Thursday, October 27, 2016

Christmas List

Well, the holidays aren't very far away, are they?  Halloween is almost here, which means that Christmas shopping needs to start soon.  Here's my list of things that I want.  Y'know, just in case some esoteric millionaire with more money than sense reads my blog and wants to become my patron.

I've finally boiled my hobbies down to about four that I regularly indulge: hiking, reading, music, and gaming.  I don't spend a lot of time practicing or making music (other than accompanying singers at church on the piano and organ from time to time) but I love listening to music.  And I don't game nearly as much as I'd like, but I have no intention of cutting that from my list of hobbies.

Video games, miniatures games (a la Blood Bowl) and some others have all gone to the wayside.

Of those, there's not necessarily a lot that I'd need, or want.  Reading doesn't really require anything except more books, and I've got more books than I know what to do with already anyway.  I've read all of the Dresden Files books, but I don't buy them in hardback, I buy them in mass market paperback, so I tend to lag.  I think I've actually got at least the last three to buy.  And although I hardly need it, I wouldn't say no to a nice collectors leather-bound Lord of the Rings.  There's a handful of other series that I wouldn't mind filling in a handful of titles that I'm still missing.  And although not books, I guess I could say the same for a few movie series.  I've got the first two Daniel Craig James Bond's but not the last two, for instance, and I'm missing the last Dark Knight movie, etc.

I really don't need anything on that hobby.  Not only do I have more books than I have time to read right now, but if I want another one, I can just go buy it.  While books are not as cheap as they used to be (or they should be) I also make a lot more money than I did when I was a teenager, and even then, I was at the point where if I wanted a book, I'd mostly just go buy it.  I guess I also wouldn't say no to a Kindle paperwhite.  I use my Kindle app on my Android, which is actually rather convenient for just picking up and reading when I'm sitting and waiting somewhere, but an actual Kindle device would be something I'd use too.  Assuming I kept the two well synched.

I'm not sure that there's anything I want from the world of gaming, either.  I could probably be convinced to pick up an interesting setting book here or there... but I'm all full up on systems that I want to play (and I use a home-brewed kitback of a system that's available for free anyway) and with my friends, I'm mostly likely to stick with systems we already have (if we ever actually play again.  Our group dynamic has petered out... again.  I may need to search for another group, which is a real shame because I like the guys I game with, but we just don't ever seem to manage to make getting together regularly actually happen anymore.  Maybe it's just me...)  So while that's a hobby that I refuse to let go of, it isn't a hobby that requires me to be a consumer anymore.  I simply don't buy much.  Like I said; I'd read some setting material, maybe.  I always enjoy reading setting material.  I can't think of any off-hand, though, other than the Savage Worlds Totems of the Dead stuff or the old Dark Legacies books.  And both of those are out of print and need to be bought as used titles on Amazon—where they're actually not cheap.  It's a good $80 to get the two Totems of the Dead books on Amazon.  You can buy them cheaper as pdfs, but I greatly prefer to have actual books, of course.

I've been thinking for a little while that it might be kind of fun to start collecting old MERP setting material... just because.  I'm actually not convinced that I really agree with MERP's take on Middle-earth; in quite, I dislike a great deal of it, and I certainly think that the system isn't appropriate for it.  Then again, my MIDDLE-EARTH REMIXED setting might have more use for this stuff.  And even in a more standard Middle-earth, there are things I can use.  It may be a bit like panning for gold among mounds and mounds of dross and gravel for a handful of minor nuggets, but still... it's better than nothing.  And if I divorce it in my mind from the actual Middle-earth and just see it as a cool setting of sorts in its own right, I could enjoy it.

I pick up new music all of the time.  I have a whole 'nother blog dedicated to it, although I don't necessarily get around to updating it all that often.  I don't need anything for that hobby.

So that leaves, really, the bulk of what I'd want for Christmas to come out of my hiking hobby.  This is the stuff that I'd really want the most.  What do I need, first, and then what upgrades or spares to what I already have do I want?

Need: I lost a few things.  I had an older backpack that broke and I tossed it.  I think it might have had a few things inside of it that I inadvertently threw away.  I can't figure out what else might have happened to this stuff, anyway, so that's my running theory.  In the meantime, I've torn my basement apart looking for the stuff that I used before, but I can't find it.  So, I need...

  • Some kind of water treatment.  I liked my SteriPEN and am sad to have lost it, but I'm also thinking of a Sawyer Mini.  Maybe I'll go for both, even.
  • My sandals (for river crossings and wearing in the evening when I'm out of my boots) "blew out" this year and need to be replaced.  I'd like to get some Crocs.  Yeah, I know, they're ugly, but they're also incredibly lightweight and reasonably comfortable.  They'll do the job nicely.  Going hiking isn't about being fashionable anyway.
  • I lost my waist pack; I'd like to get hip belt pouches instead to replace them.
  • I need new maps for the new areas I'm going to go hiking to.  I wouldn't mind stocking up on half a dozen potential destinations up front so I don't have to worry about this in the future for a while.
  • Bear canister?  I don't technically need to buy, but a lot of the places I'm targeting to go hiking, this would either be a very nice thing to have, or even a requirement.  Where it's a requirement, you can rent, but I'd like to just get my own and not worry about it.
Want: I don't need anything on this list.  This is either about getting a spare, or upgrading what I have to something more expensive (and presumably better.)
  • I like my pack, but I'd like even more to have an ULA Catalyst.  This is even more high priority with a bear canister, because those won't fit very well in my current pack (maybe I could lash one to the bottom?
  • I'm reasonably happy with my sleeping pad, but I'd really love one of those inflatable lightweight Therm-a-Rest ones.
  • I like my tent well enough too, but Cabela's Ultralight 2-person XPG tent looks to be one of the best on the market right now.  Assuming that it is even still on the market... their website shows the 2-person variety as sold out, although the 3-person version is still for sale.  I'm worried in general about the Cabela's brands with their impending merger with Bass Pro Shops.  Time to make a run on Cabela's, maybe.
  • Speaking of which, I LOVE my XPG Hiking Boots.  They've been updated, and I have no idea if I would like the new XPG hiking boots, but Cabela's as retained the pattern for the ones I have, swapped the GORE-TEX lining with their own proprietary DRY-PLUS lining, and dropped the price slightly.  And now, even those are on sale; I can get the two colors of Cabela's Men's DPX Hikers for $60 each!  I don't need them, because my other boots are just fine, but they won't be forever, and I'm tempted to strike while the iron's hot with these.  The Cabela's Instinct Men's Pursuitz Hunting Boots are also the same pattern (with camo!  And the original GTX liner) and while they're not on sale, and therefore twice the price of the DPX Hikers, they also look pretty snazzy with their Cabela's Zonz Backcountry camo pattern.  Ideally, I'd buy all three and have four pairs of boots that I could rotate between.  Yeah, that's a lot of boots.  But wouldn't that be cool?
  • I wear a Frog Toggs rain suit when I go hiking, which I actually quite like.  But maybe a GORE-TEX fancy packable one would be nice too.  In general, I've gone with cheaper clothing; the point of much of hiking clothes is to take them out and beat them up in the wilderness, and the main concern is that it's sufficiently warm and quick-drying.  And you hardly need to buy the grossly over-priced Patagonia or North Face brands to get the performance you want; heck, Wal-Mart and Target have perfectly find performance fleece jackets, running tech shirts and joggers, merino wool socks, etc.  And at a fraction of the price.  But I wouldn't mind upgrading a bunch of my stuff to fancier stuff.  I'm not 100% sure that I've even hike in it; it'd just be my casual clothes of choice to wear around town and around the house!  Railriders Weatherpants, Cabela's XPG Trekkers, and more—I do like my Wilderness Chic look.
  • I'd really like a camera dedicated to my trips.  A small, easy to use and easy to carry one that I can use when carrying around my phone doesn't make sense (and a phone, unless it's got an optical zoom lens attachment, is going to suck for taking landscape shots anyway.)
Beyond that, there's a few hobbies that maybe I'd like to get into, such as shooting and gun-collecting.  A handful of power tools aren't bad; I'm missing a few things that I feel like I have to borrow more often than I would have thought, etc.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Ben Franklin on my people

In Benjamin Franklin's Memoirs (1790) he gave the following description of the Scots-Irish and other Borderlander immigrants to America: "A race of runnagates and crackers, equally wild and savage as the Indians."

Heh.  I totally agree.  Those are my people.  There's a line of dialogue from the Cinemax show The Quarry (which I haven't seen and only just barely heard of; but I've seen this line quoted) from one of my people (from Memphis, actually) which sums up our culture, both it's strength and its weaknesses, quite well: "Oh honey, our people don't die of gunshot wounds. Our people die of alcoholism and heart disease."

David Hackett Fischer's book Albion's Seed is quite good, and I think he's really on to something with the four "folkways" or culturally discrete units that emigrated from the British Isles to America.  However, I think he's most on to something with three of the four.  The Puritan settling of New England is undisputed, and descendants of them, the stereotypical Yankees for the most part.  While they've spread pretty far from their original haunts, including to much of the upper Midwest, the Left Coast and—in a move that isn't often recognized—the settling of much of the far Western states, especially Utah, is a development of a kind of diverse branch of Puritans, the early Mormons.  While allied for many reasons with the Evangelicals and other Protestant Christians of the South much moreso than the secular and progressive New Englanders of today, their common cultural roots and common cultural attitudes are easy enough to discern, especially for someone who belongs to the religious tradition, but not the most common cultural tradition among them (that person being myself.)  My mother is a descendant of these Puritan-Yankee Mormon settlers of Utah, with an Old Roots American introduction comfortably in the 1600s.  But culturally, I'm a product of the family of my father, not my mother.  Their strengths are quite obvious; they are highly organized, extremely industrious, and the industrial might and economic clout of America is largely build on their ambition and industry.  The cost of this, of course, is that civic order is a much higher priority than individual liberty.  At its more derived version, this weakness (which we're seeing a marked increase of in recent decades) devolves into a nannying, bullying, totalitarianism and tyranny, an obliteration of individualism or respect for the individual, and an acceptance—even happily—of what to me is little more than a slave life.  It's no surprise that the Progressive ideology percolated here.

The second group is the formation of southern plantation culture by settlers of the gentry; cavaliers who were not due to inherit in Merry Olde England, and came here for opportunity instead, etc.  While we think in particular of the more southern Gentleman type iteration of this folkway, it also encompasses the indentured servants and other lower class support system that they brought with them.  This is the source of much of the lowland and coastal Deep South today, although some of this group eventually made their way into the West as well.  This folkway has been in decline for many decades.  It brought to us some of the most American of institutions; the Founding Fathers were to a high degree Southern Americans, and much of the compromises and anti-Federalist position that reigned in the government take-over of the Constitution itself comes from their desire to maintain federal limits.  Most of the anti-Federalist intellectual movement comes from these guys: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc. were all notable examples.  Of course, they were also individually quite elitist, and they laid the stage for the break-up of America 1.0 and it's transformation into the American Empire; America 2.0, following the Civil War.  While they were economically very powerful as well, on an agrarian rather than industrial basis, their reliance on cheap labor was their undoing.  Had there never been African slaves in America, we might yet still enjoy the fruits of America 1.0 and the kind of freedom that I, and my parents' generation, and even my grandparents' generation have never known.

The third group is my people from my father's side: the borderlanders, or Borderers.  Sometimes called Scots-Irish, although that's a shorthand for a specific subset of this group; the Ulster Scots and Brits who lived in British North Ireland, it properly contains anyone who lived in the border regions between Scotland and England, and later those same borderers who were transplanted into North Ireland.  The homeland of these people had been a contested frontier region for centuries; millennia, even: between the Romans and the Brythonic Celts, between the Brythons and the Gaelic invaders of Dal Riata, between the Celts and the Anglo-Saxon, who reached about this far and no farther for many years, between the Anglo-Saxons and the Vikings, between the emerging Scottish and English nations, etc.  Finally in the early 1600s, the Tudor kings ended up pacifying the region.  The biggest influx of my people into America came only a few decades before the Revolutionary War began, but my family had a head-start, having come to South Carolina in the late 1600s, and making their way, as did most of my people, into the frontier highlands of Georgia, and later Tennessee, Kentucky, etc.  Much of the south, and even moreso the West was populated by these folks.  Texas was almost completely a colony of Tennessee borderers, for instance.  They are quite distinct from the elitist Deep South cavalier plantation culture, although they picked up some ticks from them.  Mostly, though, they are characterized by their own sense of honor, fair play, and individual freedom.  Fractious and feisty, our weaknesses are our hot tempers, our stubbornness, our lack of communal organization, and often our lack of discipline and self-control.  We tend to have little filter and no particular aversion to conflict or confrontation.  On the other hand, we were more enthusiastic and committed to American independence than any other group, we pushed the frontier ever onward, and as Jim Webb alludes to in his book Born Fighting, we are in many ways the bedrock of American exceptionalism.

The fourth folkway is more defined by what it isn't than by what it is; namely, that it isn't any of the former three.  Although supposedly made up of Quakers and Low Germans... and Dutch, and Huguenots and who knows what else, it's better seen in most respects as a grab bag of anyone in the Colonies who didn't fit into the above three categories very well.

Colin Woodard added a number of more groups, but they either are not descendants of the original English colonists (because they are culturally descended from French or Spanish colonists) or they are more derived descendants of one of the other groups already mentioned; i.e. his splitting of the Left Coast as a new development of Yankees rather than merely being an offshot of Yankeedom.  He also makes a distinction between two groups of cavalier cultures; the more genteel "Tidewater" culture that came directly from England vs. those who came via other English colonies such as Barbados.  I'm not sure I agree that that particular distinction merits taxonomic splitting myself, and the two intermingled too much to think that a strong founder effect was maintained by either.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

80s New Wave random: "Words" v. "No More Words"

I'm planning and co-DJing an 80s themed dance in a few weeks, and because of that, I've been reviewing a bunch of 80s music in my collection—some of which has languished on forgotten CDs for years without being listened to.  This is a shame, because a lot of this is good stuff that I should have loaded onto my big 32 Gb micro-SD card on my Android and had in regular rotation, but it slipped through the cracks and wasn't there until now.  What can you do?  And with almost 3,000 songs in regular rotation on my shuffled playlist (it will be up to 3,000 once I finish putting all of this stuff on) stuff won't come up frequently anyway, unless I go out of my way to pull it out of order.  Which I often do when I think of a song.

Some of this stuff is Tier 2 or lower "minor hits"—for a 3-4 hour (or so) dance, I probably wouldn't play it, because I'd rather focus on bigger hits that everyone remembers.  But that doesn't mean that I am unhappy to have kind of "rediscovered" it.

With that, here's a battle of the junior tier 80s songs: "Words" vs. "No More Words" by Missing Persons and Berlin respectively, both LA based pop-New Wave songs that were from (and especially popular) southern California, but which were big enough to have had radio play across the country.  Both had a similar New Wave sound, but not too New Wave; they certainly had real drums, guitar and bass guitar, etc., so although synthesizers were prominently featured, they didn't take over in the way groups like Soft Cell or Depeche Mode did.  Both also feature cute, blonde vocalists, which was maybe a bit unusual, who were both seen as sex symbols of a sort (Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons because of the way she dressed; check out her Lady Gaga-esque outfit in the video below). Terri Nunn of Berlin actually auditioned for the part of Princess Leia when she was only 15, as an interesting aside and may have posed for Penthouse when she was only 16; although that's unclear, she's both confirmed it and denied it in separate interviews; although that as a few years before recording this song.

I'm not 100% sure that the comparison is fair; I think this is one of Berlin's best songs, whereas for Missing Persons, I'd have to pick "Destination Unknown" for that.  But because both have similar titles, this is the match-up.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Movie music

Mostly, I'm just putting this up because, hey, they're pretty interesting.  The second of the two videos; the rebuttal if you will, to the first, is the one that strikes me as the most plausible.

Although, honestly, I do quite like a lot of Hans Zimmer soundtracks.

It's curious to see that much of what it decries has always been going on, of course.  John Williams, even though he changed the course of modern movie music in many ways, was just going back to what Erich Korngold had been doing for a long time.  Quite literally, in many ways, with the addition of leitmotifs and more.

It's been quite a while since I did "the DARK•HERITAGE soundtrack" but it hasn't substantially changed since then (I've actually bought fewer soundtracks, which the videos above probably explain to a great degree) but maybe I should do a CULT OF UNDEATH soundtrack, or an AD ASTRA soundtrack.

I've given a fair bit of thought with AD ASTRA to give it a synthwave soundtrack, partially tongue in cheek.