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Coming briefly out of the shadows

I realize I have not been seen here in quite some time...but reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. I dunno...I just haven't been in the journaling mood in a while.

But I had to come back, because today is a special day!

Happy birthday Heather...hope Tim's treating you the way you deserve. :)

As long as I'm here...if anyone is in the mood for some D&D related humor, go immediately to Joesky the Dungeon Brawler's Blog, scroll to the bottom, and read his series of posts on the new Conan movie. I laughed so hard I nearly died.

Til next time, folks. Hope you're all having a great holiday season.

Free, nothing feels like free
Though it sometimes means we don't get along
Cause same, no we're not the same
But that’s what makes us strong...

--"Home", Dierks Bentley
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Book Review: The King's Peace

This is quite possibly the best fantasy novel I've read in years, excepting only George R.R. Martin's ongoing epic. I don't want to overhype it, but I enjoyed it immensely.

It's almost historical fiction, as it is set in a world based very heavily on real-life historical Britain and it's surroundings. But she not only changes names, she tweaks things and adds fantastical elements sufficient that the world actually has a life of it's feels familiar enough that when she says "jarnsman", after a while you picture a viking warrior. But you can never just say, "oh, I know what this is, boring". After the first few mentions of "the White God", I was ready to say "ho-hum, Christianity, whatever"...but after reading further, I realized that even thought it is obviously based on Christianity, it is distinctly different. While I can clearly see the parallels of some (Isarnagans, Jarns, Vincans), some have me at a loss (Malms?).

It follows the story of Sulien ap Gwien, a young woman who becomes one of the foremost warriors of her day (if not the finest), and the High King she comes to serve. It is, distilled down to its core, a re-telling of the Arthur legend...but as the with the world, enough things are changed to make it quite unique. For instance, I can easily pick out the characters based on Gawaine (Gwyn of Angas), Mordred (Morthu), and Morgase (Morwen), and Urdo is obviously Arthur. But who is Sulien supposed to be? I'm guessing maybe Lancelot, due to her close friendship with Urdo and the implication that her son, Darien, seems destined to be a sort of Galahad...but that's odd, because the story uses the Romano-Celt version of Arthur, whereas Lancelot is a French retcon. And plenty more...who is Thurrig supposed to be? Garah? Raul? Marchel? I can't find (or at least, can't recognize) Walton's versions of Bedivere, Kay, Percival, Pellinore, or many other traditional Arthurian characters, if they even exist. Hell, even Urdo's queen Elenn bears very little resemblance to Guinivere, as I've seen her portrayed. However, this is a good thing.

Walton brilliantly avoided the biggest trap fantasy writers can fall into, which is taking historical prejudices and gender roles and using that as an excuse to avoid writing good female characters, despite the fact that fantasy worlds aren't real history. In Walton's version of Britain, women are just as capable as the men, and are shown as such, and in general, accepted as such. There is nothing whatever odd about the fact that Sulien and Marchel are superb warriors and war-leaders. And even most non-warrior females are very capable in different ways...from Garah's abilities as a quartermaster and logistician, to Elenn's skills at diplomacy, to the various women who serve as "key-keepers" (stewards, more or less). While it mentions that there are fewer female armigers than male, because the lance-work takes great upper body strength, there are evidentally plenty of women who can achieve that strength, because there are a large number of female armigers in the High King's army. Sometimes I didn't even know that a character mentioned was a woman for a long time, until a casual pronoun revealed it later; that's how even-handed the treatment was.

At least two female armigers save Urdo's life throughout the of them, Enid, has her arm nearly chopped off in doing it (but lives through this and even continues as an armiger). I still remember Thurrig trying to match Enid up with his son..."We Malms aren't so particular, we don't look for a pretty face. Breasts, hips, brains, that's all that matters. Strong arms, too." Sulien herself is often praised for her size and strength, her skill at arms, or her valor...not so much for her beauty. Even the magnificent armor she wears belonged to her grandmother, not some male hero. And finally, there are women warriors in all the cultures...the famous brigand Goldpate was Jarnish, and Atha ap Gren, who fights with spears from a chariot, is an Isagarnan king (a female king, not a queen). I have seldom seen a book where women warriors are portrayed so well.

And while the Jarns apparently don't treat women as well as the Tanagans, Walton doesn't give this a pass...characters in the book call them on it. when the Jarnish lord Alfwin Cellasson comes to join with Urdo, he is reluctant to speak to women...and Elenn tells him in no uncertain terms (although politely) that he is dealing with Urdo's queen and two of his most trusted commanders (Marchel and Sulien), and if he doesn't want to deal with them he can fuck off. Alfwin's neice even becomes an armiger (against Alfwin's wishes) and becomes a war hero, at which point he accepts her and is proud of her. When Ayl (a Jarnish king) makes some comment to Urdo about "Will you be bound in your will by a woman? Or will you make her obey?" (referring to Sulien), Urdo's answer is simple: "Make her obey? I had rather kill you all".

And males aren't locked into roles either (though they don't go against type as strongly as females)...Sulien's brother Morien, while he is Lord of Derwen and leader of the warriors there, is not really a true armiger, and there is no doubt that Sulien is ten times the warrior he will ever be. Marchel's husband ap Wyn is an even better example...she is praefecto (commander) of one of Urdo's forces, while he is a smith and not even a warrior. I haven't seen such a good example of a female-warrior/male-civilian couple since Redlance and Nightsong (from Elfquest).

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A Winter Interlude

Been a while. I'm going to save the fancy speeches, since I'm probably not getting back into regular blogging...sorry. Be aware that I am around, lurking in the shadows of the internetz.

So what's new?

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Song lyrics:

The girls in the bars thinking, who is this guy
But they don't think nothing when they're telling you lies
You look so careless when they're shooting that bull
Don't you know heartaches are heroes when their pockets are full

Tell me you're trying to cure a seven-year ache
See what else your old heart can take
The boys say when is he gonna give us some room
The girls say god I hope he comes back soon...

--"Seven Year Ache", Roseanne Cash
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I hate banks (along with doctors, insurance companies, and cell phone companies. Maybe more)

What is the deal with businesses (especially large ones) treating all their customers like criminals? Does they seriously think that gives the impression that they give 2 shits about their customers?

I have a small business...I had to get a business license to do that freelance work for my old boss, last fall. It's a sole proprietorship, my name is the only one on the license. With me so far?

Matt (my old boss) finally paid me for the last bit of work I did for him...just 50 bucks for a rewrite on a written enhancement plan. Well, the check was issued to "J & C Business Services", the name of my business. No big. I go to Wells Fargo (where I have banked for approximately 8 years), and I bring all my documentation...driver's license, my bank debit card, and my business license.

I try to go through the drive-thru, and they send me inside. I'm a little ticked, 'cause I just waiting in line at the drive-thru and now I need to go wait in line inside. So I cash my check, and then I ask the teller why I had to come inside; he's not sure, he gets his manager, and this is what she tells me:

They no longer cash business checks for people with personal accounts, at all.

First I'm like, WTF? I (with deliberate calm) point out that my business license is right there, with my name (and only my name) on it. So that check is clearly owed to Jason Goodenbery, and hey right there is a state ID that says that I AM Jason Goodenbery. So what's the problem?

Well, they've had contested checks and lost money on people cashing business checks without having the license on them, or where they weren't the sole proprietor but only a partner, or this thing or that thing.

I point out those are all cases where transactions were done without perfect documentation. That's not me. I have perfect documentation. Why am I being punished because the bank allowed skeptical transactions in the past?

Her answer? Well, that's why I should consider getting a business account.

That is not an answer, people. That is the bank saying what they said in the first fucking place. Which is, "Do it our way, or don't do it". Telling me that you want me to go out of my way to satisfy your unreasonable demands is NOT CUSTOMER SERVICE. It is you, the business, being a prick.

So, again: I hate banks. Yes, I am well aware of the good they do, and that they are necessary for a modern economy, and blah blah blah. That doesn't mean I don't hate them.
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Gary Trudeau needs to be punched in the cock

I really don't hate liberals. At the risk of sounding like That Guy, some of my best friends are liberals. I consider myself a liberal, in many ways (in the sense of Thomas Jefferson, not Jesse Jackson, that is). And I resent the right-wingers who disparage liberals, and try work against that type as much as possible.

Gary Trudeau, however, is the sort of liberal I hate. I hate him because he is a hypocrite who is not interested in rational argument. He is (perhaps) not as bad as Rush Limbaugh, but he is contemptible for similar reasons...both of them stereotype their enemies and attack strawman arguments. Both of them rant and rave about dirty tactics their enemies use, and then happily use those same tactics themselves.

When someone portrays a homosexual using a vicious stereotype, that's wrong, I think everyone should call it thus, and the artist should be pilloried. So why does Trudeau consider it okay to stereotype gun owners and think that's okay because it's "satire"?

Are some gun owners redneck jackasses? Undoubtedly. However, whether Mr. Trudeau likes it or not, open carry IS a legitimate 2nd amendment issue, it IS about freedom, and openly carrying a sidearm is not "being a moron about guns". And plenty of people carry sidearms each day without Starbucks turning into a wild west saloon.

For people who don't read or don't care about Doonesbury, never mind, this wasn't for you.
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The neverending march of time

So another year has come and gone, and I'm not dead (instead, I am 32). Hooray.

I'm not trying to be depressed about my birthday...I just no longer see much sense in keeping track of them. And I certainly don't expect a celebration with hats and presents and a clown and a pony like we all want when we're kids. But it seems like somehow, even when I try to have a little quiet enjoyment on my birthday, it goes somewhat...awry.

Take this one. I took the day off of work, so I could relax and enjoy my special day, right?

Except that I agreed to go on a field trip with Wyatt, which started earlier and ended later than I by the time I got kids ready for school in the morning and ran an errand or two, it was time to go ride herd on a bunch of 2nd graders, and I don't really have any "me" time until around 2 pm.

Except that the thing I wanted to do for my birthday (go to the shooting range) was kinda nixed by the fact that instead of being 60's as the forecast predicted, it was more like 40's and kinda gloomy and rainy.

Except that I have had some kind of minor stomach malady for the past few days, so I spent the day feeling not so good.

It was not a total loss...Casey and I DID get to go out for dinner, sans children, which is a pleasant rarity. And we did go to our favorite restaurant, which is pretty damn awesome...Piccolino's, here in Eagle River, a quaint little Greek-Italian place. I feel the need to gush, because they're so great.

Y'know how when you go to restaurants the wait staff ask you "how is everything, everything okay?"...and my usual answer is, "yeah, pretty okay". But at Piccolino's, the answer is "everything is perfect". Because it is. Everything they served, from the appetizers (Tzatziki with pita chips and bruschettia) to the main courses (eggplant rollatini and mousaka, which--I shit you not--somehow combines meat and eggplant and potatoes and cinnamon of all fricking things, and still manages to be delicious) to the dessert (baklava) was just incredible. Even the drinks were great...who else serves Henry Weinhardt's soda, in the bottle? Most places figure "eh, the fancy people will drink wine and everybody else can just have crappy soda". But these guys are a class act. If you are ever in Eagle River, you should totally eat there. And heck, if you're ever in Anchorage, it would be well worth your time to skip the fancy places like Orso and Sullivan's and whatever, and go to Piccolino's.

So dinner went well. But after dinner, we pick up kids and have to put them to bed, and it's back to normal life. Not terrible or anything, just...not special. It's nice to feel special once in a while, just for a day. Doesn't even take very much sometimes.

Thanks to everybody for the well-wishes, though...I appreciate it. And I hope you and yours are all well. :)
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Book Review: True Grit

So I re-read Charles Portis's excellent western "True Grit" over the past few days. It's a good fast read, and I was in the mood for something like that.

For those who may not know, "True Grit" is quite a famous western starring John Wayne and Kim Darby, about a young girl trying to get the man that killed her father. John Wayne plays Rooster Cogburn, an irascible US Marshal who helps her track down the killer. If you haven't seen it, you could do worse with your time, assuming you don't mind westerns.

I was astonished at how close a translation there was from book to film, in some cases carrying over significant pieces of dialogue word-for-word. Since the dialogue is generally quite good, I'm glad.

However, I am also struck by the character of Mattie Ross, and what a good character she is. In the film, John Wayne's Cogburn very much steals the show (and to be honest, Cogburn is a great character, and the Duke was perfect for the role). But in the book, since it is narrated first person, you get a much better look at Mattie as a character, and can be much more impressed by her (as one should be). In some ways she may come across as stubborn, or immature, or naive...but then one needs to remember that she is supposed to be 14 years old (the movie, by the way, does not make this clear). Considering her age and the time period she lived in (and the way it would be inclined to treat young girls), she actually deals with her situation with considerable maturity and competence, dealing with men like Col. Stonehouse and of course, Cogburn and LaBoef, as an equal and an adult. And what may seem like stubborness is simply something that most men take for granted: expecting to be able to do what one wants, be taken seriously, and get what you want when you're in the right.

While the book would not really pass a Bechdel test (there are in fact almost no female characters aside from Mattie), it does pass another interesting could make the protagonist a male and change almost nothing in the story, and it would still be good.

I include a quote that pretty much sums up what makes Mattie a good character:

(At the end of the book, 25 years after the events of the novel, Mattie attempts to meet up with Rooster Cogburn to say hello, and finds out that he died days before they were supposed to meet. She has him buried on her family plot)

"People in Dardanelle and Russelville said, well, she hardly knew the man but it is just like a cranky old maid to do a stunt like that. I know what they said even if they would not say it to my face. People love to talk. They love to slander you if you have any substance. They say I love nothing but money and the Presbyterian church and that is why I never married. They think everybody is dying to get married. It is true that I love my church and my bank. What is wrong with that? I will tell you a secret. Those same people talk mighty nice when they come in to get a crop loan or beg a mortgage extension! I never had time to get married but it is nobody's business if I am married or not married. I care nothing for what they say. I would marry an ugly baboon if I wanted to and make him cashier. I never had time to fool with it. A woman with brains and a frank tongue and one sleeve pinned up and an invalid mother to care for is at some disadvantage, although I will say I could have had two or three untidy old men around here who had their eyes fastened on my bank. No thank you!"