The National [Geographic] Inquirer  

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Lately when I turn on the NatGeo channel, I've found one of two varieties of show on:

1. We Question Something In The Bible And Conclude You Should Not Believe In Christianity


Their documentaries appear invariably to leap to dramatic conclusions which aren't really borne out by the evidence, while simultaneously entertaining the wildest flights of fantasy because "it's within the realm of possibility."

I just watched a documentary looking at the story of Noah's Ark, which concluded with the statement, "The story of Noah is most likely just the story of a guy who saved his family and pets on a little round boat, and got blown into mythic proportions," mostly because they couldn't figure out how Noah built a boat that wouldn't sink.

The very next show was about how the Mayan "prophets" have predicted the violent end of the Earth and all mankind as we know it when the Long Count ends on December 21, 2012. Anyone who knows anything about the Mayan calendar can tell you this is hogwash.

Every time I've turned on NatGeo, I've watched a show about how the Gnostic Gospels should not only be given the same weight as the Four Gospels of the Bible, but are preferrable precisely because they were excluded from the canon; or how earthquakes and polar shifts and all sorts of awful disasters might conceivably occur TOMORROW and destroy everything you hold dear.

Scholarship is questionable in these documentaries, and their phrasing is deliberately obfuscating, leading viewers to accept their alarmist advertisements even when the arguments or evidence they provide say otherwise. So long as it's a sensational conclusion - and one that casts doubt on the claims of Christianity - it's considered ideal fodder for NatGeo to air.

Their documentary on Islam, however, very carefully tiptoed around any questions of the origins of that religion, preferring instead to say, "Well, there are divisions in how the Quran is interpreted, and some people have suggested that the militants are exaggerating." I guess knowing that someone may try to kill you for questioning their religion makes you treat it with kid gloves. Just ask Roland Emmerich.

So much for "educational" TV.

Gamers Helping Haiti  

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(cross-posted on my gaming blog, The Head of Vecna)

I learned of this through Fear the Boot, my favorite gaming podcast.

DriveThruRPG is offering a huge deal through the rest of January called Gamers Help Haiti. By donating $20 (which will go to Doctors Without Borders), you will receive a free bundle of PDF gaming material worth over $1000, including the Serenity RPG and the Cortex RPG System book (the system Serenity uses), Chronica Feudalis, Dork Covenant (the first Dork Tower comic collection), and a bunch of other cool-looking stuff.

So far they've raised $93,560 to help Haiti. Pretty sweet!

I Went For A Walk  

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Hey, I'm posting!

After Marilyn and I came home from visiting with her family in Des Moines, Michael called me up and suggested that, since the weather was warm and clear through the weekend and his vacation time was running out, we should go camping and hiking.

I realized that, under most circumstances, I've developed a tendency to turn down spur-of-the-moment invitations to do social things. I get pretty sedentary, doing artwork, writing, reading, and so on, and when I get on a roll, I usually don't want to interrupt it. Obviously, it's not all quiet, solitary productivity - there's more than a fair share of laziness behind my motives. And sometimes I just prefer to spend time inside my own head rather than trying to have conversations with others.

This time, though, I decided to go. I had awakened that morning, looking out the window at the blue skies over the green forests of Crestline, and said to myself, "You know, I should go for a walk or something." I think being in Des Moines for ten days - most of it in a series of arctic-fueled snowstorms - encouraged me to better appreciate the weather we've been having here. Not that I didn't appreciate it before.

So Michael quickly gathered information and put together plans, and within two hours, we were driving down to Lake Silverwood with a Jeep full of camping equipment. Dan joined us as soon as we arrived, and the three of us set up camp in what the ranger we spoke to considered one of the best sites. After getting our camp in order, we went for a hike along a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail over the lake. By this time it was getting dark; the sun had set and the stars slowly emerged in the deepening indigo sky. As we walked along through the darkness, my imagination filled with images of Strider and the hobbits traversing the countryside east of Bree. We finally reached a promontory where we could see the orange sodium lights of the water treatment plant on the lake, and behind us the desert hills and constellations that we tried to identify. It struck me that this was precisely the sort of thing I'd been wanting to do for quite some time, and with precisely the people I wanted to do them.

We returned to camp and Michael set to cooking up a ton of the dehydrated camp food he'd bought on sale from REI. They weren't bad, overall. We discussed the fact that if you were to eat them at home, you'd think they were terrible; but if you ate them after a long hike, at a rather cold campsite, they were pretty good. And it was much warmer than you might expect for the middle of winter, but of course it was still cold. We huddled over our campfire as soon as we finished eating and talked about hiking and camping trips we'd done in the past, roleplaying games and ideas we had for our campaigns, the activities of our friends, and other subjects.

Finally, Dan drove home and Michael and I went to sleep. Note to self: find a decent pillow for camping. A wadded-up jacket in a stuff bag isn't a satisfying substitute.

The next morning, Michael and I went hiking in the opposite direction on the Trail. We made it as far as the summit between the Lake Silverwood area and the High Desert before my legs decided they could take no more; we could see the road to I-15 and Hesperia from our vantage point. We took a break, had some tangerines and energy bars, and then headed back. After that was a trip to a surprisingly busy McDonald's for lunch (people coming back from wherever they spent New Years', we figured) and back home for a shower and a nap (the latter of which, let it be a matter of record, my wife refused to allow me).

The muscles in my legs have finally stopped aching, and I can walk without looking like an old man. I'm ready to do it again. I'm looking forward to March and warming weather so that Michael, Dan and I can make another, similar outing. Aside from wanting the exercise, I really enjoy unplugging myself from the computer, getting out of the house, and spending time in the wilderness (or as close as we can get to it) with my friends and brothers in Christ.

Do The Time Warp  

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I've been wanting to create more work to put on my DeviantArt page. Since that's where I keep my portfolio (it's on my business cards, no less), I figured I'd best try to keep it current. It certainly doesn't hurt to keep the drawing hand fit, and I need all the practice using my Wacom tablet that I can.

I noticed that a lot of people will create "memes" for others to do. These are basically just excuses to draw a bunch of random stuff, usually with a good sense of humor about it. This is one that one of the people I watch on DA, thundercake, sent out a little while ago...

I Found My Black Self  

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Should I get in touch with my Black self? I don't know what I would say, but it's kind of neat to know he's out there.

I Hate WordPress  

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I hate WordPress. It is the single worst blog-related entity I've ever had to wrestle with. I want to strike it repeatedly with a bat and leave it half-buried in the desert to be eaten by coyotes and maggots. And then burn its house down.

It makes me want to swear really loudly.

That is all.

Form or Function?  

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The Day I Got Locked In The Used Bookstore  

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Some people talk about it, but I'm the only one who had the nerve to actually do it for reals.

As I'm fairly certain I mentioned previously, Marilyn and I are currently living in my parents' spare room. I've been freelancing, so I'm at the computer all day. There are two plush chairs in the room and the windows look out onto the forest, so it's pretty nice. This is the room my grandmother was living in until she died, so it's even got its own bathroom. Marilyn takes the truck to work each morning. I don't really have much reason to leave the room at all unless I want something to eat. It's been kind of weird, but to be honest, it's not all that different from the way I was living when we lived in L.A. I'm still a cave-dweller, but this cave has a pleasant view.

This afternoon, Mom came home with the mail. My parents already get a metric buttload of mail every two days, so our moving in with them probably hasn't helped to make things easier in that respect. There was a yellow card in the mail, which here in Crestline means that there is a package that needs to be picked up from the front desk. She asked if I would drive down to the post office and pick up the package. Also, she heard some of the mail falling down the back of our post office box as she pulled the mail out, so would I also get whatever was left? I agreed.

After taking care of business at the post office, I looked across the street at the Alpine Mall. For those of you unfamiliar with Crestline, the Alpine Mall is a collection of small pale blue buildings clustered together that play host to a number of small, doomed businesses that last a few months and then go out of business to be replaced by other small, doomed businesses. Such is the fate of the specialty store in a small mountain resort town. Anyway, when we moved back up onto the mountain, I noticed that there was a small used bookstore right out in front. I failed in my attempt to convince my wife to walk down into town to check it out with me over the weekend (we had just been to Barnes & Noble, anyway). So, without any pressing agenda, I decided to cross the street and check it out by my lonesome.

The building that the used bookstore is in is some sort of converted house, and the bookshelves are all arranged in different rooms. Little fans on every corner, keeping the air cooled and moving. Navigating the store felt like wandering through the home of an obsessive-compulsive. I don't meant these things in a bad way; quite the opposite, I found the store to be exactly the sort of thing I was hoping it would be. Though it was a little cramped; I had to wriggle past a customer and her daughter talking with the woman at the sales desk to get in. The science fiction and fantasy books were in the room in the back. I've recently felt a strong, perverse desire to read some trashy game-based fantasy novels lately, so I thought I'd check and see what they might have on the off-chance that there would be a Forgotten Realms book tucked away back there. Much to my delight, not only were there multiple Forgotten Realms books on the shelves, but there was a veritable feast of genre delights, both classics and flashes-in-the-pan that I remembered from old Dragon Magazine reviews in the late 80s. Isaac Asimov's entire Foundation series next to the "Willow" novelization; a book on Douglas Adams by Neil Gaiman, original series "Star Trek" novels from the early 70s, the Deryni series and the collected works of R.A. Salvatore. To my surprise, they even had a few roleplaying game books, including the rather obscure Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth and a hardbound copy of Mage: The Sorcerers' Crusade ($4 apiece, yo). Not a huge collection, but notable for its selections, I thought (too bad I'm not really interested in Mage).

Anyway, I kind of wimped out on my quest for game fiction (and they had some of the very first Forgotten Realms novels there, including the one where Salvatore introduced Drizzt do'Urden, so I've got no excuse), but I made a compromise by giving Mercedes Lackey a second chance and picking up The Oathbound - I've always liked the cover art. My first experience reading Mercedes Lackey was in 1991, when I read a novel she authored based on the computer game "The Bard's Tale", so I probably should have known what I was getting into. I think she deserves a chance to redeem herself in my mind. I was also pleased to find that they had a copy of Storm Front by Jim Butcher. I've been meaning to give The Dresden Files a chance, since they're so wildly popular amongst the gamers and Kristen recommended it to me as someone who liked "Buffy" and "Angel". My first exposure to The Dresden Files was the cheese-lensed (as in, viewing through a lens of cheese) television adaptation; again, I'm willing to give the man a second chance.

Sorry, getting caught in the details. Anyway, I came up front to make my purchase. Did I mention the books are pretty cheap? Roughly a buck and a half for a paperback. Talking my language now! I step into the front room to put my books down on one of the glass cases (the one with the original production script from "The Green Mile" at $25 or something) and see that there is no one there. The front door is locked; the "closed" sign is hung, with one of those "Will Be Back At" clock faces with the plastic hands set to 5:30 (or it may have been 6:30). The store hours were from 10 or 12 (again, my memory is foggy on this point), so I assumed it didn't mean she'd be back tomorrow morning. Besides, all of the lights and fans were still on. She would be coming back; apparently, she'd just forgotten that I was in the back room.

I didn't have my cell phone with me, either. I'd forgotten to take it with me, and originally I didn't think it would be such a big deal, since I was only stepping out to get the mail (and though I fretted a little, knowing there would be worrying since I had essentially gone missing, I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy being incommunicado. Selfish, perhaps, but I miss that kind of freedom). I decided that the conscientious thing to do would be to wait until the cashier returned. Besides, I only had a one- and a five-dollar bill, so leaving exact change for my books wasn't really an option. Nor did I care to leave without my loot - that's just the way I am. So I sat, browsed a little more ("Hey, they've got Marvel Comics' adaptation of The Prisoner of Zenda!"), and sat in one of the comfy chairs in the front of the store, thinking about how odd this was.

Then a woman came to the front door and knocked. I went to the door, unlocking it and opening it (hoping the alarm system wasn't set). She said she was there for the Writers' Group meeting, and could she come in? "I don't see why not," I said - indeed, there was a little sign on the door advertising for the group - and we sat down and talked for a minute or two after I explained what had happened. Then two more women showed up for the group.

"Are you a writer?" the girl closest to my age asked.

"As it happens, yeah, I am," I said.

And that's how I ended up sitting in on the Writers' Group meeting, giving my input on the short stories and vignettes that were read and my opinions on what one should consider when writing. Things like "If you know what your character wants, the story can mostly write itself; what is the character willing to do to get what they want, and what are the consequences of their attempts to get it?" Stuff like that. The girl closest to my age enjoyed the fantasy genre, and her perspective on why she enjoyed it was similar enough to mine that I didn't feel too out of place. I was also kind of grooving on the entire serendipitous, random nature of the afternoon's events, so I was in a good mood anyway. I also haven't had any contact with anyone outside of my own family for at least a week, so it was nice to get out and interact a bit on a topic I know something about. At one point I realized I'd been there long enough that I'd better give Mom a call and let her know I hadn't been in an accident in her Explorer (or, as she imagined, arrested by the sheriff for stealing the Explorer), so I used the store phone to call. Once I'd found it. It was kind of buried under the clutter, but I knew it was there because the entire time I'd been sitting and waiting, the clerk's family and friends kept calling and leaving "Happy Birthday" messages on the answering machine.

In the end, the clerk finally returned and apologized profusely for the misunderstanding. We laughed about it, and she let me have the two books for free. I wished her a happy birthday. The women in the Writers' Group said they considered me a member now, and if I wanted to come back again, I'd be welcome.

And that's what happens when I go outside the house.