Tropical Vacations

Maybe it’s because I just finished one vacation and I have a second one lined up for the end of this week. Or maybe it’s because it was just above zero this morning when I headed into work. (Not that I was cold. I had my nice LL Bean coat on, so the cold doesn’t bother me much.) But one way or the other, I’ve got vacationing on the brain, and I’d like to ask you lovely people for some advice.

I’m debating going somewhere tropical. I’ve toyed with the idea of Hawaii, but that’s like . . . over 5,000 miles away from me, which seems a bit much. Slovakia is only 4,000 miles away, after all. I want to go someplace tropical, but not “farther away than Eastern Europe” tropical. That said, I’ve been to Hawaii. It’s lovely. I’d love to go back.

But I haven’t been to the Caribbean (unless you count the many voyages I went on to see the Pirates there over the years). I’ve been looking into different islands. Puerto Rico (no passport needed!), Aruba (I’ve already got a passport, so what does it matter?), the Bahamas, Jamaica, etc. What I’d really like is to hear from people who’ve been to these places. I’ve talked with a friend who went to Puerto Rico recently and loved it. I’d like that kind of experienced feedback on other places.

How hard is it to get around? What do you do with your time there? How expensive was the food? Favorite experiences? Places to avoid? When did you go? Any general tips? Have you been to Hawaii? How did it compare to there?

Anyway. I’m all ears (or eyes, I suppose, though I’d be happy to discuss this in person as well.) If you got suggestions/thoughts, please share!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

What is a “Terrorist”?

When I was growing up, “terrorist” seemed like a word that didn’t need a definition. It was self apparent. My first memory of encountering the word was actually through Back to the Future, where Doc Brown buys plutonium off “Libyan nationalists.” I remember not understanding what that meant, and asking for an explanation, which led to me having pictures of evil men going around blowing people up for little to no reason other than to make people afraid. When I found out terrorists would sometimes hijack airplanes or blow them up, that didn’t do wonders for my fears of flying, either.

But the fact was that “terrorists” were people who did terrible acts of violence against civilians, and as I grew older, I understood it was usually for political reasons. But the actual definition of the word appears to be much more complex. Webster’s has a great history of the word’s usage, showing how it has gone back and forth between terrorism originally being acts of the government against its citizens, over to acts of citizens against a government.

Today, Webster’s defines a terrorist as “an advocate or practitioner of terrorism as a means of coercion,” and defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”

Why does this matter? To me, it matters because I think many people still equate “terrorist” with suicide vests and planes exploding or crashing into buildings. When someone is called a terrorist, it’s a straightforward accusation of evil. But when I woke up this morning to find news that the US had killed a top ranking Iranian official via a drone strike at Baghdad International Airport, it took some time for me to come to grips with what exactly had happened. Who had been killed. Why. How. And (most importantly) what the fallout from this action would be.

I am not a military expert. I’m far from up to speed on the inner workings of the Middle East. I’m just a person sifting through the stories online, trying to make sense of what happened. You’d think that would be simple, but as with most things these days, it’s more an exercise in trying to read between the lines of political spin to try to get an inkling of the truth. Read the Republican accounts, and a top terrorist was killed, saving the lives of many Americans. Read the more liberal news, and it was a reckless action that has endangered America’s interests abroad.

I don’t know Qassim Suleimani. I wouldn’t have recognized the name if you’d said it to me yesterday. But from what I read now, it appears he was a high figure in Iran, second only to the Supreme Leader, according to some reports. A military leader. And I try to picture what it would be like if I had woken up this morning to discover a top general had been killed by an Iranian air strike at Heathrow. How disturbing and upsetting that would be.

Certainly the word “terrorist” has become politicized in much the same way “socialist” has over the years. When people use the word, it’s meant to make a complicated issue clean cut. Terrorists are bad, and they need to be stopped. But when the word applies not to rogue agents blowing up citizens and airplanes, but rather to governments that are acting counter to a different country’s interests, I think that clean cut nature dissolves in many ways.

Many have accused George W. Bush and Dick Cheney of being terrorists. Depending on how you’re using the word and who’s speaking, I can see that argument being made, especially by governments in Iran or other Middle Eastern nations. Would those nations be justified in killing Bush or Cheney via drone strike if they could?

What I mean to say is that the nature of war seems to only get blurrier with each passing year. Should Suleimani have been killed? I have no idea, honestly. I don’t know what he’s done, and I don’t know what he was planning on doing. I can’t imagine the political fallout that would have occurred if he had been captured and arrested by American forces. That would have been a much more difficult operation to carryout. Killing him with a drone, however, just meant they needed to know where he was at a particular point in time. It was, ironically, much easier to just kill him.

Just because we can do something, does it mean we should? Most of the articles I’m reading about the man say he’s been directly involved in killing American troops. Is that what it means to be a terrorist now? I think we need to be very cautious of how we use the word, because other people can then use that same definition to justify their actions on a global stage.

The more I read about it and think about it, the more unsettled I am with what happened last night. The justifications I read for it today don’t allay my concerns. I’m worried for what might come because of this action, and what the continued blurry definition of “terrorist” might mean in the years ahead. It’s one thing to be accused of something, it’s another to be found guilty. I get that war isn’t the time for courts and accusations, it’s the time for action. But when did we become involved in a war with Iran that justified this sort of action?

Welcome to 2020, I suppose.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Best (and Worst) Media of 2019

It’s a new year, and I’m back from vacation! (For a bit, at least. I’ll be in Utah starting the end of next week . . .) And launching the new year off, I wanted to do a retrospective of my reading and watching last year. As always, I keep track of what I’ve consumed, media-wise, and I’m here to report in on all the best and worst things I came across. Ready? Let’s go.

Best Reading

In total, I watched 96 things over the course of the year. Some of those things were just movies. Some were entire seasons of television shows. (Still just counts as “1 thing” on my master chart.) Of those 96 “things,” the ones I gave a perfect 10/10 to were:

  • Groundhog Day (naturally)
  • The Americans (season 6)
  • Game of Thrones (season 1)
  • Chernobyl
  • Into the Spiderverse
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Pulp Fiction
  • Cold Comfort Farm

Movies or shows that got a 9.5/10 were:

  • When They See Us
  • The Rise of Skywalker

And items that got a 9 were:

  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (season 2)
  • Blackkklansman
  • The Sopranos (season 1)
  • Free Solo
  • Game of Thrones (season 7)
  • Avengers Endgame
  • The Good Place (season 3)
  • Various Game of Thrones episodes (I rewatched key episodes across many seasons
  • Deadpool 2
  • Game of Thrones (season 8)
  • Deadwood (season 2)
  • Mary Poppins Returns
  • Clue
  • Rogue One

There are some items on there that many people would disagree with me about. I don’t care. I’ve become increasingly tired of the nonsensical need to justify my tastes. As if the entire world has to decide what is “good” and what is “bad.” The Star Wars original series? Good. Prequels? Bad. Sequels? Tons of debate, and people take it as a personal affront if you disagree with them. I love social media and the way it helps bring people together, but I despise the backbiting and nitpicking that happens on it. I love the Hobbit movies. I thought the Game of Thrones finale was great. I don’t feel the need to write a thesis to defend that position, just as I won’t attack you if you say the Hobbit movies are terrible.

Make your own list. 🙂

What about the worst movies and TV I watched? As always, I only review something and give it an official rating if I finish it, and I don’t have a lot of time, so I typically don’t finish things I don’t like, which makes it seem like I like almost everything I review. That said, I still had a couple turkeys this year:

  • Good Omens got a 2/10
  • Murder Mystery (the Netflix Adam Sandler movie) got a 3/10
  • A Wrinkle in Time got a 2/10
  • The Phantom Menace got a 4/10

As for books, I made my goal of reading 52 for the year. Here are the perfect 10/10s:

  • The Reluctant Swordsman, by Dave Duncan
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  • The Stepford Wives, by Ira Levin
  • The Broken Eye, by Brent Weeks
  • The Burning White, by Brent Weeks
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding

No book got a 9.5/10, but several got a 9/10:

  • Hello, Universe, by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon
  • The First Book of Swords, by Fred Saberhagen
  • The Screwtape Letters, by CS Lewis
  • The Library at Mount Char, by Scott Hawkins
  • Starsight, by Brandon Sanderson

Did I read anything really bad this year? Well, I had two 4/10s, a 3/10, and a 2/10, but as is my typical approach, I will stay mum on which books got those ratings. Professional courtesy. That said, I will say the 2/10 was a book that’s won multiple awards and been on many “best of the year” lists, and it’s taken me quite a bit of willpower to not say why I disliked it so much.

Anyway. That sums things up for me. How did your reading and watching go this year?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Performing in Church

Tomas and DC were asked to perform yesterday for our local congregation’s Christmas program. Well, I suppose it would read better if I wrote “Tomas and DC were volunteered by me to perform,” because I sort of readily threw them under the bus. It’s just they’d done such a good job last time, I thought it would be great for them to have another shot, especially with more months of lessons under their belt. The piece this time was “The First Noel.” The arrangement in our hymnbook turned out to be too tricky in some spots for DC, and I needed to have them do something to spice up the second verse, so I once again dipped my toe into arranging the music myself.

(Side note: the tool I used this time was Muse Score, and I was really impressed with how easy it was to use and compose in it. I have pretty much no composition background. I don’t really get chords at all. I just listen to music, and I can tell when I like something. That’s about it. Muse Score let me listen to the music as I arranged it, and that was a life saver. Then it let me print out specific parts, and tweak as needed. All for free. It was wonderful.)

I didn’t arrange anything too flashy. The basic idea was have the violin play the melody and the cello the bass part, and then for the second verse flip those around, with the violin playing backup to the cello. The trick was that some of the bass part was too much for both Tomas and DC, at least to handle with the short practice time we had left. So I basically asked them what notes and transitions they could comfortably handle, and then I made changes as needed.

However, I felt kind of guilty as I printed off the music and had them play it for the first time. Yes, I was doing some work, but I was making them do something they might not really want to do. So then I decided I might play with them. I still have my tenor sax, but something told me a violin, cello, and tenor saxophone trio . . . might not exactly be a perfect pairing. On the other hand, I also still have the recorder I got in 2nd grade, and the fingers on the recorder are pretty close to the fingerings on a saxophone. And a recorder has a nice renaissance-y flair when it’s paired with the stringed instruments.

So I added a part and made it a trio. We practiced it through a few times, and it ended up going quite well. (Once I realized I had been consistently using the wrong fingering for a note I kept thinking DC was playing sharp. I was playing it flat. Whoops.) The last time I’d performed on the recorder in public was probably my second grade(?) concert in elementary school. A shout out to Mr. Potter, my music teacher back then. He did a wonderful job getting kids excited about music. (Well, at least he did a wonderful job with me. I suppose I can’t vouch for the rest of the kids. I was in second grade . . .)

Anyway, it was fun to perform again, and I’m glad I’ve got kids who are game for it. Maybe we’ll do it again sometime. Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker Review (No Spoilers)

DC and I went to the first showing of Rise of Skywalker last night, because I’m a firm believer in making myself as immune to spoilers as possible, and because seeing a movie with a bunch of fans in the audience is a great way to experience something like this.

Heading into the movie, I was a bit worried, since the reviews coming in on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic were mixed. (It’s got a 58% on RT and a 54 on Metacritic. Its imdb score is a 6.9 as of this morning.) Force Awakens got an 81% on RT, and Last Jedi got an 85%, so this was markedly worse. What if I went to the movie and thought it was awful, or (maybe worse) just sort of went “meh”?

To cut straight to the chase, I loved the movie. It was a roller coaster of a ride, full of adventure, intrigue, and fantastic special effects. It brought the whole trilogy of trilogies to a rousing conclusion, and I can’t wait to go see it again. (I’m still thinking about parts of it, and I’d like to see it when I’m not constantly worried “Will I stop liking this at some point? Will they screw it up?)

That said, I recognize that Star Wars movies are polarizing, and you should be aware that I seem to be completely in the new series’ wheel house. I had a blast in Solo, and I loved Last Jedi. If you hated either, it’s very possible we just don’t share the same vision for the series. If that’s the case, then I’m sorry, because it appears my enjoyment of the new movies has come at your expense. (But I’m not *that* sorry, because I just love these movies.)

“They’re retconning Last Jedi,” some will say about Rise of Skywalker. Those objections are misguided, I think. The trilogy was created in a way that demand retconning. No one had a whole vision and arc in mind going into it. Abrams set the table in Force Awakens. Johnson brought out a new course in Last Jedi, and now Abrams has brought out the finale here. It’s an approach that could backfire, for sure, but I think it’s one that succeeds as you take what was left for you from the previous movie and create something that works for you from it. In many ways, it gives the series a soap opera-esque feeling, and that might turn some away. Personally, I loved the twists and turns.

Anyway. That’s about all you need from me for a review on this one. It might not be everyone’s cuppa, but I had an absolute blast. As a Film, it’s not perfect, but as an Experience, it’s a 10/10 for me all the way.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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