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment when I'm told "You've just made a kid's Christmas."

That's why I do it, and why I'm as good at it as I am.  It's also the reason that everyone assumes I'm a supervisor when I'm not.  I'm a trainer, which at my store is just a glorified sales floor employee.  I've trained the vast majority of new hires, including many of the supervisors, and yet I'm just another peon.  But what makes up for it to at least some degree is knowing that my co-workers trust and rely on me.  They know I won't bullshit them, even if that's the manager's plan for the night. 

Like tonight, for example.  She tells me at closing "Oh, I'm letting them think we might be going home early so they'll work faster and we can get a few extra things done."

I looked at her and said "I didn't think we were, so my team doesn't think so either."  I know her well enough to know better.  If she expected me to play along with her deception I'm reminded of a line from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.  "She don't know me very well, do she?"

I don't lie to my people.  I don't manipulate them either.  If they work a little harder for me, it's because I respect and trust them to do their jobs.  And that's a lesson a lot of my so-called superiors could stand to learn.  But much of corporate America is really about exploitation, and exploitation often requires some level of deception.  Trying to trick people into giving you something to which you're not really entitled is a kind of fraud.  Earning that sort of regard, respect, and reward is something else entirely.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

God, gods, and gawd...

I don't believe in God.  Not the way most folks talk about it.  Some supernatural being looking down at us from some extra-dimensional space in the sky, reading our minds to make sure we're all being good little boys and girls as if it were a great cosmic Santa Claus with a really big carrot and stick set?  An omniscient, omnipotent being that needs our worship as if it were heroin and our slavish devotion was its next Big Fix?  Not buying it for a second.  And I'm not sure what's more unsettling when you get into the whole heaven and hell thing.  If you're a good person and follow all the Do's and Don't, or at least pretend you'd like to as long as you seek forgiveness and keep a little Jesus in your hearts, you'll to heaven.  Where you'll spend the rest of eternity bowing and scraping to the almighty Slave Master.  Sounds positively joyful.  And Hell?  What a stupid idea that is.  Do the wrong things (such as being gay, questioning all this, or--gasp--being born in the wrong place and time) and you'll suffer forever in a lake of fire.

Maybe it's me, but this God fellow sounds like a complete asshole.  But, wait, there's more.  He's omniscient, omnipotent, and all-loving.  Yet he not only tolerates suffering, but in the Old Testament, he all but demanded it.  He promoted slavery, genocide, and rape.  Nice fellow, eh?

Now several of my closest friends (and my wife) are pagan.  Some folks just roll their eyes at that and all I can say is I hope your face gets stuck that way.  Still makes more sense to me than Christianity, but just about anything does at this point.  And, no, don't try to "explain."  I don't distrust Christianity because I don't know anything about it, but because I do.

Now I can accept little 'G' gods better than one big 'G' God.  Why?  Omnipotence is a ludicrous notion, particularly when attached to all the rest of it.  Little 'G' gods are associated with one or two aspects of nature--human or earthly--rather than EVERYTHING THERE IS.  Makes more sense from that point of view.

So am I pagan?  At one time I defined myself that way, then "pagan by default."  These days I'm just pagan-friendly.  Agnostic humanist pantheist is the way I describe myself, as far as that goes.  I don't know anything  more about the ultimate nature of the universe than anyone else and I'm not going to pretend otherwise.  That's why some brands of atheist get on my nerves as much as heavy duty Christian crusaders.  Because they act as though they know the unknowable.  God/no God, afterlife/no afterlife.  I don't know.  But I am pretty sure there's more than just the material world out there because of my own personal experiences.  I've seen and experienced shit that defies "rational" explanation.  Unless one, of course, expands one's notion of "rational."

When using a generic "god" phrase, I substitute "gawd," for the 3-letter version because I'm deliberately suggesting no religious affiliation with the word.  "Gawd" only knows, or "By gawd."  Silly, but I can be that way sometimes.

So that's my current rant on religion... and the lack thereof.  I don't care what anyone believes until they decide it should somehow affect my life.  Guess again.  Keep your religion to yourself.  Gawd wants it that way.

Retail Hell

What is it that prompts total strangers to come into someone else's place of work and feel okay about trashing the place?  You can always tell someone who's actually worked in retail because they're at least moderately considerate of both the retail employees and the other patrons.  They don't leave stuff on the floor, or toss it carelessly on a shelf where it clearly doesn't belong.

The funniest thing is that some folks excuse this sort of behavior by saying "I'm providing job security."  Wow.  Now there's some mighty unconventional wisdom for you.  Making someone else's life and job more difficult is providing job security.  So is that a good excuse for going out and robbing a bank?  Job security for the FBI and police?

"Gee, Saje, now that you mention it..."

I'll never cease to be astounded how thoughtless people can be.  Retail is not an easy job and yet some folks act as though the employees have nothing better to do than pick up banana peels, apple cores, and empty (and sometimes not-so-empty) cups from various around the store.

Okay--I know what some of you are thinking.  "I thought you were an author."  Well, yeah.  I am.  But I also have a day job... in retail.  I don't advertise that because, well, my employer's brand doesn't need to be tangled up in mine.  Make sense?  And since the corporate dickheads in charge refuse to advertise for me, I sure as hell have no intention of advertising for them.

Only about five percent of the authors I know make enough money to give up their day jobs.  It's a dream of someday, not a reality, for the vast majority of us.  A goal?  Sure.  To be able to give up grinding my soul into dust for people who really don't appreciate it?  Where do I sign up?

So next time you're shopping, take a minute to consider us poor overworked and underpaid retail employees.  If you happen to pick up something you don't actually want, wait to give it to a cashier.  Don't be embarrassed.  We much prefer you do that rather than leave the dish soap in the toy department because it's gotten too heavy.  Really.  I promise.  If you remove something from a peg hook, take that extra ten seconds to put it back.  We'd do it for you.

I bring all this up because after three days off, then one day on, then two more days off, I'm heading back to the salt mines today.  Be nice, people.  There are a lot of reasons this job is aggravating.  Don't make it any worse than it has to be.

And have a lovely day!

Heroes return to form

I was reading comic books almost before I was in school.  In kindergarten I remember following the adventures of Spider man, Iron Fist, and Doctor Strange.  It was one of the things that helped turn me into the reader and writer I am today.  Anyone who's read my books should be able to recognize the influence the comics had on me.

In their earliest incarnations, comic books were as much propaganda as entertainment.  Very pro-American, racist, and militaristic.  It was a different time, a different set of principles at work.

But by the time I came into it the whole atmosphere had changed.  The art form had developed into a social commentary ranging from the hidden mystique of the martial arts to the dangers of drugs.  Most folks were able to draw the connection between the mutants of the X-Men and the civil rights movement.  Society needed to come to terms with those who were "different," much in the way it does today.

Comics have gotten a bad rap here and there throughout their history, but the fact is that a lot of the movers and shakers today were brought up on them.  The idea of super-powered individuals standing up for what's right is something that seems uniquely American for the most part.  We want to believe in heroes.  Maybe because we have so few real ones to look up to.

The thing about fictional heroes is that they can be trusted to remain who they are.  Even if a new writer signs up to the franchise and takes it different directions, the fan can keep his or her own image of his or her hero in mind.  The hero doesn't change, just peoples' different interpretations of him, her, or it.

So anyone who's paid any attention to Marvel's comic books in the past several years knows that they took a turn into serious dark and gritty territory--tackling the whole idea of superhero registration and how this might affect our concepts of liberty and freedom.  But now apparently they want to return more to the old days, the days when the heroes stood for goodness and justice above all.

People are worried that Disney's purchase of Marvel will turn them all into a bunch of family-friendly softies... I think they're evolving, like everything else evolves.  But the core of what makes them what they are, and the reason we love them, will remain the same.

We need heroes.  Comics are our modern mythology.  And we all know what mythology does for us.  Or, if we don't, we should take the time to find out.  It makes us strive to be better than we are, to stand for something besides just ourselves.  And if people like Spidey, Captain America, and Iron Man don't do that for us, who will?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Joy of Twitter

Word has it that Twitter's rapid ascent might have peaked--that folks are starting to drift away from it.  Twitter, of course, responds that it's busier than ever.  The people who don't get it, or don't get anything out of it, have wandered off, but the millions of folks who like conversing in 140 character or less spurts are still absolutely joyful about it.

That's not a quote.  Really.

I like Twitter.  I've been engaged in conversations with a few people all over the world on a regular basis--people whom I might or might not ever actually had a chance to speak with.  It's a place where one might engage in conversation with just about anyone, from TV stars to authors to would-be new media superstars. 
Or the ordinary fellow down the street, or all the way across the world.

That's pretty cool in itself because it allows person-to-person communication between folks who might otherwise never have occasion to meet.

But beyond that it offers the chance to visit websites one might never have considered, reading about things one might never have imagined.  From strange 3d urban artwork featured in Woman's Day to an article about an epidemic of rape in the military.

It's about people not only connecting personally, but passing along information. And thanks to people like Alyssa Milano, people responded quickly to help with the disaster in Haiti.  Twitter, and social media in general, is helping to bring people together.  And that's a good thing.

Is it a "fad," as some folks are saying?  Perhaps.  Time will tell.  But for some people, even fads last a lot longer than one might expect.

Rock and Roll After Forever

By the time you're my age you're supposed to be waxing nostalgic, remembering the music of your youth with great fondness and grumbling about modern music.  Well, I do have some grumbles about modern American music, that's for sure.  Not that I'm particularly up on some of it, but all in all, the "angry dog rock" that seems so prevalent makes me want to scream.  And not in a good way.  Yeah, metal went a bit too far with the pop shit back in the 80s (and let's not even get started on the lifestyle--sheesh).  I hated grunge when it hit but I had to agree with the Wilson sisters (Ann and Nancy) who said in an interview "Whew, were we glad when that was over."

I'm a metal-head.  I banged my head to Ozzy, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Savatage, Queensryche, and Metallica in particular.  In the 90s I discovered Dream Theater, but found successive albums just didn't hit the mark.  But I was always on the lookout for something special.  When the Scorpions unloaded their album with orchestral accompaniment, I was like "Hey, now this is something I could get behind."  Then Metallica did something similar and I was like "Uh... wtf?"

I was a man in search of my music.  I've found bands I've enjoyed over the years, only to watch them fall by the wayside as I grew bored of the music they were making.  None of it fit.  None of it was the timeless sound I was looking for.

Now, I like classical.  I never knew much about it, but the sound of the bow sliding across the strings was like an angel's choir in my ears.  Violins, violas, cellos... all make music I love to hear.  Over the years I discovered artists who used such instruments in their music and I took what pleasure I could from it.

Evanescence hit in the early part of this century and for a moment I was thinking "Shit, yeah!"  Amy Lee had a voice like we'd never heard in rock and metal and I was ecstatic.  The first album was phenomenal, the live show at Bumbershoot nothing short of sublime.  I was suffering from a blown out back (and, yeah, I mean 'suffering') yet it remains one of my favorite concerts ever.

Then a couple years back I was scanning the On Demand music menu on my local cable and stumbled across a little song called "Bye Bye Beautiful" by a band called Nightwish.  I thought it was okay, but wandered off to watch a video by another band called Kamelot entitled "Rule the World."  I loved the progressive flavor of the Kamelot song.  So I started looking for other stuff they'd done and stumbled across "The Haunting," featuring Simone Simons of Epica.

Simone has the voice of an angel.  I searched out some of their music on YouTube and then and was instantly hooked.  That, of course, led me back to similar music and I got to hear more of Nightwish.  Let me say that while I like Tarja's voice, for what she does with it, I think she could do a hell of a lot more.  That's one of the reason I actually prefer Anette Olzen's voice fronting Nightwish.  More variation.  Sure, Tarja's voice is cleaner than Anette's, but I think the range of, say, Floor Jansen or Simone is far more accessible.

I told my wife soon after stumbling across all of this that "This is the music I've been waiting my whole life for."  She doesn't get it, but that's okay.  She's never been one for female vocals and I always have been.  I lamented that the few real female rockers in the eighties got short shrift.  I wanted to hear them let loose.  Unfortunately I had to wait nearly another twenty to twenty five years to get what I wanted.

I've even discovered, much to my surprise, that I like the gothic "beauty and the beast" flavor of bands like Epica, After Forever, and other similar acts.  I don't mind the "death grunts" if they're contrasted by the ethereal power and beauty of a prime female voice.

I think bands like these are poised to explode into America.  It's just a matter of time.  Evanescence was merely a hint of what was possible.  Compared to bands like Flyleaf and Paramore, the gothic and symphonic metal bands from Europe are a veritable nuclear blast of intensity.  These are musicians and composers at the top of their game, with female vocals ranging from the graceful to the truly amazing.

I added a link to to this post.  My user name there is saje3d, my library featuring many of the bands I've mentioned, along with many others.  Pay no particular attention to the number of plays, if shown, because I also rely on Grooveshark and Pandora to give me a full taste of the music I enjoy before buying it through either itunes or my emusic membership.  And, yes, I buy the music I hear.  I happen to think downloading music illegally (or anything else for that matter) is the act of a common thief.  I use services like, grooveshark, and pandora to discover music.  But I like to take it with me, which requires me to actually purchase it.

If any of this sounds at all interesting to you, go have a listen.  Pay particular attention to Epica, After Forever, and Edenbridge... along with Within Temptation, Lunatica, Gwyllion, and Nightwish.  If you like male vocals too, check out Kamelot, Falconer, Sonata Arctica, and Amorphis.

Go forth and be saved, my children.  These bands are the worthy successors of such luminaries as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Queensryche, and Rush.  This is the music I've waited my whole life to hear.  How about you?


Sometimes the words just won’t flow.  Concepts are there, but everything is building in the back of my skull and nothing I write does the idea justice.  So in situations like these, I sit back, watch a little TV, and find some games to play.  Thankfully the net is full of new free-to-play MMORPGs out there.  I’ve tried several of them over the past few weeks and figured I’d put a little effort into writing a review of those that passed my first test—attracting my interest.

First thing—it can’t be pay-to-play.  I refuse to get sucked into the WOW phenomenon.  I played a few of the earlier versions of Warcraft and, while enjoyable, they lacked a certain something.  Then a couple of years ago I picked up a copy of Guild Wars.  If you’ve never played it, let me put it this way.  It’s a great game.  Visually stunning, with intuitive mechanics and User Interface, it’s something anyone can start playing almost immediately.  And it’s a lot of fun.  Sure, GW has its faults—it’s a bit tough for some folks to get used to the idea of only having access to 8 skills at a time, but since skills and attributes are always open to redistribution based on quest requirements, it tends to promote tactical thinking.

I like the fact that you can control the character with either the arrow keys or mouse clicks.

It does, of course, require the initial game purchase, but no more.  One can buy more character slots and a few other items through the game store, as well as a few expansion packs, but none of this is necessary to enjoy the game to its fullest.

Okay… enough about GW.  I’m waiting with great anticipation for the next installment—GW 2—but I’m hardly the only one.  The makers have proven themselves to be very good at doing what they do so most of us are happy to let them take their time to produce a game worthy of being GW’s successor.

Next in line is Dungeons and Dragons Online… usually known by its abbreviation DDO.  For one at all familiar with the universes of Dungeons and Dragons, DDO fulfills at least part of the requirements for a reasonably enjoyable MMORPG.  There are aspects of the UI and mechanics I don’t care for, having been spoiled by the auto-attack features of such games as Neverwinter Nights and Guild Wars, but once one becomes accustomed to the interface it isn’t bad.  Graphics are okay and the rules are fairly straight-forward for an old D&Der such as myself.  I like the fact that you can climb and jump, but be careful—this also means you can fall.  A lot.

Beyond that, of course, there’s a whole bunch more.  I typed in Free online RPG and came up with TONS of them.  So far I’ve tried only a few.  Shaiya is similar to Guild Wars except not nearly as pretty.  And the UI is rough.  I tried it and didn’t like it much.  What else can I say?  Then I found a few more.  Fate isn’t bad, if you like the simple 2D hack and slash.  Me, I got tired of that stuff back with Icewind Dale.  Neverwinter Nights more or less ruined me for anything 2D.

So I tried a few others.  4Story isn’t bad, but didn’t really catch my interest.  I couldn’t even say why.  The next game I tried was Perfect World International.  Let me start by saying it’s really pretty.  The UI isn’t bad, and it puts a lot of emphasis on jumping—you can even double jump, which gives you a rather Incredible-Hulk like feel for the territory you’re soaring over.  Game mechanics… A lot of what seems like grinding.  Kill, kill, kill… go back to base.  A lot of time traveling here and there, killing, and then running back over ground you’d already covered.  Which, it seems to me, is one of the biggest flaws of a lot of them.  Even in GW one spends entirely too much time slogging through the same territory—mostly because you died trying to accomplish the mission and have to start from the beginning again…  One of the things about PWI that’s amusing is the really bad English.  You can make sense of it, but it’s obviously translated.

My newest discovery, and so far my favorite of all the free-to-play games, is Cabal Online.  It seems like a smaller world than a lot of them, but that more cuts down on the slogging portion than anything else.  The storyline is rather engaging, if also obviously translated into English from another language.  It’s not as blatant as PWI, but there are subtle clues.  It’s a little cartoony, but not too bad.  The combat system and UI are easy to learn, though the skill mechanics are more complicated than one might be used to.  Cabal is a 3D game, but there is NO climbing…  At all.  A little bump is all it takes to impede the character’s travel… slightly reminiscent of Neverwinter Nights, to be honest.  If anything, I find this to be a bit of a flaw, but not a big one.  Of all the free games so far, I’ve found it to be the most intriguing.  Why?  I think it’s the combat and skill system, honestly.  It’s unique, and just complicated enough.

So all in all I’d recommend in this order… Guild Wars—if one is willing to put out the initial cash.  It’s something I play on occasion even now, though I’m waiting with great anticipation for the 2.0 version.  DDO, for the old D&D geek in me, and then Cabal Online.  If you’re looking to wile away some time doing something that gives the illusion of accomplishment, any of these options will do.  And face it… this is why we do this whole gaming thing anyway, right?  For the illusion of accomplishment?

“Oooh!  Another level!  My character is a BADASS!”

Uh-huh.  Be honest now.

So if you’re tempted to join any of these games, feel free to drop me a line and let me know.  I might hook up with you.  I don’t socialize in-game, generally, preferring to go my own way.  I know, they’re MMOrpgs, but I don’t care.  I just want to kill monsters as a stress relief.  All that typing to chat—I can do that in IM for gawd’s sake.  Besides, I haven’t figured out how to switch between the two modes in Cabal yet.  And having to sign on and off just to do it is a pain in the ass.

As they used to say—“See you in the funny papers.”  Or, in today’s version, “See you in the MMORPG.”
And so much for Live Journal.
I know, I know.  WTF did I even try that for?  I liked the idea of Live Writer, where I could write my posts completely off-line and then upload them.  And then I found out it didn't quite work out the way it was advertised.  I know.  Go figure, right?  At least MS 7 seems to be doing what it's supposed to do.

Oh, yeah.  You'll notice that this blog has existed since 2003 yet, miraculously, there are no posts before today.  I deleted the two I wrote back in 03 because, well, they really no longer apply.  My life is a lot different than it was back then.  So...

Now what you can expect from this blog?  Hard to say.  If you follow me on Twitter, or befriend me on Facebook, you already know I'm an opinionated sort.  My wife says I wasn't nearly as opinionated back in '03, but I think that's pretty damn unlikely.  I was just less vocal about it.  She's had a strengthening affect on me, for good or ill.  You be the judge.

So here you're likely to encounter the occasional social commentary, political rant, news about my writing--or lack thereof--gripes about the day job, and that sort of thing.  I don't censor my language, which is why I filed this under the "Adults Only" category.  If I want to drop an 'F' bomb, I will.  Consider yourself warned.

Speaking of warnings... a bit of politics here...

Also, I have no patience for Right Wingers, from the Ayn Rand "Free Market" nuts (as if there's any such thing), to the religious crazies looking for an excuse to practice and perfect their bigotry.  Having religious sentiments is all fine and good, but don't expect me to alter my life choices because of your religious views.

I consider myself a Left Libertarian, which means I think the government should stay out the peoples' business as much as possible, but be all up in the corporations business.  A citizen's choices may affect a handful of people, generally speaking, but a corporations can affect millions.

Especially now, considering the newest Stupreme Court ruling on the subject.  We should all be up in their grills about now.  Corporations are not people.  They are artificial constructs that operate under license granted by the government of the People of these United States.  Anyone who thinks otherwise has a screw loose.

And can we just toss out that "far left" bullshit the right has been spouting.  That would be the communists and, last I checked, the communists had far less of an influence than the barking mad fascist right wing, especially given the fact that the press drags those assholes out to comment on just about everything these days.  "Hey, let's get a convicted felon's opinion on that.  Here's G. Gordon Liddy with some feedback."

Shit... why not just ask Charles Fucking Manson?

Okay... That's over.  For this blog post anyway.

Today I picked the panels at Norwescon I was most interested in.  And yes, that's a fucking preposition ending that fucking sentence.  And, yes, fucking can be an adjective or an adverb in that context.  Take your pick.  Let's keep in mind that the whole "ending a sentence with a preposition" bullshit is a hold-over from languages in which it made sense because it screwed with the meaning of the sentence.  In English it doesn't.  'Nuff said?
I pretty much chose those things that fit within the Urban Fantasy genre, with a few in Writing in general.  That's where most of my interests lie--though I will be attending other things like the film-making discussions because that's my newest obsession.  Along with my rediscovered love of photography.  More on that later, given that I injured my shoulder getting some great shots and my wife will never let me forget it.

So, this is a taste of what my blog will be like.  Welcome to the madness.