Me. Sort of.

I have a conversation with the movie "MI4: Ghost Protocol"

Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protcol: Ah. So I see you've given in to the reviews and are seeing a Tom Cruise movie.

Me: Yeah, but I bought a ticket for Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked because it was playing next door. Tom Cruise isn't getting my money and giving it to Scientology so they can hire more people to claim they're broke and they need their parishioners to take out fifth mortgages on their homes to pay for extra auditing to explain why they can't spend more time in auditing.

MI:4: Sticking to your guns on this one, aren't you?

Me: Yeah, like Jigen Daisuke in Lupin III.

MI:4: No one got that reference.

Me: I like to give no one more credit. So what's the plot of this one?

MI:4: There's a nuclear scientist who wants to blow up the world. He's got access to the warheads and he needs the launch codes. An assassin has the launch codes.

Me: OK. That sounds exciting. So Tom Cruise and some better actors are going to stop him?

MI:4: No, they're going to intercept the meeting and still give him the launch codes because if they don't that might raise some suspicion.

Me: And then kill him, right?

MI:4: No. They are going to give him the real launch codes and then chase him but he's going to get away a couple times.

Me: Why don't they just shoot him in the head in the hotel?

MI:4: As Tom Cruise explained to you, because he's an asset, and you don't kill assets.

Me: Why not? He kills a lot of other people.

MI:4: They weren't assets.

Me: And his team killed that other check whom they said, clearly, was an asset.

MI:4: He's a different asset!

Me: So, while I have you here, explain clearly why you need the guy alive after you gave him the ability to explode nuclear weapons.

MI:4: So .... he can .. um, I have some notes here ... let's see ... so they can follow him to where he's going to launch the nuclear missiles!

Me: And then what?

MI:4: Well, kill him. Duh.

Me: So why don't they do that halfway through the movie?! While they have him in the room! And he doesn't know who they are! And there's no witnesses! And there's no moral or political repercussions!

MI:4: Because ... that would make the movie an hour shorter.

Me: It's not any more complicated than that, is it?

MI:4: No it's not.
Me. Sort of.

Already Hannukah and Almost Christmas

My Kickstarter Project: The World That Was

I know I don't post here often, but with my Facebook account, my Twitter account, my author Facebook account/group page/fan page, and my author blog, it's getting a little overwhelming.

Hopefully in January I will be at work on a new book, which is YA by default because the main character is 14, plus I don't want to be overly pressured to make it long. It's set in a post-apocalyptic future (surprise!) where the surviving communities live in the mountains and the main character (Pema) is the only member of her village with the genetic predisposition to survive the journey between mountains and must strike out on their sake to make contact with the others. The hook is it's a Himalayan setting, drawing heavily on Tibatan, Bhutanese, and Nepali myth, with Pema herself modeled somewhat after Guru Rinpoche. At the moment I'm piling through every book of history, myth, and legends for that region in preparation.

In the meantime I'm also working on book 5, with a tentative publication date of April or May. I just got it back from Brandy, and on January 1st I'm going to send it off to my copyeditor. I may end up going with an eBook publishing company to help me with publicity, depending on what my agent thinks about that.

In other news I'm going to be in India in March volunteering in the Tibetan refugee community, and possibly even going to Tibet for 5 days if I can manage it with the snow and the political situation. I have Kickstarter project up, so please check it out, watch the video, and if you are flush with cash (in some imaginary dimension where the economy is good and we're not all barely making it by with three part-time jobs) please consider donating. Or give a dollar. Or whatever, give directly to a charity instead (Kickstarter donations are not tax-deductible).

Me. Sort of.

Things I Learned from the Movie "Immortals"

1. It is really easy to get anywhere in Greece like, immediately.

2. The Bronze Age had way more steel than you think. Tons of it, actually.

3. The titans are dicks.

4. The gods are way bigger dicks.

5. Men who don't believe in the gods because the gods have never appeared or helped them out in any way in their awful lives are dicks.

6. Someone who tries to end the reign of the gods, no matter how well-reasoned his argument (they're dicks), how big his utterly understandable grudge (they never help humans out EVER), and how much better the world would be without them (a lot), is the biggest dick of them all for doing that.

7. The good guy, who is a dick who beats people up and is showered with presents from the gods but doesn't appreciate them or even say thank you when they roll all of his enemies right in front of him is somehow not a dick. He is the guy you should be rooting for.

8. Gods, titans, humans - they all pretty much go down like punks. The ease with which you can kill someone in a single hit isn't affected by how immortal they are.

9. Like any other age, it sucked to be a woman in the bronze age. But at least you didn't have to do much in the way of fighting. It was more about waiting around to get tortured and raped.

10. The reason we have monotheism today is because all of the gods got killed for being stupid dicks. Good riddance, I say.
Me. Sort of.

25 Iyar, 5771

Recently I watched The Sun Behind the Clouds, a Tibetan documentary covering the events of 2008 and the general political mood of the Tibetan refugee community. Like most Tibetan documentaries, it was depressing, because it's a depressing situation. (The highly-recommended Unmistaken Child is an exception to the rule)

The summary of the movie is a summary of the general political situation: In the 1980's, with the opening of China by Deng Xiaping and the failure of the Tibetan guerrilla movement (which the film does not discuss), The Dalai Lama realized independence was basically impossible and decided to seek "genuine autonomy" within Chinese borders, as promised to him in 1950, allowing Tibetans to preserve Tibetan culture and customs but having China rule. Because he's the Dalai Lama, the government-in-exile went along with him, but nobody really agreed with him, they just didn't say it because they couldn't imagine a living Buddha could be wrong.

This policy has been a total failure. China refused to believe that he was sincere about it, or worse, they know he's sincere and they just don't care, because an autonomous Tibet would not be in their "plunder every possible resource in the area" interests. In 2010, the Dalai Lama admitted that the policy had been a failure, but that he couldn't abandon it as a Buddhist monk and a realist. After that he sped up the process of secularizing the government-in-exile. Last week, his request to step down from the government entire were finally honored after many, many rejections, and the position of Regent abolished. The Tibetans are now free to vote to reject his policy of the Middle Way and seek independence again, because the policy of the government is decided by voting and not the Buddha of Compassion giving his opinion.

But really, it doesn't matter either way. China doesn't care and the exile community has almost no leverage. There's talk about letting the Dalai Lama return to Tibet, something the Chinese government will only let happen if he's on his deathbed, not because he will tell the Tibetans to rise up (he'd say the opposite) but because his presence alone would probably lead to a major uprising, to be swiftly crushed by the government. This genuine concern is the major barrier preventing the Beijing from allowing him back; the major barrier on other side is that the Dalai Lama sees no reason to go back if his return doesn't include human rights improvements in Tibet itself. Interestingly, the film doesn't go into this major conundrum about causing another uprising (they go into the latter part).

Really, the only possible way for Tibetan independence would be several massive, violent uprisings simultaneously across the Chinese territory that would stretch the PLA too thin. You know, all three regions of Tibet, Xinjiang, maybe inner Mongolia, what are some other trouble ethnic areas ... that sort of thing. Or those things on top of a major economic collapse which causes food riots among the Han population. Yes. That might do it. But it's hard to hope for that.
Lhamo Rinpoche

21 Iyar, 5771

Had a great time at The Isles 2: Purgatory Station's campaign opener. So great that I'm still recovering. I crawled out of bed to go to the Book Expo of America today, but otherwise am not capable of a whole lot of being upright. I mean, the game didn't blow my mind or anything, but in terms of what the Isles 1 tried to do, I think the game has really come together and the "reset" of a second campaign 70 years later has given a fresh slate to things that needed a fresh slate.

The main thing about this game is that it's not a game where a group of adventurers go on quests, get gold, and then spend it on items from NPCs. Granted we do actually do that, but it's not the focus. The Isles is a wholly functioning world with a comprehensive economy, where your character has to worry about finding (or buying) food, guild dues, taxes, and occasionally investments. I know that doesn't sound like much more fun than balancing a checkbook, but it gives a lot of character options, and requires creativity in thinking about how your character would survive in this town on a planet being colonized. Fighters can kill things and get unrefined items, which they can then learn to refine or sell to someone who can refine (it's better to do the first). Healers are now feed by the Empire, something I appreciate as a healer, but look for research and mercenary-protection contracts to make money in general. There are some pure production people who have no combat skills at all, and their focus is either on scientific/magical/spiritual research and/or making money. If your idea isn't already in the skill sets (and there's a comprehensive skill set list), you can send in a note to the GMs saying, "I want to be a painter. Create a skill I can buy for that" and they'll do it unless it's way out there. I'm thinking of becoming a Tibetan thangka artist, selling mini paintings in-game after doing spiritual research and imbuing them with stamina or karmic effects for the owners. It would be nice not to worry about money.

In terms of the plot, I have to say that morality is very nebulous, more than I've seen in any game, not just because characters are good or evil but because there are morally nebulous situations all over the place, with the colonizing of the planet, and some characters choose to be hopelessly naive about what's going to happen to the native population as we essentially plunder their resources and others simply sell the natives weapons in secret so the native tribes can kill each other off. We haven't done smallpox blankets yet but we've been close to openly warring with a couple tribes in the previous campaign, and then there was that whole "Sculizi tribesman torture scene" thing. Like, this session, most of the PCs had just moved to the town of Purgatory Station and a tribe came in, said, "Hi, we saw what you did to the Western tribes 70 years ago, it totally sucked, we have your number and we have guns and if you overfarm we will shoot you." Essentially. And my response when they were gone was, "Boy, do they have our number or what?" even though my character is non-violent and not part of the Empire.

The meta plot is a little lacking, and the opener didn't capture the horror of certain moments in the opener of the Isles 1, but it's there, and it'll grow based on player interest in various plotlines. Certainly if you like figuring out translation puzzles there's a lot of those, but basically it's what PCs follow-up on that determines future plot-based modules. Beyond that is the grind of "a miner is stuck in a mine shaft and spiders are attacking her" - which we end up being really appreciative of because we get resources and money out of it.

Anyway, I had a good time, surprisingly as a healer (I do have a club to swing but I didn't end up using it), and I made another sand mandala, but I rushed it because I didn't want to spend the whole weekend on it and the light in the tavern where I was situated was bad, but I definitely wanted to do one for the opener. This is definitely a game where you get what you put into it, and I'm going to give it my all in June and September, then miss the October event because it's either over Succot or Simhat Torah (I'm not sure which). But I always miss a Fall event because of either holidays or because Shabbos just starts too early for me to get there in time in the late Fall, so that's fine. 3 out of 4 is a good number.

I do have to say that the drive is getting to me a little. I can do it in 3 1/2 hours if there's no traffic whatsover (there's usually about half an hour of traffic), and I did OK on the drive up, but on the way back I was sick with a sore throat and a little more tired than I wanted to be, so I had to keep stopping to refresh myself, and I almost exhausted my Lovecraft audio collection - which has since been expanded. I wish I had someone to ride with me, even if I always drove. It would really help. I'm just glad I can make it up and back on a single tank most of the time.

If you're interested in playing the Isles, it's in Charlton, MA, and the website is here.
Me. Sort of.

Nice find for The Isles 2 (4 Iyar, 5771)

I love NYC street fairs. For the most part it's the same crap block after block, but occasionally you find a nice prop for a game.

This is a prayer wheel. You swing it and the weight causes it to rotate.

Inside is a long scroll with Buddhist prayers that are "said" when you swing it. Obviously this is hugely halachically problematic. I found one that was broken and talked them down in price as a result.

Remove the scroll...

... and put it back together, and you have a prop for a LARP, sans the avodah zorah.
Me. Sort of.

24 Tevet, 5771

If anyone hasn't been following the story of the Broadway show Spider-man: Turn of the Dark - you should, because it's awesome. It's not very often you get to see trainwrecks in slow motion, so I can't help but recommend it. Also, nobody's died yet, despite everyone's predictions, so it's not all that sad. Yet. I can provide a very poor summary of the situation:

Several years ago - far too many - some people decided to capitalized on the whole comic book thing. Broadway people. Lest that immediately seem stupid, you should know that plenty of stupid ideas come up in the Broadway think-tank crowd. There was, at one point, a musical about the Unabomber in the works. Either these things happen Off-Broadway or they don't happen at all, but comic book money is now big money, so some people who should have known better didn't walk away, and the project got off the ground, then was canceled, then was off the ground again. Then a bunch of people fell, literally, back to the ground, in rehearsals and in live performances, injuring themselves in the process.

Broadway musicals aren't terribly relevant to our modern concepts of media, but they're a science and that science works for Bridge-and-Tunnel people, old Jews, and tourists. You shouldn't mess with the formula, which is as follows:

- Have at least a couple numbers that are memorable, and repeat them in the second act
- Have the show make sense at least in its internal logic, even if it falls apart if you stop to think about it for five minutes. Most people do not think about the plots of Broadway musicals for five minutes. SNL made a joke about that, pointing out that technically, Phantom of the Opera (my favorite musical of all time) is about a burn victim who rapes an opera singer.
- Don't let the show run over 3 hours.
- Don't ask the cast to do anything that's hi-tech or physically impossible, because they're not going to pull off those tricks every night and Broadway is known for nothing if not it's professionalism. I have literally never seen a mistake in a show. Not once. No actors blowing lines, no set malfunctions, nothing.
- Don't put anything terrible offensive in the show, because tourist families and old people will be your main audience.

Every once in a while you get a show that breaks new ground, like RENT or Next to Normal, and the show either runs well past its cultural relevancy (in the former) or closes early (in the later case).

Anyway, the people behind Spider-man didn't feel compelled to pay attention to convention wisdom. Instead of the usual set of composers they got U2, and for set and costume design they got that legendary Lion King director who got sued for making the costumes too heavy and causing shoulder and joint damage to the actors. They also appeared to have thought that you could get someone to actually fly with enough ballet classes, maybe some parkour shit, and a couple of well-hidden wires. After all, Mary Poppins did it, didn't she? Oh wait, she flew like 3 times in that whole show. Whoops.

Then there were delays, financial and otherwise. At one point I was walking down Times Square and I saw the whole setup for the Spider-man theater with pictures for the show in the window and thought, "Shit, are they really going through with this?" The following week, the stuff was down and the theater walls were blank again, and ticket sales were being refunded. All the good actors dropped out (including Alan Cummings as the Green Goblin, basically the only one I'd heard of), citing the need to actually go and work on a project that would result in something.

The show changed producers and directors or whatever and the thing got into rehearsals - so far into rehearsals that people started getting hurt doing the stunts. I believe the official count is 4 times, and the unofficial count is 5 times because the main actress hurt her head at the first preview and didn't tell the media until much later, so it wasn't as reported as say, a back-up stuntman falling into the pit and screaming "Call 911!" during a test show a a casino in upstate New York.

Oh, and according to critics (who are not allowed to OFFICIALLY critique until the music is open) the plot is a mess, the new villains are silly, and the music is bad.

Someone calculated that this thing has to run for 6 years (sold out) to being to make its money back. It also can't tour, which is the way most Broadway musicals make their music back, because the set is too complicated. It might do OK in Vegas, which has all kinds of special sets for those Cirque de Soliel people, but otherwise, it's essentially fucked. And then there's the problem that if I actually saw this musical, I would cringe every time Spider-man made another daring leap into the sky, knowing that there was some small chance that he would hurt himself again, having done it a number of times before. Man, there is no one in this state that is not openly mocking it right now, most memorably SNL.

The latest report: The main actress has backed out, because apparently that concussion she didn't report at the first preview was worse than she didn't say at first. Or maybe she just doesn't want to die.
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