Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Monday, August 29, 2005
There was no major damage, though, and things are pretty much back to normal. There's still a lot of cleaning to do all around the city, but except for 40% of the county being without power, all the major kinks have been ironed out. My prayers go to those in Louisiana who are facing a Cat. 5 Katrina, not the Cat. 1 Miami saw. People need to understand that a hurricane is a hurricane, period.
I still need to finish uploading the entries from PR, as well as some photos I took. I'll probably post a hyperlinked index once I've finished all that. It will be slow, as I'm without power at home, and only have internet access at work, but I'll get to it.
Sunday, August 28, 2005
It’s been ten years since I first left my Mom on the other side of the gate when I took that one-way flight to Miami, and it really hasn’t gotten any easier. I always have a smile, I always tell her not to cry, I always tell her that it’s only for a short while, but inside it is always hard. Truth is I never know when I will see her again, and that is an uncertainty with which I live every day of my life. It was part and parcel of my choice to leave Puerto Rico and move to the U.S.
Thing is it’s not just my Mom; she’s just the most obvious representation of it all. I find it hard to leave the island behind. It’s the whole package of the land, the people, the culture, the memories. Even with all the changes for what I consider the worse (reggaeton squarely at the top of the list), the place is still my homeland, and there’s a big chunk of me deeply rooted there, one that I just can’t rip out. I know that a big part of this feeling is due to the distance; if I lived here permanently I would probably be just as nonchalant about it all as my friends are, but seeing as I live in Miami, my roots are quite stretched, and that tension, that pull means that I am always consciously aware of who I am, where I came from, and what I left behind in pursuit of a better life.
I don’t regret having gone to Miami, and in all honestly, I don’t know that I could return to live in the island permanently. I’ve changed too much, become too accustomed to a different way of life, that it would be a culture shock, to say the least. But that doesn’t mean that I won’t visit, and that every time I visit, there is actual pain in my heart as I board the plane back, as I must do right now.
It is quite possible that within the next ten years my whole immediately family (meaning my Mom, my sister and nephew) will have moved to Florida, either to Miami or Orlando, and that within the next thirty years my extended family (my grandparents, aunts and uncles) will have either passed away or be quite old, leaving me little, if any, reason to go back to the island. I don’t think, however, that even then I’ll lose my desire and longing to visit, to recharge my Puertorican batteries. It’s in the blood, and there’s little you can do about that.
So I say farewell to Puerto Rico once more, nursing the small wound where my heart tears every time I leave, in a way happy that that wound is still there, for it means my love for my Borinquen is still strong after all these years away. Now, to fly to Miami, back to my soulmate and love of my life, my wife.
Shabbat ended at around 7:30 pm, and then we had dinner, I took a shower, and we sat down to watch some old home movie my Mom had recently come into from her brother, most of it being movies shot during her trip to Europe in 1970. It's so weird seeing my Mom as a 16-year old in those movies! My late grandmother and late uncle (who died now in July and had had the movies and pictures of the trip to Europe all his life) were also there, and there even was a little surprise in the form of a quick 10-second shot of my Father when he and Mom first got married back in 1972. I'm gonna look into getting that video transfered to DVD.
At around 10:00 pm I took off to my friend's Braulio's store to hang out with my friends for the last time this time around. We basically just took up space at the store, playing Street Fighter and Soul Calibur up until almost 1:00 am. I bid them farewell and till the next one, as I always do. Braulio and Josue are like family to me, and it is just as hard to say goodbye as it would be to a dear cousin. I hope things go well for Braulio's store; we've all wanted to open up a gaming store in our lives, and Braulio actually managed it, so now we all live vicariously through him in that sense, and we all pitch in however we can to see that Gaming Emporium thrives.
I decided to head home, but I took a detour to see where my sister works as a waitress. The placed, called El Meson, is nice, secure and well-frequented, so at least I can breathe easily that she's in a safe place overnight. On a whim I decided then to head over to Old San Juan, at least to see it at night, but when I got there, I found out that have now closed access to what we call "el casco," the historic colonial area that is the heart of Old San Juan to all except residents. If you wish to go up there, you need to park at the foot of the island and walk up, and I wasn't about to do that alone and without a plan, so I turned around and came back via the very long, scenic way of Condado then Isla Verde (if you don't know P.R. then this means nothing to you--suffice to say it was a very long-winded, traffic-heavy trek I could have shortened considerably by taking the expressway).
Now I'm home and getting ready to sleep. In the morning I'll see if I have time to do anything, and if not, I'll just stay here, pack and spend the time with my Mom.
I do have various observations about P.R. from the little trip to San Juan I took, but I'm tired now and I'll write them in later. I'll probably end up doing a revision, along with some pictures I've taken, so I can add all the thoughts I've left unsaid so far.
Friday, August 26, 2005
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
About 10:30 am I got to Josue’s and we got to work (after a quick game of Samurai Shodown). Josue is not only my friend, he is also the official graphic designer for Highmoon Media Productions when he's not busy with his own company, San Juan Media. It was him who designed and made our logo, and who’s been helping out with the new website and graphics for the various HMP lines. Today we needed to finish setting up the php coding for the new website and make sure all is working fine, as well as go over the designs for the product line covers. In between video game breaks and people calling/dropping by, we actually managed to finish all we had set out to do, as well as get started on the coloring of some new pieces of artwork for the new DaVinci Labs line, since Josue just refuses to let me publish black and white mecha artwork by itself. I’m very excited about this new step, as it will create a unified look for HMP as well as for each of the lines that will help me build the various brands and grow the business.
In the afternoon, Josue’s cousin showed up to show my friend the same toy he should be receiving by week’s end, a Lyra pocket jukebox. With a new tech toy around, his focus comepletely shifted, so I took my leave, as I had planned to be home early to have dinner with my Mom and hopefully hang out with my sister. My Mom made a killer meal of white rice and red beans (with recaito, which is our own unique blend of seasonings), which has baffled everyone that knows my Mom, as she has a tendency to slightlyovercook things (I still eat them all the same). My sister, however, sold me out and took off to Heaven-knows-where, which annoyed the crap out of me. I ended up playing around on the computer after everyone went to sleep, and here I am.
No observations about Puerto Rico today, I’m afraid, as I was holed up in a house all day. I can tell you this, though: I really wonder how it is that houses here in the island don’t come with central A/C standard. The heat is absolutely unbearable! Today it was broken only by a sudden thunderstorm around midday that must have dumped like 6 inches of rain in about 2 hours. While it was raining the air cooled and there was a great breeze that was replaced by an overbearingly hot humidity two seconds after the rain stopped. That’s Puerto Rico for you.
Speaking of storms, there seems to be an area of bad weather over the Bahamas which is expected to head over to Miami in the coming days. My wife is aware of it, but they haven’t said much about it, so we’ll keep an eye on it.
Tomorrow I am going to the local Temple of Consumerism, Plaza Las Americas, the single largest shopping mall in all of the Caribbean, eye of a storm of millions of dollars in spending, and a place that makes you wonder if people in Puerto Rico actually work at all.
Monday, August 22, 2005
They are one of the driving reasons why I wanted to come visit this time around. Let's face it, with both of them in their early 70's, every day is truly a gift from G-d, as they are apt to point out to me. My grandmother had some health problems earlier this year due to a fall she suffered last year, and while she recovered it was very slow, even for someone her age. It was a wake-up call that I need to enjoy them while I have them here. So today was set aside to spend the day with them. I got there around midday and just hung out with them and my uncle, talking about everything and anything, just putting them up to date in my life, and getting up to date in theirs. The weather was hot with sporadic and sudden rains, but since they have a very lush backyard, the temperature was actually nice. At around one, I went down to the cemetery by their house to visit my Father.
Whoever said that time heals wounds did not tell the whole story. As I stood at the foot of my Father's grave I lost it, big time, like I didn't loose it at his funeral or burial. It must have been a sight: a lone Jew standing in a sea of mottled-white crosses crying like a little child. The truth is I miss him terribly; I've spent the last 13 years of my life, the most turbulent, confusing, strange, amazing and important years of my life without my Father physically around, and it has taken a toll on me, one I rarely let see, but one that is there nonetheless. But it was good to visit his grave; though I know he's beyond physical locations, that is the nexus of his connection to this world. In Judaism we believe that praying at the tomb of a tzaddik (a righteous person) is beneficial since there is a stronger connection between earth and heaven. Though he wasn't Jewish, it was my Father who started me on the road that would eventually lead me to Judaism, the one who taught me to go beyond blind faith into an actual relationship with G-d, the one who taught me to use my mind in the pursuit of knowing G-d as best as I could. My Father was my tzaddik.
I went back and just spent time at my grandparents, enjoying their company. I even played some video games with my uncle for a while. Then, at around 6:00 pm I left to meet up with Josue at Braulio's store, which I got to see today. He's got a great location with excellent space, but he needs to take full advantage of it (comments on the store will come later on). Since the idea was just to hang out with my friends, I sat down and played a couple of games of Magic: The Gathering, a game I haven't played--I kid you not--for about 6 or 7 years now. Of course I lost each and every game, but I did get to spend some time with my friend. Later on I joined the Halo crowd, but I just can't get into that game, nor can I learn how to operate the control properly; I always end up shooting at a wall, off in a corner somewhere, while everyone just comes to take potshots at defenseless old me. So we switched to Street Fighter, and while I, again, lost almost every match, that one I actually enjoy playing; Street Fighter (along with Samurai Shodown II) is my favorite video game ever.
I called it a day "early" (10:00 pm) and headed back home to my Mom's, stopping at the supermarket to get some actual food I can eat. My Mom was already sleeping by the time I got to the house, so here I am, typing away, having dinner very late at night. I'm tired, and tomorrow I want to get an early start (I'm going to get together with Josue in his capacity as Graphic Designer for Highmoon Media Productions), so I'm going to skip the observations about Puerto Rico for today so I can get some sleep.
I will leave you with this, though. With gas prices so high, it seems Puerto Rico is turning into Italy, so many vespas did I see on the roads today, zipping by in between moving traffic, assuming their little size means they have immunity to the laws of the road. Would it be fair for me to then become more like a Roman driver, and assume they are just moving targets for which I get points?
When I got to my Mom's house, my aunt (Mom's sis) and cousin were here, so at least I got to see them. They had brought an album full of old photos, and it was weird to see pics of my Mom when she was 12 and looked like a nerd (the 60's were just bad all over the place). They also had in there pictures of myself when I was a little kid, maybe 3 or 4, that I had never seen, including one with my late grandmother, so that was cool. They're making me some copies.
Around 9:30 pm, my Mom and nephew got ready to sleep, so I went out to meet my friend Josue at his house. From there, we went to see my other friend's Braulio gaming store, Gaming Emporium, though we caught him just as he was closing up shop. I'll pass by tomorrow and geek out in the evening. Josue and I went back to his house and watched anime and played Street Fighter until 1:00 am, and now here I am.
Early thoughts: Puerto Rico is the same, but not really. Roads I knew by heart are gone, entirely, replaced by a multitude of branching streets that seem to go nowhere near where the road used to before. There is a lot of construction going on, especially where roads are concerned, and while that isn't strange per se (construction people need to eat), it seems (at least at night) like the roadway situation may--just may--be on its way to improving. That is, if they actually finish the various new highways and traffic-relief overpasses (below) they have been constructing for at least 2 years now.
It is still hot as hell here, and not hot like Miami, where it's humid but that's it, but humid that sticks to you like a leech. There is so much greenery in the island that the humidity doesn't actually dissipate, it just hangs there like a curtain that you have to pass through with every step.
The coquis are just as loud as ever, and I'm afraid that it has finally happened: I have lived long enough out of the island that I can't actually just tune the coquis out as I used to. They are everywhere, the little crooners, with their incessant "ko-kee, ko-kee, ko-kee!" Seriously, don't they ever shut up? As I'm typing this, I can barely hear them in the background, so I think it's starting to take effect, that inherent ability of any Puertorican to be able to subsume the coquis into background noise. I can fully understand my wife now, though; every time she comes, she has the hardest time with the coquis, because she just can't not hear them.
It's great to see my Mom and nephew (I even saw my sister for about ten minutes before she darted off to work), my aunt and cousin, and tomorrow my grandparents, aunt and uncle. I miss them all. Same thing with my friends. I am looking forward to spending the week just visiting and catching up. It's become painfully obvious during the summer that you never know when you'll see someone last, and while I am certainly not harboring any morbid thoughts or wishes (G-d forbid), it IS a reality of life we cannot escape, and we should use it as an incentive to truly appreciate what's important in life: G-d, family and friends.
Tomorrow (or rather, in a couple of hours) is a new day, and I am quite excited to go out and see Puerto Rico, my Puerto Rico.
I still miss my wife.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
On unrelated and sad news, yesterday morning we discovered that our guinea pig, Monty, had died overnight. I gave him and the rabbits food on Friday evening, before leaving for prayers, and yesterday morning, when we went to feed them again I found Monty slumped dead. Though it wasn’t as hard as when we lost our rabbits, it nonetheless was sad. We both liked Monty very much, and he’d been with us for five years. We’ll miss his little squeals and squeeks day and night. May he rest in peace and go meet our rabbits, Pele and Duncan, in that great burren in the sky.
Gotta head to the gate now. Don’t really feel like getting left behind twice in one day.
This year also marks the 10th anniversary since I said farewell to the island and moved to Miami to forge a new life. In that sense this trip marks a time of reflection, both for me and the island. I want to see how have I changed in ten years in relation to who I was before I moved, and also see how has the island changed since I last called it my permanent home.
Unfortunately, from what I have seen and heard over the past few years, especially over the last two, Puerto Rico is on a downward spiral towards ruination, following the path taken by so many other Latin American countries, where government corruption and pseudo-dictatorships become a fact of life. On this trip I want to examine it all for myself, as much as is possible in a week, and form my own opinion as to where the island is headed. On that depends the future of the family I have left in the island, mainly my mother, sister and nephew, who are my primary concern (my grandparents are also of main concern, but they are old now and I know they could never leave the island; much like our beloved coqui, they would die sooner than is planned by G-d if removed from Puerto Rico).
So, it’s a time of fun, but also of reflection. I long to see my family and friends, visit my father’s grave and tell him all the latest news, see the mountains and the sea, visit Old San Juan and lose myself in the ghosts of ages past, all the while wondering what the future holds for this, my little piece of volcanic rock in the middle of the Caribbean, smaller of the Greater Antilles, largest of the Smaller Antilles, caught between a Spanish past and an American future, all served with some white rice, red beans, and a side of Puertorican spice that is all its own.
I’m also sad because on this trip I go alone, leaving my wife back home in Miami for a week. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t possible for her to take a week off to come with me, and so she remains holding the fort. It’s only been an hour since she dropped me at the airport and I already miss her. I’ve heard and read people say that married couples should learn to be autonomous and independent of each other, learn to do things without the other person around. It’s not that I can’t do things without my wife, it’s just that I don’t want/like to. She’s my best friend, the person that understand me best, and everything I experience, I want to share with her. So while we certainly go on trips without the other (she’ll be going on one just a week after I return next Sunday, the 28th), we do it because we just couldn’t swing it for both of us to go, not because of any other reason. So while I am visiting Puerto Rico, I’ll always be thinking of my wife back home in Miami, and as much as I like visiting family and friends, and as much as it always hurts when I leave the island, I’m already looking forward to returning to Miami, to the woman I love.
And so it begins, a week in Puerto Rico.
Saturday, August 20, 2005
Argument #1: We don't belong there. Why should 8,500 Jews insist on living amongst more than a million Arabs? This is the question prompting the forced evacuation of all Jews from the Gaza Strip this month.
Of all arguments for the "disengagement," this one by far is the most objectionable. It proves the power of propaganda--how people will parrot nonsense without realizing the foolishness of the argument. There are 20,000 Jews living in Berlin amongst 3.6 million Germans. No one would dare suggest that we should expel the Jews from Berlin because they may be a provocation to 3.6 million Germans. So let's get this straight. A Jew is allowed to live in Berlin, a Jew is allowed in Moscow, in Melbourne and in Shanghai. The only place in the world a Jew is not allowed to live, is in Israel! Why? Because Arabs living in Gaza hate Jews too much to tolerate the sight of a single Jew before their eyes.
And then this, my favorite statement in the whole article, and the reason why I am opposed to the "disengagement" from Gaza and the West Bank:
By this logic, Israel should close up shop entirely. Is it practical to have five million Jews in a sea of hundreds of millions of Arabs and more than a billion Muslims? Or maybe we should disappear from the world completely: does it make sense that 14 million Jews live among 6 billion gentiles?
Those are some powerful words, and very true at that, and is what Jewish proponents of the withdrawal need to understand: in leaving Gaza and the West Bank, we have just given a statement that we don't deserve to be in this world. To the Arabs, Palestinians and otherwise, as well as to the rest of the Nations of the world, there is NO DIFFERENCE between Gaza and Jerusalem, and when they come knocking at the Knesset's doors saying, "Give up Jerusalem, East AND West," we won't have a leg to stand on, because we ourselves set the precedent.
Read the article, it is just excellent.
Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Rage and anguish as Israel expels Gaza settlers(Just so you don't confuse where the bias of this article lies.)
NEVE DEKALIM SETTLEMENT, Gaza Strip (AFP) - The last Jewish settlers have been dragged kicking and screaming out of the Gaza Strip as Israel moved to end 38 years of occupation of the Palestinian territory.
As smoke rose from tyres set ablaze by protestors, emotions were running high with sporadic scuffles breaking out while settlers and soldiers wept tears of rage and anguish at the historic operation that pitted Jew against Jew.This is something that should never have happened, something that we are all but forbidden to do, something that once, 1935 years ago, brought about the destruction of the Second Temple. The article continues,
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who risked his political career on the pullout and has been vilified by settlers who once considered him their champion, said he had been moved to tears seeing Jews being hauled from their homes. Sharon, once the pioneer of Israel's settlement programme in occupied Arab land, said he had been moved to tears witnessing the Gaza events unfold and pledged settlement activity would go on. "When I see these families with tears in their eyes and police officers with tears in their eyes, it's impossible to look at this without weeping yourself," he told reporters.
Mr. Sharon, please excuse me if I don't believe a word you are saying. I am, however, very disturbed by this:
[...] members of a New York-based ultra-Orthodox movement threatened to commit mass suicide.They mean Chabad-Lubavitch hasidim, as confirmed here and as can be seen here. The Rebbe must be spinning in his grave! Such action, even the threat of it, goes 100% against the Torah and the teachings of the Lubavitchers' late Rebbe, R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson. This is a chilul Hashem of the greatest magnitude.
I won't lie to you, I am seething and raging in my heart at this situation; I feel my blood boiling both in anger and frustration as I watch my brothers and sisters being vomited by the Land. Though I am quietly typing at work, inside me there is an unending scream rising up to Heaven asking G-d, "WHY?"
And with tears in my eyes, I quietly hear His voice in my soul with the answer, an answer I already know, "Because it is My will, because My children have forsaken My Torah, and because you all need to learn tolerance and love for one another. Only when these things I tell you have come to pass, will you be at peace in the Land I gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to their seed for all eternity."
The greatest irony is that, of all the secular news sources out there, including the Israeli ones, it's the Christian Science Monitor that publishes the clearest picture of the whole situation.
And he's entirely correct. As I pointed out before, G-d's promise was that if we followed his commandments, we would have life and a lengthy stay in the Land. Nothing is more frustrating than the truth told plainly and simply. Hashem help us all.
Biblical ties drive Gaza holdouts
NEVE DEKELIM, GAZA – Even as hundreds of Israeli soldiers and policemen broke through the gate of this settlement Tuesday in an attempt to escort out families ready to leave with their belongings rather than be pulled out by force, Mordechai Yaul was cementing blue and azure ceramic tiles to the wall of a new mikvah, for Jewish ritual bathing. Yaul [...] isn't driven solely by the events of this century or the last.
His timeline dates back to the beginning, he says, when God showed Abraham the Promised Land and told him to go into it. And then, a little more recently, about 3,200 years ago, when Joshua bin Nun - who took over the leadership of the Israelites after the death of Moses - led the people back into the land of Israel after their period of slavery in Egypt.
"The Holy One, blessed be He, promised this land to our forefather, Abraham," says Yaul. "When God promises us something, it's not a game..."
Monday, August 15, 2005
Speaking of Shakespeare, there's another gaming idea I have in my head that I have to, one day, find the time to put to paper. Though there was already an attempt to bring Shakespeare to d20 by LPJ Designs (and with all due respect to LPJ), I don't think it was the best d20 expression of the Bard, not by a long shot. The releases were way too much Cliff's Notes, not enough gaming material. That said, and to be fair, I did enjoy them, even if I still have two more to get (Othello and Romeo & Juliet). I have a distinct idea of how to bring Shakespeare to d20, and perhaps one day I will have a chance to do so (this is also one of those projects that I would not be adverse to sharing with a like-minded, and qualified, partner).
In the gaming arena, lately I have had two major interests in mind. The first has been Future material, especially all the cool mecha stuff that has been released in the last couple of weeks by Ronin Arts and LPJ. I also just picked up The Game Mechanic's Future Player's Companion, which looks very cool so far. This is all because I am currently finishing putting together my own Future line, DaVinci Labs, which I hope will be ready to launch by the first week of September or so. I'm actually very excited about this line, though I'm noticing that currently there is no setting that can take full advantage of my line, along with the material above. BDV's Dawning Star setting has the capability of fitting pretty much anything sci-fi into it somewhere, but it's not the same as having a setting built to take full advantage of a section of rules. LPJ has announced they have a setting in the works called Polymecha (which I think is a weak name for a setting) written by Dawning Star's writer Lee Hammock (who did a great job with Dawning Star), so I guess we'll see what comes down the line.
My other current gaming interest is Celtic Myth, and that's because I've had a couple of ideas for new Bardic Lore releases. Well, that and I've been thinking if it's time to start working on the actual Bardic Lore setting once and for all. Although there are two Celtic themed books in the d20 market, namely Slaine and Celtic Age, I don't think either catches Celtic Myth well. Celtic Age is more historical, and is very good as a reference, though the game material could improve a lot. Slaine, though it evokes very nicely the heroic and magical nature of the sagas, is at the end of the day someone else's setting based roughly on Celtic Myth. I would like the Bardic Lore setting to be more historically-based than Slaine, though less academic than Celtic Age, with a good mixture of historicity and myth, erring on the side of myth and legend (this is one of my personal dichotomies--I love historical gaming, but can't leave the magic behind, though that's a topic for another post). Again, I have a pretty good idea of what I'd like the Bardic Lore setting to be, and a fairly good laundry list of features I'd like to incorporate.
Which leads me to the one big dilemma I face, which OGL system to use? The current Bardic Lore releases are done in default d20, mainly because they are stand-alone and I want them to be as usable by the greatest amount of people as possible, but I'm not 100% convinced that straight-up d20 would be the best choice for my Celtic setting. d20 brings a lot of baggage with it that may not fit very well with a Celtic setting, and may require way more fixing than is worth doing (for example, fixing the druid and bard classes, toning down the magic power and selection, adjusting creatures to account for the adjusted power levels, etc.). My current train of thought is to create a new system out of tidbits of other OGL systems, but I feel that would be counterproductive to the setting, commercially speaking (and as a setting, its already starting with a huge commercial disadvantage), since in effect I'm forcing people to adopt a new OGL system, which many (myself included) are just not inclined or willing to do. The other option is to adapt one of the newer, simpler OGL adaptations of d20 to the setting, adding new rules modules as needed, though leaving it, in essence, something still recognizable as an established rules set. I'm thinking here mainly of True20 or the new system in Iron Heroes (and as a quick aside, my first instinct was to write Iron Lore, a sign that Malhavoc should have just left the original name since they had already managed to successfully implant the brand into the public's mind).
Leaving trademark issues aside, True20 is simple and elegant enough to handle just what I need; its combat is simple, tough and deadly if need be, the magic is potent but not overpowered nor overabundant, and the character creation options allow for great customization of numerous archetypes of history and myth without much fuss. What's more, it supports easy modification via rules modules that can be easily inserted without messing up the greater whole. Iron Heroes has various elements that call my attention, elements I think would mesh great with Celtic myth and all the legendary feats of combat told in the stories, elements that I am pretty sure can be ported over to True20 with little problem to create a more vicious combat-based game that still retains the simplicity of True20's engine.
Did I just convince myself of the solution?
If I do go this way, eventually I'll have to deal with trademark issues, especially since this is not the setting we are submitting to the True20 Setting Search, so that may mean either applying for a license (with associated costs) or releasing it by itself and let word of mouth take care of publicizing the compatibility. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.
Now, if I can only get these editing projects I have piled up out the door...
Sunday, August 14, 2005
Today is Tisha B’Av in the Jewish calendar, a day which can only be characterized as the National Day of Mourning for the Jewish people. This day marks when both the First and Second Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians and the Romans respectively, not to mention a host of other calamities such as the deadline of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and the start of World War I, the effects of which would lead into the atrocities of the Holocaust. Today, August 14, 2005, we are on the brink of adding a new event to the list of calamities to be remembered on Tisha B’Av: the unilateral pullout from Gaza and the West Bank in Israel.
Slated to officially begin at midnight Monday, August 15/10 of Av, the pullout seeks to remove, peacefully or forcefully, all Israeli settlement residents in the Gaza strip, as well as those in a 300-square mile area of the West Bank, leaving it to the so-called Palestinians1. This will be an unilateral withdrawal in which the state of Israel will get nothing in return, not even an assurance of peace from Palestinian terrorist organizations (on the contrary, they have been quite upfront that this changes nothing and that this is only the first step). I’m sure that there is some sort of deal done behind the curtain, though not between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Israel and the U.S. I’m forced to wonder, has the Israeli government reached the point where money is more important than people? Without knowing the specifics of any U.S./Israel deal over the pullout, I can only think, “Yes, they have.”
It is not a coincidence that this is all happening on Tisha B’Av and subsequent days. For proof of that, we need only turn to this and last week’s parshah, all of which contain chilly parallels to the situation we now face.
In last week’s parsha, Masei (Numbers 33:1 – 36:13), we read about the travels of the Israelites throughout forty years in the wilderness. Then G-d gives Moses instructions for the Israelites when they cross into the land promised to them and their forefathers, specifically “if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the Land before you, those of them whom you leave shall be pins in your eyes and a surrounding barrier of thorns in your sides, and they will harass you upon the land in which you dwell.” (33:55) The Torah’s words are not only a record of history, but an eternal voice; that command applies to this day, and the fact it was ignored in 1948 and subsequent years is the reason we are at this point today, with these prior inhabitants2 being a thorn on our side. We were also commanded not to make any deals with the inhabitants of the Land, and yet here we are, going through years and years of deal-making with these prior inhabitants. It is ironic that when we decide not to make a deal with the inhabitants of the Land, what we do is to give back the Land that was given to our forefathers, Land that is holy and that was won with sweat and blood.
Unfortunately, it is our own fault. In this week’s parsha, Vaetchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11), Moses speaks quite clearly to the Israelites when he tells them what is expected of them, and the consequences if they fail to heed his words. “Now, O Israel, listen to the decrees and to the ordinances that I teach you to perform, so that you may live, and you will come and possess the Land that G-d, the G-d of your forefathers, gives you. You shall observe His decrees and His commandments that I command you this day, so that He will do good to you and to your children after you, and so that He will prolong your days on the Land that G-d, your G-d, gives you, for all the days.” (ibid. 4:1, 40) Moses was quite explicit in his words (and Deuteronomy is entirely Moses’ own words): Obey the commandments G-d has given you, so you will have life and a lengthy stay in the Land. That obviously didn’t happen then (see Judges and Kings and so forth), and is still not happening now, and I honestly believe it is the reason why the land is being given away (actually, I see it more as the Land leaving us).
Please, don’t think for a moment that I am absolving the Israeli government of blame in the matter, because I certainly am not. I believe Sharon has gone crazy, money-hungry, or simply decided to betray every single thing he stood for when he was running for Prime Minister (that or he will dazzle us all with a brilliant political/military maneuver that will shock everyone in the world and makes us say, “Sharon’s got skeeelz!” You can probably tell how much I believe that to be the case). However, there is a larger issue at stake here, and it has to do with this division between secular and religious Jews in Israel, namely the fact that those who call themselves secular Jews are not practicing the Law that is the one thing which makes a Jew a Jew3. Until that happens, we will continue to live through trying times like the pullout which, while Divinely mandated, are the result of our own free will in the matter.
One thousand, nine hundred and thirty-seven years ago, in the year 70 C.E., the Romans were used as an instrument for G-d to destroy the Second Temple. Our sages teach that the reason for the destruction of the Temple was baseless hatred between the Jews; brother hated brother for no particular reason, and numerous groups worked against each other, even helping out the
Romans in order to gain the upper hand (as was the case of the Zealots, who facilitated the entry of Roman forces into Jerusalem). I see the same problem today, where “secular” Jews oppose “religious” Jews basically on principle. To paraphrase the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, there are no “secular” or “religious” (or “orthodox,” “conservative,” or “reform”) Jews—there are just Jews, and we are all children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and we are all called upon to be “a kingdom of kohanim4 and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6)
As Tisha B’Av comes to a close, I feel and weep for the settlers of Gaza and the West Bank who are being torn from the Land like weeds from a garden. Any one, especially secular Jews in srael and the world, who agrees with the withdrawal is missing the point of the momentousness of this occasion: we are forfeiting the Land that is our heritage, giving back a gift from G-d Himself. We are setting a precedent for the future, for what is the difference between Gaza and Jerusalem? We have told the world, and G-d, that we don’t care about the Land, and that is the greatest tragedy here.
May G-d help us that a peaceful solution can be found, one in which we retain the Land of our heritage, one in which our gentile cousins, the sons of Ishamel (for what is all this trouble if not a family feud between the sons of Isaac and the sons of Ishmael), find their own home as well, and one in which all His children, the children of Israel, return to His Torah with teshuva, so that Mashiach can finally arrive.
1. Why do I use the term “so-called Palestinians?” Because the term has been a very plastic one for the last couple of centuries, and only recently has it come to denote these Arab peoples living in the territory of Israel. You can check the Wikipedia for a number of definitions of the term “Palestinian,” and you will see that, at a point, even Jews were called such. Though this is now the accepted term for the particular group of Arab peoples (and you can see in the Wikipedia entry that even who is a Palestinian shifts), it is one that I use grudgingly. Before Yasser Arafat, there were no Palestinians, not as we understand it today; it was probably Arafat’s greatest victory to have attached this name to the non-Israeli Arabs in the territory and have cemented in the mind of the world. [Back to text]
2. Though I say “prior inhabitants,” this is an incorrect term. From biblical times onward, there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel; even after the destruction of the two temples, throughout the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, or the Victorian era, always has there been Jews living in the Holy Land, ironically in relative peace with their Arab nomadic neighbors. By the time the state of Israel was established in 1948, Jews had already been living there, some for decades, some for generations. It is not as if the Jews suddenly arrived; they were always there, although in lesser numbers. The Arab people who were in the area of Palestine had no more of a claim to the land than the Jews did, except for one important fact: the Torah, which irrevocably gave the land to the children of Israel. [Back to text]
3. Personally, I think the term “secular Jew” is an oxymoron of the highest caliber. There is no such thing, period. The only reason anyone can call him/herself a Jew is because they are following the Torah, which is the precedent for the Jewish people and sets the rules and regulations of who is Jewish, and who isn’t. If you are not following the Torah, and in fact despise it and don’t want to have anything to do with it, then stop calling yourself a Jew, because you have forfeited that right and privilege. If you want to continue calling yourself a Jew, then start practicing the Torah, even if it’s just a little, for a little is better than nothing, and little by little you will learn and do more. I sincerely believe that the reason all these secular people still identify themselves as Jews is because in their soul they know who they are, and know what they need to do, regardless of how hard they try to hide from it or deny it. You are only a Jew because of the Torah, and without the Torah, you are not a Jew.
In fact, it’s the same thing with the Land of Israel. Our main claim to it is the fact that G-d gave it to us, as shown in the Torah. If you negate the Torah and wish to have only a secular state, you have no right to the land, at least not any more than the Arabs who lived there at the same time as we did. Why do you think that particular plot of land was chosen for the modern state of Israel? Why there, in the middle of a nest of vipers (so to speak) and not somewhere else that could afford more peace and tranquility? It was because that is our ancestral homeland, a direct gift from G-d to the Jewish people. Without the Torah to back our claim to the Land, all Israelis might as well pack up their bags and move out. [Back to text]
4. Though this is usually translated as “priests,” the Artscroll Stone Edition Tanach translates it as “ministers,” using the meaning of the word that denotes that “the entire nation is to be dedicated to leading the world toward an understanding and acceptance of G-d’s mission.” (pg. 181) [Back to text]
Friday, August 12, 2005
I am writing a Celtic themed product, and using OGC material from Mongoose's Slaine RPG. The PI declaration lists a number of terms they claim as PI, and I have a problem with it. While some of the various terms claimed as PI are certainly unique to the Slaine series, there are others that are part and parcel of Celtic myth and lit.
The following terms all are claimed as PI and also appear in my Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology:
Slaine, Warp Spasm, Tir Nan Og, Fomorian, Red Branch, Fir Bolg, Enech, Cromlech.
Slaine is a character in the early stories. Warp spasms are traced to Cuchulainn, though he wasn't the only hero to become distorted during a rage. Tir Nan Og is the mythical Land of Youth; though the common Irish spelling is Tir na nOg, Tir nan Og (or Tir Nan Og in some cases) is the Scottish Gaelic spelling (as an aside, the book also claims Land of the Young as PI, and while my dictionary lists only Land of Youth or Land of the Ever-Young, I have certainly seen Tir nan Og called Land of the Young in other academic works). Fomorian is the name of a mythic Celtic race, as is Fir Bolg (or its alternate spelling, Firbolg). The Red Branch is an older name for the Ulster cycle, and a popular name for the band of warriors based out of Emain Macha. Enech is the old Irish word for face (as in "saving face" or honor). Cromlech is another Gaelic word (more used in Wales and Cornwall, though not exclusively) for
The only thing I can think of is that I can't use the Slaine universe's interpretation of these terms, but I don't see any way in which they could stop me from using these terms simply as terms; that would be like me claiming as PI Olympus, Achilles and so forth.
Personally I have a mind to simply ignore the PI declaration as it applies to these terms, which have obviously been in use before the Slaine comic or the game, but I wanted to ask for thoughts on the matter.
I am annoyed that I even have to bring this issue up when it comes to terms that are clearly part of the public domain. I am even more annoyed because this is something that I keep seeing pop up in products. This is how I interpret the OGL in regards to PI (and I am not a lawyer):
If a term is part of the public domain, you cannot PI it. You can PI a particular expression of a term, but you cannot claim any term as PI just because.
We have reached a conclusion, backed by Ryan Dancey and Clark Peterson, both people I respect in their understanding of the particularities of the OGL, that claiming those terms as PI is irrelevant as I can draw them from the public domain. I realize I cannot use the Slaine RPG's particular expression of those terms, but they sure as hell can't keep me from naming a character Slaine, from descriving Celtic warp spasms, and having Tir Nan Og (or Tir na nOg, or Tir nan Og) as a location in my product.
It amazes me that we still have problems like this (along with people who do not know how to do the Copyright declaration--Section 15--of the OGL) after five years of dealing with the OGL.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
I was cleaning the kitchen, and proceeded to fill up the sink with hot water mixed with bleach. I left the water running while I went to the living room to see something in the computer. I didn't realize how fast the sink was filling, and suddenly though, "Crap, lemme turn the water off!" So I ran into the kitchen... And slipped in the water that had pooled on the floor, falling--literally--on my ass (and trust me, when you're almost 6 feet, it's a long way down). No, I didn't hurt myself, though I was quite sore in the morning.
The golden finale to it all was when I was looking for my iPod Shuffle so I could drop in there the new podcast episodes I listen to during my commute. I searched for a while, then I remembered that I had left it in the car last night when we arrived at the concert venue, so I went to the car.
The iPod was gone.
I turned the car inside out, called my mother-in-law's house (where I'd stopped before leaving for the concert, the last time I used the iPod), searched the street and my apartment. Then it hit me. When I got my car from the towing place this morning, the alarm was disengaged and the car open.
They stole my iPod at the towing place.
They were quick to point out that they were not responsible for items left in the car, but then again, I wasn't planning on having my car towed this morning, now was I (Sorry, too busy today. How about Sunday, between 10 and 11 am?). So now I am sans iPod, and subject to the horrible South Florida radio.
If you want to help me replace my stolen iPod Shuffle, click below. I only need $100; I really don't need any iPod bigger than the basic Shuffle.
All in all, a very VERY crappy day. I am now going to sleep and hope that that is it.
From a post at YNet News:
"Bush: Disengagement will increase Israel's security
U.S. President George W. Bush said Israel's planned pullout from the Gaza Strip will increase its security, in excerpts of an interview broadcast Thursday on Israel TV.
Interviewed at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush said, 'The disengagement is, I think, a part of making Israel more secure and peaceful.' (AP)
Wow. I never thought my opinion of this guy could sink lower, but there he is, outdoing himself. This is clearly ridiculous. That would be like rewarding Al-Qaeda with New York City after 9/11 so we could have a more secure and peaceful America.
It's so easy to say this kind of crap when you're half a world away in your multi-million dollar ranch.
Guess what happened this morning...
I completely forgot about moving the car (even though I've been awake since 6 am), and by the time I was leaving for the synangogue at 7:30 am, the car had been towed. To top it all off, my wife lent her car yesterday to her mother, so our usually-available second car was 15 miles away. And to put a cherry on top, to get the car back, I need to pay $170 PLUS have the car's actual owner (that would be my father-in-law, who lives 25 miles south of me) come to the towing company's office. So in less than 2 hours since being awake, I have already lost $170, my composure, and inconvenienced both my in-laws. Peachy!!!
All that and I have yet to do my morning prayers; can't concentrate at the moment.
I see this as a divine slap on the wrist, though. We are in the time leading to Tisha B'Av (lit. 9th of Av), and in this period, especially in the nine days preceding it, we are not supposed to listen to live music, as it is supposed to be a time of mourning and reflection. We bought the tickets to the concert months ago without realizing the concert would be smack in the middle of the nine days. We went, and we enjoyed it, but my gut feeling is that this event is a small disciplinary action, a warning, if you will.
Now, off to get all this taken care of.
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
I am so incredibly astonished and angry that such a barbaric and horrible practice as Female Genital Mutilation (Google) is still in practice in this backwater town in Iraq! I mean, this is a practice that has even been condemned by Muslim imams as not being part of the Islamic belief. I don't want to hear it about us having to respect other culture's religious practices because it is not (FGM is a social practice, and I don't care about respecting it identified as such either), despite the misguided interpretation of some passage of other of the Koran. And I don't even want to hear about this being compared to male circumcision, because they are not the same thing, not even close. I am all for tolerance across the board, but then I see things like this and I seriously think about reconsidering my stance.
My favorite part of the article:
When WADI presented the results of its survey in Vienna this spring, Mr. Osten-Sacken recalls, various Iraqi groups accused the group of being an agent of the Israelis.
Man, it didn't take long for Israel to get dragged into the fray and down into the mud. Mind you, the accusation did not stem from claims the study is making up information, rather, "They accused us of publicizing the country's secrets."
I'm just speechless.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
As you can see, I've traveled very little within the United States (6 states, 11%). I visited, and now live in, Florida, went to Texas in 1990 for 2 weeks, went to North Carolina and Tennessee in 1988 for a week (summer camp kind of thing in NC, with only a day-long visit to Dollywood in TN--don't ask), visited Winsconsin in 2001 for Gen Con, and gone to New York City 4 times in the last 2 years and counting (my sister-in-law lives there). Now a good friend has moved to North Carolina, so we'll be visiting more. That still leaves a whole lot of states that I have not graced with my prescence.
I fare a lot better when tallying countries visited:
Though, of course, in relation to the whole world, it's a very small percentage (9 countries, 4%). I come from Puerto Rico (invisible red spot in the caribbean, right of Dominican Republic), and now live in the US. In 2001 I visited England, Scotland (they count as the UK), Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France (the Transfiguration Tour), while in 2002 I went to Ireland for my honeymoon. Next year we're planning to go back to the Netherlands and to Belgium, and one day, G-d willing, we want to go to Australia, New Zealand, and Israel.
Yes, it's a boring afternoon at work. :-)
All that gushing aside, imagine my surprise when I was listening to the latest episode (#4) on my way to work, and they start reviewing my products! I had sent the guys three samples from my catalog, and it was great hearing them talk about my work. The reviews were very favorable, and hey, it's free advertising!
Check out episode #4 of the Dragon's Landing Inn podcast, and download the rest while you're at it. These guys are on the right track.
When the Columbia exploded two years ago, we were incredibly distraught, not just because of the tragedy of it all, but also because we had an emotional investment on that mission, namely Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space, the first Jew to leave the confines of this planet and keep the commandments he rarely kept on terra firma. Discovery's mission had no similar attachment, though it became surprisingly important in our lives, to the point where we were actually joyful that everything had turned out right and that these explorers were now back home.
We say it with such mundane flippancy, "They were in space," but this morning I stopped to relfect on those words, on the fact that these men and women had gone somewhere most people will never go. These modern-day explorers had left the confines of ultimate security, Earth, to venture into a place that is entirely inhospitable, a realm of silence and darkness, where we are not rulers or leaders, a realm of unparalleled beauty, where G-d's magnificent creation is undeniable. I only think to my travels, and that moment when I come back home, and I try to multiply that by a number too large to fathom, and it gives me chills.
Saturday, August 06, 2005
I like Highmoon stuff. It's quality goods by fine, talented people. That's why I posted this release before Daniel had the chance; this is a company I want to support.
Everyone should buy lots of Highmoon products from the outlet of your choice. [...] the message here, which is: Highmoon is a publisher worth supporting, Buy Highmoon Stuff.
Posted by: Berin Kinsman on Jul 28, 05 10:14 am
This was in reply to the press release I sent for From Stone to Steel (which you can see below), which Berin posted to his site before I had a chance to do so. You read the whole thread here, and see Berin's full post.
You can't buy that kind of support or advertising. Words like that make me all happy and stuff. I'm definitely doing something right. :-)
Thursday, August 04, 2005
There have been a number of reviews for HMP products recently, so we've compiled them below for ease of viewing. Enjoy!
- Bardic Lore: The Fachan @ EN World
- Bardic Lore: Ogham @ EN World - 1 of 3
- Bardic Lore: Ogham @ EN World - 2 of 3
- Bardic Lore: Ogham @ EN World - 3 of 3
- Bardic Lore: Ogham @ GamingReport.com
- Bardic Lore: The Villa of Mysteries @ d20 Magazine Rack
- Bardic Lore: The Villa of Mysteries @ RPGNow.com
- Liber Sodalitas: The Blind Path @ EN World
- Liber Sodalitas: Erzsak's Drake Riders @ EN World
- MonkeyGod Presents: Frost & Fur @ RPGNow.com
As always, we'd like to exhort our customers to review our products and give us some feedback, so we can improve. You can leave reviews/feedback at each of the online stores, or at ENWorld.org/Reviews. Be sure to email us and let us know if you do a review.
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Second news, and a great one at that, is that I have made contact with another game publisher to produce support material for their game in the form of adventures. I won't say who yet, as we still need to iron some things out, but I am excited about it. I'll say this, it's not strictly d20, so it will be a new market for HMP, and there may be a print deal in there as well. Sweet!
Now if I could only just get some of these projects I have in development finished and out the door!
Monday, August 01, 2005
Last week my wife flew to New York for the weekend to see her sister and mom. Taking her to the airport on Thursday, walking those crowded terminals, going up and down stairs to out-of-the-way gates, seeing all those people with their luggage and packs ready to go somewhere other than here... it all made me remember how much I love traveling, how much I love the idea of taking off to another destination. I'll get my chance later this month, when I go for a week to Puerto Rico to visit family and friends.
During the weekend I took the opportunity to watch a couple of movies that my wife would simply refuse to watch were she here, namely Immortal, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and (wait for it) Eurotrip. They all sucked in one way or another, especially Immortal - NEVER watch it, it was soooooo slow and pointless. League was cool but fell so short of what I could've been, and Eurotrip... well, I didn't rent Eurotrip for the deep insight into European culture, I rented it to see Lucy Lawless as a Dutch dominatrix (which was funny as hell). The song was catchy, though.