Monday, April 30, 2012

Genestealer Cult Command: LPL Round 8

Another week started for the Lead Painter's League Challenge.
If you aren't following this you should be!  There have been a lot of amazing entries. Not just of painted minis, but of the settings for the minis.  Composition of the subject matters in this, which has been a new experience for me- sure I've fallen a bit from that, but been getting some ideas... will be looking to expand my terrain, some photo elements and will be looking to do even better next year!

The Challenge is almost over, week 9 is running now, and next week is the final week, with a big blow out theme round of 'Maritime' needing 2 rival teams and a large item to get all the bonus points.  I've mentioned I have something special planned, but that's all I'll say until it starts.

I lost another round in week 8, it was another close call, within 10%.  I faced off against a beautiful atmospheric picture. Yes, must up my game on photo composition.  I was also entering a 40k squad, which I'm pretty sure means when the starting gun fires you have to first pick the lock on your ball & chain before you start running ;) 40k vrs historical is going to be a tough run there.. though anything would have been tough, his Tiger tanks in sunset were very pretty.

I'm very happy with these conversions. The idea for the command troops was to make them even more mutated than the other troops: closer along the path to becoming full genestealers. I didn't want to use genestealer bodies though, they're too big and then they'd be genestealers, not mutants.  So I used GW Ghouls, made them 4 armed, and grafted genestealer scythes onto the backhands and gave them meltaguns for the front hands.  Genestealer heads completed the look.

I'm also pleased with the sentinel walkers.  All of the vehicles were supposed to have infestation, but I thought a big alien brain with tentacles, inhabiting it like a hermit crab would be fun. I was also fun to sculpt the brains :)

When I lost my first round, I dropped from 2nd place to 11th in one swoop. The next two rounds at a close loss saw me keeping 11th place- I've been there for 3 rounds now! Odd that losing further didn't drop me further. I'm at the top for those who have won 5 & lost 3.  This round is going pretty well so far.  If I do win it, and looks promising so far, at least I'll have won more rounds than lost: not bad for my first LPL :)

You can check out my current round here:  LPL Round 9
I'll feature them here when the round is over, can't publish pictures anywhere while the voting is open.
I will say it was fun to work in a limited pallet of light tones, limited saturation.  

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A - Z: Zombie Apocalypse Survival 201

Instructor: Faculty                                                              Class Meeting Days: MWF
Office: ENG3 0412                                                             Class Meeting Times: 10:00 -11:20 AM
Office Hours: Mon, Wed 3:30-5:30 PM & by appt.             Lab Hours: M, W, 7:30 - 10:00 PM

ZAS 101 or Department permission. 
Health screening: clear status on forms 301A, 810A & 810B.  See Health Services.
Liability waiver form 17 signed and notarized.
Emergency contact form 10A and Next of kin form 19
Recommended: Form 82-1: Last Will and Testament

I. Course Overview
A continuation of the principles laid out in course ZAS101. Survival candidates will build on skills and knowledge gained for increasing their chances of survival after the one week period trained for by ZAS101.
The goal of long term survival for individuals and small groups will be focused on as well as general theory for the rebuilding of a population base and civilization.  

Students will learn to recognize major Z threats as well as those from fellow humans.  
Students will learn both hunting and farming techniques as well as methods to hide the signs of civilizing endeavors from hostile bands. 
Students will master intermediate mechanics and weapon crafting. 
Students will master intermediate medicine as well as biology for both humans and zombies. 
Students will receive an introduction to calming philosophies and Zen for enhanced chances for mental stability.
Finally, students will learn the communication skills of assessment, negotiation, manipulation and intimidation and when best to apply these techniques. 

II. Advanced Lab Overview
1. Advanced shotgun use.  How to maintain the weapon and create ammunition. 
2. Advanced carpentry: In lab hours students will learn how to build and maintain a tree house for more reliable survival.  This will also include building zip-line escape routes. 
3. Advanced Guillotether use.  How to use, build and maintain a Guillotether.  A high tension spring powered staff mounted piano-wire tether used to capture and decapitate zombies quickly and silently.

III.  Credits
Class: 4
Lab: 2

IV.  Course Materials and Books
The Way Things Work, D. Macaulay 
Built to Last, D.Macaulay
Old Farmers Almanac
Medicine for the Outdoors, Paul S. Auerbach
Farming for Dummies
Carpentry for Dummies
Zen in the Zombie Age, Dr. S.Banyaga

V.  Course Grading
Course Item                                                             Percentage of Final Grade
Assignments                                                                              10%
Mid-term exam                                                                           20%
Field work                                                                                   10%
Sudden Challenges                                                                    30%
Final Project                                                                               30%
Grading Scale
95%-100% : Pass with confidence: Student exhibits an excellent chance to survive the first week A.Z. and a fair chance to survive the first year A.Z.
85%-94% : Pass with caution: Student exhibits a good chance to survive the first week A.Z. but further survival chances are moderate. 
Below 85%: Fail : Evaluation is the student has a very low survival chance for any length of time.

A Grade of 95% or higher is required for ZAS301: Introduction to Advanced Survival Techniques for Zombie Apocalypse: Long-term Deep Ocean Shipboard Survival.

See instructor at the end of this course if you wish to enroll assuming there is still time.


I have decided to post this a day early, because when survival is in doubt, every second counts.

Also, Shirtwoot has a fun art-nouveau style zombie shirt up today, and they're cheaper for the first day, and may go away if not enough are sold- so it may be gone by Monday,.
the shirt design:

This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 


Saturday, April 28, 2012

A - Z: Yertle the Turtle

Yertle the Turtle was one of my favorite Dr.Seuss stories when I was a kid.

I had many Dr. Seuss books and I liked them all.
I like his art style, his strange and funky creations, and the messages of the stories are good.

Dr.Seuss wrote Yertle the Turtle in 1958, and didn't try to hide the fact that Yertle was based on Hitler.
On the face of it, Yertle is a ruler of a small pond of turtles, who sits on a rock and gets it into his head that what defines his realm and power is the range of his vision. So he stands on a turtle, then another, and so on until they're all stacked as high as they can go. And of course you know what happens next.

The message is a good one to realize early in life: the pursuit of power for the sake of power is idiotic, and to achieve it by abusing others is not only cruel, but doomed to failure.

I'll call this the Yertle-drive.

The story works well as a metaphor for Hitler, but also for so many other rulers, whether political or in various other realms: business, economics, or even just social circles.  It strikes me that this could easily model the Soviet Union, Napoleonic France, The British Empire, The Roman Empire, American Imperialism, Microsoft, J.D.Rockefeller, Walmart, The Mafia, Rupert Murdoch... list could go on.

I've mentioned before that I'm not very competitive.  I'm also not very ambitious in that 'Boss Coffee' sort of way. So I have to admit I really don't understand this drive, and maybe it colors my judgement of it. The pursuit of power for the sake of power strikes me as insane.  I do mean that clinically: not of sane mind.
I think something is broken in some people, I really do.
An attribute that has a function, but is broken and can't be shut off.
It makes me think of that I Love Lucy episode, where the conveyor belt keeps going faster and faster.
It is supposed to work, but something is wrong and it's going to be a disaster.

Why are some people broken in this way?

I guess for Napoleon, England wouldn't let him be, so he had to keep going back to war, but to invade Russia like that? Madness.  And after being deposed he came back for another go. Something is off.

The Roman Empire did the same thing, just more successfully.  Why weren't they content to stay in Italy? There wasn't a good reason to attack Carthage, but they did and it almost broke them.. then Greece, Gaul, many times to butt their head against Parthia... for what? is the accumulation of power so intoxicating?
And internally, to take more and more land away from the self-sufficient farmer just so the rich patrician class could get ever more wealthy, for what? Just for status? Just to have more for the sake of more?
Even when it corrodes their country, impoverishes their citizens and establishes the most egregious slave state there ever was?

In the late 1800's in the US the rich were getting richer and the poor poorer at a rate never before seen in the country but it still left these robber barons unsatisfied: they wanted more.  Even at the cost of horrendous child labor, industrial accidents, environmental poisoning and abject poverty for the working class.
When people tried to resist and organize against it they were beaten, killed and arrested.

And this is the 'free enterprise' and deregulation model many now support going back to, and for the same reasons as they did then: the lust for power and prestige.

Look at Rupert Murdoch.  He doesn't just look like Yertle, he is a lot like Yertle.
I have to wonder... don't people ever get to a point where they are so old and have so much money that they feel it's time to coast in peace toward death? This man is really fracking old!  And he's even more rich, but he keeps going, destroying lives as he trail-blazes ahead toward... more of the same? For what?
This is INSANE.

A special kind of insane.  It has got to be a form of sociopathy.
A sociopath is a person that is incapable of empathy, can not understand a definition of right or wrong outside of "what I want or don't want." Sociopath seems to fit the bill for the Yertle-drive.

It's estimated that about 4% of the population are sociopaths, but I've heard estimates that in positions of power in business and government that goes up to 20 to 25%. I'd guess that's a conservative estimate.

Maybe if our society focused more on goals that benefited people and society in general instead of unquestioning pursuit of 'winning' as defined by being the wealthiest and most powerful we wouldn't suffer from this so much.

Of course, there is a bright side to this...
In the story of Yertle the Turtle, the power rests on those abused, like Mack, at the bottom, and all it took was a burp to bring it all down.

It might be considered rude, but don't be afraid to burp if you need to.

Yertle the Turtle: Enjoy!

This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

A to Z: Xenophobia

Xenophobia is the worst of the phobias, in that it is probably the only one that is reprehensible and vile.

Quick Quiz time: will this be a letter dedicated to a topic that inspires me or that I detest?

If you guessed the later then the silent drone of the computer and the hypnotic glow of the screen has not dulled your senses: you are correct!

This is one of the things that really bugs me, down to my core.  Probably because the potential for it is in everyone, seeing how the root of it is in that natural instinct we all have, from survival, for seeing the world as 'Us/Them'. But since it is a potential in everyone it strikes me that this makes it more important to fight, not less, because the danger of it growing is greater.  It is a latent threat in any culture, that if encouraged and allowed to spread has the most catastrophic results.  Fear and illogic can't survive in the harsh light of fact and reason, so let's get a big heaping of that to start.

I'll start with defining the terms and being as open minded and understanding as possible, then have at whatever is left.  Sound fair?

Strictly speaking, a fear of strangers or foreigners, but since that can be misleading with various citizenship, we're really talking about an unreasoned fear of that which is alien, different: other than self.

Not all fear is bad.  In fact, fear can be very good & right.  The whole subculture centered around 'No Fear' I find to be idiotic actually.  Some things should be feared. Crazy man has a gun: let's go walk up to him and call him a wus because we have no fear? That's not just lack of fear that's lack of intelligence.  You'll soon be dead: evolution at work if you haven't bred yet.  So fear isn't universally bad.  It is a survival instinct, and an important one.

So why is this fear bad?
After all, strange people you don't know and who have a different culture than yours could be a threat, could want to invade, enslave or enforce ridiculous new neighborhood CC&R's. So is Xenophobia warranted?


Hominids have developed a nifty attribute through evolution, called a sentient brain.  Call me crazy, but rather than throw away the work of a million years of evolution, why not use this quirk of biology to, yes, be skeptical of the unknown, but instead of going into blind panic and creation of boogeymen, to actually talk with, understand, figure out what the different people think, feel, believe and use that brain to reason out if there is a real threat, instead of pointing in fear and crying "Ah! Different! Bad! Kill it!"

Just a thought.
If not, what is the worst that could happen?
Well, the worst things that have ever happened, that's what.  Just a quick incomplete list:

* Most of the wars in the Ancient world.
* Slavery
* Destruction of Carthage
* Witch Trials
* Inquisition
* Reconquista of Spain
* Newconquista of the New World
* Pogroms
* Religious Wars of Europe after the Reformation
* American Genocide Wars against the Native Americans & Reservation System.
* Armenian Genocide in Ottoman Empire
* Japanese Imperialism
* Nazi Holocaust
* Soviet Holocaust
* Sudan Genocide
* So many others.

Clearly with all this violence, someone was a threat! Just usually not the people doing most of the dying.
No, Xenophobia is one of the most destructive forces in humanity.  When people fear people who are different, just because they are different, and make up any reason to justify this fear so that they can act against the people, it only escalates whatever problems are already there.

Almost always this fear is unfounded and illogical.  And often the fear is rooted in a strong ignorant bigotry.
Real quickly, lets look at the 'witch trial' period of history, where conservatively, 50,000 people were killed as 'witches'.
Where they witches?  Probably not. If they were they'd have put a spell on these jerks and ran away!
More likely they were people who were just different.  Thought different, acted different, maybe cured people with medicines instead of praying over them or trying to bleed them to death.
So there is the fear of other, where is the justification for killing them?

In the Bible, Exodus 22:18, "thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
Oops. Sorry, that's not quite right, the more accurate translation is "thou shalt not suffer a poisoner to live."

Funny story that... see, the word for poisoner, as one who uses herbs & potions to cause harm, got associated with anyone who was a "witch", which could have been anyone following an older spiritual tradition or just someone who knew some good herbs to help heal someone.

But the poster child for the dangers of Xenophobia has to be the Holocaust.
It is a strong case study in the phenomenon.  Most people now identify the dominant stresser on that to be the economy. Germany was in an economic tailspin, people where scared, they lash out for a focus for that fear and Hitler gave it to them.  So it's Hitler's fault.  Yes and no.  In the immediate sure it was.
But where did he get it from?  If he wasn't from a culture that was already ingrained with the Xenophobia of Antisemitism then he wouldn't have had the idea to begin with. And if it wasn't part of the general culture (not singling out Germany here- this was a problem across all western civilization) it's not likely he'd have been well received.  Because the 'facts' behind his theory are beyond daft.

Sorry modern Neo-Nazis, but there is no big Jewish conspiracy and control of western civilization.  There's more truth to most fairy tales than that nonsense. But this stupid idea does have a basis in history... or rather, a historical bigotry.  Hitler didn't come up with this idea. Let's investigate to find the source:

When the Christians became the dominant religion in Europe they had a lot of different versions. The one that won the battle of ideology became official and all others were labeled as 'Heresy'. To keep it clear, they decided what to include and what not to, and wrote it down in their bible and said "This is absolute truth."
If a Christian said he believed something different.. like the Arians (no, not like Hitler, just a phonetic coincidence) or Manicheans or Cathars, then they'd be heretics and fair game for a good smacking around.

This means anything that was written down at that point became "absolute truth" and they'd have a hard time changing it.  -Important bit for later.

But what about the Jews?  They lived in a lot of places in Europe- they'd been there since the Roman Empire.  They aren't Heretics... they don't claim to be Christians. They're 'Heathen" maybe.. they have a different religion.  So the Christian Church put up with them, since they weren't numerous, and since they didn't claim to be Christian, they weren't competing. Not a threat to the church: no alternative idea trying to convert people.
Doesn't mean they liked them much, but we don't get a major problem at this point.

Fast forward through the end of the Roman Empire in the west and the dark ages: economy goes down, urbanization recedes, communities are more isolated.  Then with Feudalism, things start to pick up: more stability, an investment into agricultural and economic infrastructure, increase of goods, towns & markets.
This also means an increase in the chance to invest money in financial enterprises and make profit. Before, the only chance to get more wealthy was to get more land.  Not so anymore.  If you have money, you can make more money! Even without needing to bash your neighbor's head and take his land. It's like the Roaring Twenties with colored tights.

So if you want in on this and make some profit you just need some money.  But who would loan you money when they could just invest the money themselves? Only an idiot. Unless you promise to pay them more than you borrow.  After all, you're going to make profit, so should they right?  Plus, there is now inflation... if it takes you ten years to pay it back, chances are the face value will be worth less than it was before. So the loaning person just charges interest and everything is fine right? But he can't.  Not allowed. Why? Because the Church says you can't.  Why? Because Jesus said you can't.  That's when he threw a hissy at the money lenders.. something about usury? yeah, that's it... if you loan money and expect more back than you loan out then it's a sin and you're going to hell. Church says so.  Well, Jesus might have had a point back in his day.  Loan out money back then and yeah, probably little chance the borrower could make profit enough to pay it back with interest.  Expect that and you really are a jerk.  But now you aren't.  Now it only makes good sense.  Now, if you can't charge interest then you won't loan money- which means, no banks: the economy will be forever stunted.  So get with the times Church!  Oh that's right: they can't.  They can't change, because they already established absolute truth.  Oops.

But wait! Jews to the rescue! They're still around, and they've been making some money, like everyone else, from this new economic system, why not ask them for money?  Again, it's win-win, since the kingdoms are just jerks to them already saying they're not allowed to own land, if they want to grow economically they have to do it through business, and as the only ones legally allowed to play banker, that sounds like a good plan. And remember: it's not the Jews who decided to do this, the Christian Church said Christians aren't allowed to do it but they are allowed to borrow from Jews.

Now, this had a chance to be a perfect symbiotic relationship.  But people got greedy.  And despite the bigoted stereotype that "Jews are greedy" we'll see that's about the exact opposite of the situation.  See, the economy might be generally going up, but that doesn't mean everything is a sure thing.  Crops can fail, goods can be stolen, people can just mismanage their investments.  When Christians borrowed money from Jews, and when a lot of them did, or just very powerful ones did, what happens if the borrowers are unable, or just unwilling to pay the money back?  Today the bank takes your house away from you.  Back then?  Jews had no real political power.  Often what happened was Christians called for a 'Pogrom': a Church-Sanctioned persecution of Jews: They'd go through their district, drag them from their homes and force them under threat to convert to Christianity.  Don't?  We will probably kill you or drive you out (We don't have to pay our loan!) if you do? (hey! you're not a Usurer are you? We don't have to pay our loan!).  See?

So which group is the greedy one? Which group is using institutions to control society?

When Jews tried to call in loans they could be accused of being "uncaring" and "greedy".  Dude, you're trying to weasel out of your debt!  Who's the real greedy bastard?

So this stereotype persisted and went on for over a thousand years.
Since the groups lived apart, since Christians didn't want to understand them, said they were dangerous to associate with because of their religion, they didn't know them.  They shared a continent for over two thousand years, yet they were still the other to many.
Hitler was just tapping into a persistent Xenophobia, not making up something new.
This crap is dangerous. And there are a lot of people who are still stuck in this nonsense today.

The most prolific of this kind of bigoted, ignorant, hateful Xenophobia today is Homophobia.
I have no tolerance for this.

Sure, in this, and many other countries, people have a freedom of speech and belief, but just like the idiocy of antisemitism, it doesn't mean these homophobes aren't idiots.

It is Xenophobia, pure and simple.
They dress it up as a religious issue, but it isn't that any more than antisemitism is an economic issue:
it is just bigotry.

It isn't just Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church, with number of members competing with total brain cells for a lowest number contest, a lot of churches in America are decidedly 'anti-gay'.
Westboro Baptist Church protests outside Less Than Jake show

So let's figure this one out.  Where do they get this?
The most oft sited is Leviticus 18:22: Don't have sex with another guy.
-if you find the text you'll notice it says "that's an abomination" not "or you'll go to Hell"... why? Because the people who wrote Leviticus didn't believe in Hell! Old Testament predates the Zoroastrian influence that lead to the creation of Christianity.. but hey, don't want to split hairs.

OK, so they have a holy commandment from their god that says "dude that's nasty."  Case closed?
Not so fast.  What is this pick and chose m.o.? If they want to rest on absolute truth of their written text then what about the rest of that book?

Leviticus 19:28 : Don't get a tattoo.  That's right: Get Ink, Go to Hell.  Guess I'll see you there!
Leviticus 19:19 : Don't make mules.  Yep.  Get a horse & donkey to make the beast with two backs and off you go to hell! That's for any two animals of different kinds! Sorry Napoleon Dynamite, the Liger is a beast of Hell.
Leviticus 19:19 : Keep it going: Cotton poly blend Tshirt? Not just a sin of style, but god says abomination!
Better hope that fabric keeps you cool in hell cause that's where you're going for wearing fabric from two types of material.
Leviticus 11: 9-12 : Eat shellfish: go to hell.  Shrimp, Lobster, Oysters, Calamari, all on the menu at Satan's cafe, but you won't be served it in heaven.
Really?  You can't eat this? What the hell? 

So why do they only fixate on the gay people?
This is god's list of things he finds yucky, don't they all deserve equal attention?
People with tattoos might beat them up, and probably not a lot of old timey prospectors with mules around to pick on, but why aren't they at least out in front of Red Lobster and J.C.Penny?

Oh, maybe because this is just an excuse? It's all just bullshit to hide their bigotry behind?

Where did this list come from by the way?  Did you ever wonder?
Why does god hate gay sex, lobster and comfy clothes?
I don't think it is something the people who believe it ever ask.  But I have. And I found out.
Want to know?  Maybe you do, but maybe not- I haven't met many people who know this, and I think it's fun, so let's look at it for a bit if you're curious. This has already become insanely long, why stop now?

Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, these are the 'law' books of the Old Testament.
You can tell a lot about an extinct society from the laws it leaves behind. I once did a research project on Anglo-Saxon laws to find out more about how thorough their Christian conversion was and it was very interesting. Laws are very revealing.  The Hebrews at the time of these writings were in transition.  They had been a pastoral people: they were semi nomadic and herded domesticated animals as a way of life: predominately goats.  It wasn't always the easiest way of life.  As the centuries went on, civilizations got bigger & bigger, expanded, got more fancy and just like suburbs do,began to sprawl and take up all the good land.  What's a group of goat herders to do? if this keeps up, there will be no more land for the goats, and they'll all die. Solution? Go take a civilization. There is no land to make their own, and they don't know how to make one anyway, but steal one?  That just might work.  Enter the warrior phase: God Wills It!

God says I promise you some land: others have it now, but what of it? Go get it.
Who had it? The Canaanites.
Just an Average civilization, a lot like many of the ones in the area.  This means they are polytheists, urban, have agriculture, and nice things. Cut to the chase: The Hebrews smack them around and take their city.  And there was much rejoicing.  Yay! But there is a problem: how do you make this thing work?  You see this a lot in history: more aggressive, less 'civilized' tribe conquers a civilization, then doesn't know what to do with it.  So they make a system where they're at the top, and the old elite now work for them, keep things running smoothly.  But this means that things don't change much from the old ways: and the conquerors soon become assimilated and take on the culture of those they conquered: see this with the Aryans in India, the Romans with Greece, the Germanics in western Roman Empire, and the Hebrews with Canaanites.

But there is a big problem for the Hebrews.  They believe they won the war because it was God's promise.
Hebrews become infatuated with the new culture: their religion, their food, their clothing, etc.. not surprising, they took over because they wanted what they had! But the elders realize that's a risk: If the people take on this new culture, they'll become polytheists and God will be pissed off and take away their victory! And the cynic in me says they just saw a threat to their authority, but either way, they made laws to make anything Canaanite bad, so their people would stay away from them and not become like them.  Canaanites ate shellfish -not something goat herders ate- so that is now prohibited! Canaanites were farmers, they had cotton-makes for nicer feeling clothes than wool... so no! can't mix that in with your wool robes, stay with scratchy!  Canaanites had temple prostitutes -talk about motivation to go to church- so that's verboten now too!   And you guessed it, like a lot of ancient civilizations, Canaan was openly tolerant and rather bisexual, like the Greeks will be when they come onto the scene.
So, since about 10% or more of any population is going to lean that way, the Hebrews started exploring their desires for this if they had them. Well if it's good enough for the Canaanites it isn't any good for us!
God now says no!.
They became rampantly xenophobic to keep their culture from being replaced by the one they conquered.
They set those laws down and people today read them and think it matters. Well, they say some of them matter- others they pretend not to read.

Read the bible with a historical eye and you can see why things are in there as they are.  This isn't about what some god wants, it is about what the controllers of a now-dead civilization feared in losing the control of their people to the culture of another now-dead civilization.

Talk about really pointless.

But since probably 100% of people would rather wear wool-cotton shirts than pure wool, but less than 50% would rather have sex with their own gender than the opposite gender, that xenophobic rule stuck and the others got dismissed and forgotten.

Yeah, some people get uncomfortable because others like things that are different than what they like.
And they grab some obsolete irrelevant old law from a circumstance that no longer exists and use it as their excuse to indulge their xenophobia.

So weak.

Get over it.

I often hear them split hairs saying "We don't hate the sinner, we hate the sin."
No. You are hating the person.
You can't hide behind religion, heap abuse on people, try to deny them their pursuit of happiness and say you are simply following your god's command to stamp out sin.
Religious bigotry does not grant you more rights than someone else.

You don't have to like people who are different.
But an adult can accept that what they don't like doesn't trump someone else living their life with no real affect on their life other than their vague 'sensibilities' feeling queezy.
Just because you might think the person acts in a way that you think they shouldn't, if they aren't actually doing something wrong- something that hurts someone, then stay the hell out of it.  If you think it makes your god angry let your god worry about it.  Until then, let them live their life how they want to, how they feel right and happy even if you think it is weird.

If you are a man who wants to marry a woman, the fact that some other guy wants to marry or just have sex with another guy has absolutely nothing to do with your life.  It won't destroy civilization, it won't ruin your heterosexual marriage, it won't have any effect on your life in any way other than you may have a harder time pretending that everyone thinks exactly like you do. Get over yourself already.  Live your life and let others live theirs. And no, it isn't 'equal' to say your freedom means enforcing your bigoted nonsense on the life of other people.  A same sex couple living their life together is not an attack on you nor is it the same thing as you saying they can't do it.  No one is saying everyone has to be gay, so stop trying to make everyone straight.
If a homosexual told me I couldn't kiss my girlfriend in public I'd say they were a hateful idiot who should learn to tolerate the presence of someone different.  The thing is, that doesn't really happen.  It's only happening the other way. And it should stop.

Xenophobia isn't healthy for the individual or the world.

Bad things happen when we let it go unchecked.

I'd like to suggest we, as a species, grow up already.

Well, not related to Xenophobia, but this does start with X, and it's a great song.
Need some catchy enjoyable music after a good cathartic rant.


This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A to Z: World Travel

World Travel is a luxury, but an affordable one.

I love to travel. I've mentioned it before, here and there and specifically in this A-Z under L, T & V and Last year's A-Z under B.  Not hard to find those if you'd like to see more.

You might have heard some misleading statistics, such as 'only 10% of Americans have passports'...
this isn't true, though it is pretty low compared to most countries.  About 30% of Americans have passports, though I have heard that it might be as high as 50% who never use them, or have never used them for any destination other than Canada or Mexico.  Whatever the exact number is, the condition is clear: Not a lot of Americans travel internationally and fewer travel very far.

There are some reasonable mitigating factors for this: the US is BIG.  The third largest country in the world.
And the two that are larger have a whole lot of ice!
That means there is a lot to see here without leaving the country, and that seems to satisfy a lot of people.
It is more expensive to travel abroad than domestically.  That is because the US is far from all countries other than Mexico, Canada and some islands in the Caribbean.
The further you go, the more it will cost, in general.
Lastly, since the US is so isolated, compared to countries in Europe, most people here don't tend to learn a second language, let alone a third or more, so it can be daunting to many would-be travelers.

I really envy the Europeans.  I really do.  I love to travel and enjoy it even more when going someplace foreign.  For a European, foreign travel can be as simple as taking a part-day train ride.  They can visit other countries with little more effort than we go from state to state, yet get so much more variety than we do out of the time & effort put into such travel. Talk about lucky!

But just because you might live in a country that is far from the rest of the world, like the US, Australia or New Zealand, or maybe in a research station in Antarctica, doesn't mean you can't travel abroad.
And it certainly doesn't mean you shouldn't.
I'll try to convince you of the why & how, and highlight some of my favorite places and experiences.

Traveling has been a huge influence on me. I first left the country when I was 18 and it was probably the best thing to ever happen to me.  Since then I've tried to find a way to get out there whenever I could.  One of my goals is to live in another country long term: not just a summer or so but for many years. Someday.

I know, this is a lot to read. It's a big world. But I promise there will be lots of pictures. 

First: WHY

I have been told on many occasions by Americans that they are not interested in traveling to another country.
I can not understand or relate to this at all, but I have heard it from many.  
Statements like "This is the best country in the world, why would I want to go anywhere else?" 
First of all, there is no "best country in the world." 

Just as there is no "best food" or "best music" or "best movie." Unless you are so one-dimensional that you never have a variety of mood, and are so limited that you only ever want to do one thing, how could there be one "best" when something as complex as a country encompasses so many different parts of life?  
You are human so you are more complex than that. Different moods, variety of interests, there can't be only one "best" for all things under such circumstances.
And even if there were one "best" country, which there isn't, does that make experiencing others valueless?

Even if Star Wars is the 'best movie' in every conceivable way, for every conceivable mood, does that mean you'd only want to watch that one movie over and over and never see a different one?  No, I suspect this attitude comes from fear: fear of the unknown, fear of being uncomfortable, fear of experiences that may call their belief into question.  Well, the unexamined life isn't worth living: go examine the world and live!

Growth & understanding: There is a reason it is a cliche to 'go backpacking in Europe to find yourself', there is a lot of truth to it: traveling doesn't just teach you about the places you go to, it teaches you about yourself.
Comfy at home, you might not have the kind of challenges and experiences that will cause you to find out what is inside you.  
I find it a lot more interesting to meet people from other countries than other states.  
Life is more different, experiences more different, it is just more interesting. In the same way, I'd rather go to another planet and meet an alien if I could, but that isn't an option for our lifetime. More's the pity.

Memories: I have this image in my head.  Old, facing death, knowing I have not much time in front of me and knowing that there are really only two things that comprise your life: what you create and what you remember.  Traveling is a great way to accumulate some memories.  Day to day life can be much the same, and goes by so very fast.  When this happens you might not make a lot of memories. Traveling is almost never this way.  It is new & different.  Sometimes it is great memories, sometimes it was crazy hardships, but in the end, it is all the stuff of stories.  Maybe this is why I hate 'Reality TV'... what a bunch of crap.  Just people in day to day life goaded by directors and producers into meaningless bickering and pointless drama. 
I'll take even a bad movie over that any day because it is a *story*.  
When you travel you are making stories. That's worth some extra money.

That brings us to HOW.

Yes, it will cost more.  But you can find deals. Look for them.  The first time I went to China I got round trip tickets for half the cost if I booked at least 3 nights in a hotel, which wasn't very expensive actually. Saved a lot.  Without looking for any deals, just now checking I see it will cost about $900 to fly from LA to London, $1k for LA to Paris, for a month trip in September. The cost for LA to New York was $350.  Three times the cost.. ok, that is more expensive, but you get the bonus that you're going to another country! Save up some money and go further, expand horizons and get more out of it.. it is worth it.  

Save money by going to less expensive locations.  London, Oslo and Tokyo are quite expensive.  Kiev, Minsk and Istanbul are not.  It can be more expensive to get to some further countries, but once there the costs come down sharply.  Here is a trick: Fly to a location that isn't too expensive, stay a few days, then get on a train and go to a less expensive country: you avoid the higher airline ticket price, get to go to more countries and save money: win-win!  Also, look for deals that are unexpected.  Did you know you can sign up for summer classes at a university and then use that to get to another country as an 'international student'? Often this will qualify you for free or nearly free student housing.  Such a good deal! it won't save you money if you'd only have stayed for a week, but if you want to stay for a summer it is a bargain!

That's another aspect: plan to stay awhile.  
Usually when people travel they look at a plane ticket as "this is for my 7 days vacation". OK, that can hurt: $1,000 for 7 days seems like a lot compared to $350.  But if you're staying for several months, it's not so bad.  I know this won't be a great solution for many people in the US: we have an embarrassingly small vacation allotment compared to most countries: we just can't go away for that long.  I also don't have kids, that right there will either delay or greatly limit your travel options, I know-but try to find a way. 
You know your own situation best, if you can find a way to make this work, you won't regret it.

My favorite way to travel is not to travel but to move.  Three times I've been able to live in another country for a summer or more: China, Denmark & Belarus. I wouldn't trade this type of experience for anything. Travel is when you live out of a suitcase for brief times. That is great, but when you can advance that to renting a place (or getting it for free) and have to grocery shop, do your laundry, etc, rather than staying in hotels, you really get a feeling for the foreign country.  Cruise ships I'd hesitate to even call traveling, that's more like mall hoping by water.  

For the Gamers: There are a lot of tournaments and conventions in other countries!  How much cooler to go to battle with your army in another country than the local scene yet again?  I've yet to be able to do this.. it is high on my list. When I went to Minsk I found a Blood Bowl tournament in Vienna, and I really wanted to go there, but the cost of the flights over those days, and landing there instead made it too expensive.
But look for the opportunities! 

OK, enough theory. if you're not convinced yet the only thing that might push you over is the first hand accounts... so on to those.

I have been to 18 foreign countries.  I've only been to 9 US states (well, 8 plus D.C). 
I am not a rich guy. Not even close.  Not even near the guy who is close. 
There are a lot of things I do want to see in the US, but if I have the time and money, I'd rather get out and about farther: the greater variety the greater the experience. 

Some of my favorite places:

As I mentioned I got to live here, in Copenhagen, for a summer.  Loved Denmark.
Wasn't so crazy about the food, but loved the country. 
You don't find a lot of buildings like this in the US:
It's a beautiful country:
It isn't all fairy-tale landscapes of course.  Then again...
Maybe it is. This is in Christiania. It's like Santa Cruz, except the hippies aren't so aggressive. 
Denmark has it's odd side...
From the museum of sex.  A 2 meter member, in the window. You're not in Kansas can tell because no one's outside protesting. What are they doing? 
Seemingly dressing up as frogs and pantomiming the act of procreation in front of strangers. What else? 

At my local metro station.  Hilarious if you read that red banner with thinking in English. Especially if you've been to the sex museum, just what are these people up to?  Unfortunately, it isn't advertising what it seems to be advertising. It just means a 'sale'? Oh well.  I thought maybe some kind of performance art. ;)


I loved this country!  I really wanted to move there- but since I don't have the job skills of someone 'highly sought' the cost of getting through the door is just too high. 

On traveling to Norway by train, we got stuck for a couple hours because of a train breakdown miles ahead.

Actually...funny story. Have you seen the series 'Lilyhaven?' Something just like the first episode happened to me. A young man was traveling with 3 young boys.  I don't know if they were all his sons- I doubt it.. maybe one was and the others friends? Not sure.  But these kids were out of control. Kicking the seat, being loud, generally obnoxious.  They were really riled up.  I noticed why: the three of them (oldest maybe 12?) were looking at a pornography magazine.  The guy knew.  What do I care? I'm no puritan, but clearly it was making these kids shake the bars of their cage like rabid monkeys. 
I asked them to refrain from intrusive behavior.  They didn't.  I asked the guy to control the kids.  He didn't.  
I didn't want to be "The Ugly American" but at that point I had had it.  
I went to the man and said "raise your kids how you want to, but I've asked nicely and don't think I'm being unreasonable, it's now invading my life: if they yell, or kick my seat one more time I'll take their magazine from them and stick it in your ass." The rest of the trip was peaceful.
Getting out to walk while the train waited for a couple hours, this is what I found.  
Just a random stop along the tracks.  One of the most beautiful spots I've ever seen.  
There was a small house here.  Someone gets to live here?  This is Earth?  It's fracking gorgeous! 

On reaching Oslo, which might be the prettiest city I've ever seen, since it's smack in the middle of beautiful water, I meet my first Norwegian: 
Yes, this is what they look like.  All of them.  If you see a human they're just another tourist.  I was assured that this is a Norwegian, all of them. Uff-Da! 
And this is where they live.  I love it!  Man that just looks cool.  And yep, I even saw one with a goat on the roof, eating grass.  Really disappointed I didn't get a picture of it.

Norway has some great old architecture.  I've been to Notre Dame in Paris, and it was amazing... been to the Pantheon in Rome, but something about these old Stav Churches speaks to me more.  Maybe it's because I just appreciate 'Dark Ages' (a misnomer) culture more. 
Inside is dark and the smell of wood is ever-present.  This must have been a key influence on Edoras.

This was a treat.  There is a museum with a lot of artifacts from the Viking age. 

Russia: St.Petersburg. 
Another city I loved.  I only stayed a few days, since it was a short trip while in Denmark. 
Cheap to get to from Helsinki, Finland, another nice city.  To save money I took an overnight Bus: no need to get a hotel that night when you do that, so it's practically a free trip! See the kind of tips you get when you don't just look at the pictures? ;) 
You feel really small when you're here.  This 'square' is absolutely massive.  In fact, the buildings in St.Petersburg left me with that feeling in general: of mass.  You can almost feel their gravitational well.  
Our cities have tall buildings, these aren't exceptionally tall, but they feel much greater. 

If you like religious art, this is a great city! I'm a big fan of the Middle Ages & the Renaissance too, 
just not crazy about the politically-religious in my country that want to drag us back to the middle ages! 
Fun time period to study and game, not fun to live in! Know the difference. 
For example...
This is amazing. Pictures don't do it justice, it's so much cooler in person.
But, there is a dark side to the culture that inspired this:
Oh man!  That's got to hurt. 
In an earlier post I mentioned meeting a cool old guy who was a caretaker of sorts at a Mosque in St.P.
A seriously impressive piece of art. 

Oh: and the food!  Wow, after paying a lot of money for food that was anything but impressive in Scandinavia, I have to say the food in Russia was very inexpensive and extremely tasty!  

I have to squeeze this in... just because she will say "hey! don't put me in there!" 

St.P is famous for their support of the arts.  I loved this memorial statue, this is all kinds of cool:
I loved Norway, but Russia beat them for food hands-down.  See what I mean about no such thing as "the best country"? I wanted to live in Norway but no way did I think the food was near as good as Russia. 

What a great time we had here. 
Visually, Pamukkale is otherworldly. 
But it is choked with tourists and venders, hotel keepers, etc are not nearly as nice as was the case in Goreme.  I think I'd have enjoyed Pamukkale more if I'd been there before Goreme.  Still, worth seeing!

Goreme: wow, I'll save that for its own post someday... one of my favorite spots on the planet: timeless atmosphere, genuine people, orgasmic food, beautiful views... we'll be back.

The most iconic of course is Istanbul.  I have a degree in Medieval History, so yes, I often do still think of it as 'Constantinople'.  Less so now that I've been there. 
I love the architecture.  The combination of domes and minarets is brilliant.  

Must see the inside of Hagia Sophia:
For a long time the largest internal structure.  Pretty big even today

You'll want to take a Bosphor tour, it's a great way to see some of the sites and get a feel for the city.
Plus the Bosphorus straight has so much history, it's a must. Here's a tip though: don't buy a tour through a group or from a hawker anywhere that isn't right on the Bosphor bank. The further away you are from the water the more you'll pay.  If you are at Hagia Sophia about a dozen people will try to sell you tickets, and of course they are the cheapest. Yeah right. Boats leave about every 10 minutes.  It's just about the easiest thing in the world to do to get a ticket onto one of these boats.  If you buy your ticket at the boat you'll pay 1/10 what you would further into town.  Also, not all boats cost the same, but they all do pretty much the same thing it seems.  Turkey is an affordable place to be a tourist, don't over-spend, you don't need to!  
Be frugal and stay longer!  There is so much to see, you won't regret a longer stay. 
Last hint: try to get a ticket for the last boat of the day. That way you get the sunset! 
So you'll get to enjoy both the light and the night. The main bridge is lit by lights at night and is really pretty. 

Istanbul is very pretty at night.

Another great spot is the Grand Bazaar: 
Touristy?  Perhaps.  But it has a long and authentic history.  Don't be shy about doing touristy things when you travel: you are a tourist after all,you'll regret not doing what you can. 
Notice the "no photographs' sign? I didn't.  
Another tip for Istanbul: get a Balik Ekmek! This is a fish sandwich, and it is heaven.  
It'd be like going to Chicago and not getting deep dish pizza.  Unthinkable not to. 

Last tip for traveling, since one of the main purposes is to experience life and create memories,
Travel with someone you love.

-Sorry for the length of the post: 
it's just such a big world, and I hate to leave anything out, though I left out more than I included. 

For those who like to travel or live somewhere that they think I'd like, where are your favorite places you've been to or suggestions for where to go? 

Enjoy the music!

This has been an A-Z Challenge post. 
For the month of April there will be an update for each letter within the theme of: Things that influence and inspire me, or the converse: things which I find distressing or make me want to rail at the world.
Some of these will pertain to the miniatures hobby, but many will venture off to atypical territory for the duration of the challenge, then it will be back to normal with mostly minis and an occasional blithering.
You can find out more about the A-Z challenge my clicking the logo at the top left of the page. 
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