The rumors of my death...
medicmsh
...are slightly exaggerated. *shakes corpse-dust off wings with vigorous flappings*

Refugees, Reason, Risk, and Right (or, "Fear is the Mind-Killer")
medicmsh
This, in response to lots of fearful bellowing about how refugees from Syria are disguised terrorists & how right-thinking people should refuse to permit their entry into the US. I have ALL the disagreement with this.

Allowing Syrian refugees to enter the US, AND to pursue expedited legal immigration while they are here, is consistent with the best ideals of the American experiment. It's also got many practical advantages, but in my opinion that's secondary to the opportunity to do the right thing, in the right way, right now.

As for claims that terrorists among the Syrian refugees will infiltrate the US & vanish, only to attack us from within: Initial screening and monitoring of refugees can certainly be done with stupidity, without security, & recklessly. It can ALSO be done wisely, securely, & swiftly. Our choices are NOT between reckless uncontrolled acceptance of refugees into the US, & NO acceptance of refugees; that's a false dichotomy. We can choose smart policies -- or not. Refugee screening, AND expedited immigration, can & should START with collection of biometric data, providing identity documents, & ensuring compliance w/laws and policies (with failure to accept these terms of entry, as grounds for non-admission and/or immediate expulsion). But I expect US citizens and elected leaders to be discussing and demanding smart policies and faithful enforcement of laws -- NOT issuing blanket "Not-In-My-Back-Yard" statements refusing resettlement of Syrian refugees in "my state/my city/my neighborhood".

As for claims that "72% of Syrian 'refugees' are military-aged young men" and that the entire flight of civilians from Syria is a fifth-column invasion by DAESH terrorist legions: "Figures don't lie, but liars figure." Here's the apparent source of that figure:
http://data.unhcr.org/mediterranean/regional.php
This "clearly" shows that "65% of refugees are adult men, and only 14% are adult women" (remaining 20% being children) -- insert shouty typefont! Add exclamation points! -- except for two minor details. First, this is a rollup of ~820,000 people from all countries arriving in Europe by sea in 2015 -- with only HALF of the arrivals coming from Syria. For non-statisticians, if (for sake of argument) we assume that the non-Syrian refugees are moving for primarily economic reasons, we would expect a much higher ratio of men than women -- and if we had two distinct populations contained in this sample, assuming half of the sample to be almost 100% adult men (economic refugees), and the remainder to be a mixed group of 30% adult men, 30% adult women, and 40% children (political refugees moving in family groups), the resulting demographic mix of the entire group would look almost EXACTLY like the UNHCR's "boat migration" statistics. Having had the opportunity to work with the UN in the past, I am inherently skeptical of every statistic provided by a UN agency -- but even IF we assume these statistics are accurate (as the "TERRORIST ARMY!!!" folks appear willing to do without any hesitation, which is startling in and of itself), these numbers STILL do not necessarily show what they are being used to "prove."

Potentially more relevant is a different set of numbers, also courtesy of the UNHCR:
http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php
--a total population of roughly 4.3 million Syrian refugees, still located primarily in the Middle East and North Africa. Assume again for the sake of argument that DAESH fifth-columnists have infiltrated Europe -- assume for the sake of argument that EVERY Syrian "refugee" now in Europe is a terrorist sleeper agent (men, women, infants, every single one) -- that STILL leaves four MILLION Syrian refugees who are NOT in that "tainted" group who "invaded" Europe by boat. If anyone is attempting to argue that every one of those 4 million refugees is a DAESH agent and would-be terrorist, I would suggest they need professional help. More rationally, I would propose that insisting four million people be left to rot in camps, and NOT ONE of them be permitted to enter the US, solely and exclusively because SOME of them MIGHT be terrorists, is an act of cowardice, plain and simple.

All of this is not a contradiction of the fact that radical Islamists ARE engaged in a war against the US, and against everybody else who doesn't embrace their ideology (& if you disagree with that statement, I'm not sure what to say about that to convince you). It's also a fact that the most high-profile terrorist fraternity at present is the group going variously by the acronym of DAESH, ISIS, ISIL, or ABOHT (Another Bunch Of Homicidal Tyrants). But let's be very clear--stateless refugees in camps ANYWHERE are a FAR better recruiting tool for DAESH than families & individuals restarting lives in the US or anywhere else. Middle Eastern despots are big supporters of the permanent refugee camp as a go-to source for rent-a-mobs and foot soldiers in support of a long tradition of religiously-branded state-sponsored terrorism. Our old enemies in the Middle East have deliberately refused Palestinian emigration for a half-century, & have confined the Palestinians in refugee camps around the borders of Israel, with the intent and effect of ensuring a permanent supply of rent-a-mobs and foot soldiers for terrorist organizations. Anyone think it's a GOOD idea to make permanent refugees of the Syrians fleeing DAESH?

By contrast, refugees ~from~ DAESH can (or could) provide the US with cultural & language skills that we ~must~ have in order to defeat DAESH on its own ground. So, if we categorically refuse (or interminably delay) Syrian refugees entry into the US, we miss an extraordinary opportunity. Want to take the war to DAESH? Invite ten thousand Syrian refugees -- invite a HUNDRED thousand -- into the US. Include in that offer an offer of training, weapons, uniforms, and logistics, all to be provided in and by the US to those who are interested in going BACK to Syria. Have a recruitment goal of one in ten (but plan for more to volunteer). This time next year, airlift that army - of a thousand, or ten thousand -- into northeastern Jordan. Point them north-by-northwest, provide them with close air support and regular airdrops of ammunition, and ask them to keep going until they link up with the Kurds. Many refugees actually want to go HOME, although few ever get the chance. This would be a good way to facilitate that endstate.

Finally, if our geopolitical goal is simply to close our borders & hope DAESH burns itself out (by killing every non-Muslim in their occupied territories, & then killing all the Muslims who disagree with DAESH, & finally turning on each other), then refusing all refugees MIGHT make sense -- if we really are willing to sit idly by for however long that takes. But, even if the "let it burn" philosophy is somehow acceptable, there's a clear moral difference between watching somebody else's house burn down, and throwing somebody back ~into~ their burning house while they're trying to escape. (If the latter approach is ok for you, I'm not sure we have much common ground.)

Setting aside all questions of utility, this looks to me like a question of national identity -- who do we want to be as a country? Frankly, I would rather be remembered as a citizen of a country that was willing to accept at least SOME degree of risk, in order to make a serious attempt to provide a sanctuary and an opportunity for people with firsthand experience of tyranny. To be specific and personal, I would rather live indefinitely next door to a Syrian refugee than a student protestor from Yale or Amherst. Personally, I PREFER to work, study, pray, and fight alongside people who know what evil actually looks like, if only because they're less likely to automatically assume I'm their enemy just because of my skin color.

Is there risk in accepting Syrian refugees into the US? YES! Are there risks in NOT accepting those refugees? Yes, and those risks are LESS palatable to me. LIFE is risky, and we choose every day to accept some risks, and reject others. Risk management is a fundamental human activity. In the case of refugees from Syria, we should manage the risks that exist, but do so in the context of accepting, NOT rejecting them categorically. It IS possible to keep our arms AND our eyes open at the same time.


"Doc the Level 1 Flitzbe," or "'Mental' Is My Dump Stat"
medicmsh
The Amazing Jaguar haikujaguar was kind enough to share some thoughts on RPG-style stats for Pelted characters in her LJ today:

http://haikujaguar.livejournal.com/1509019.html#t30693275

As usual I thoroughly enjoyed her work and then went bounding off in a totally different direction. Rather than hijack her excellent post and thread, I've moved my bizarre addenda over here. All credit for the cool ideas is hers; any blame (especially for confusing and unworkable mechanics) is mine alone.

Also my (lime-green & contentedly humming) thanks to greylistening for asking the all-important question: "What would your stats be as a Flitzbe?"

So here's how the madness unfurled:

I started with haikujaguar's three basic categories or primary characteristics: Physical; Mental; and Social. Because I'm different, I wanted another category (Spiritual), so I added that as well. The Jaguar's original model also had four subcategories to each of her basic categories, which seemed like an excellent idea, so I quickly filed off the serial numbers and re-named enough of them to confuse the innocent:

1) Physical (engagement with the physical world)
Strength: Lift, carry, drag, squash!
Speed: dodge, weave, dart, flee!
Endurance: heal, persist, continue, recover!
Perception: hear, smell, distinguish, "spot hidden"! (physical senses only, but infrared, ultrasound, and tachyon emissions are all physical...)

2) Mental (engagement with thoughts, ideas, & the processes of acquiring and sorting information)
Intellect: capacity of data storage
Processing: rapidity of intellectual processes (processor speed)
Relatedness: ability to perceive connections between/among data sets
"Adaptitude": ability to apply learning & skills from one area to another area (in concept or practice)

3) Social (engagement with social structures and the social behavior of individuals in groups)
Savvy: Knowing how to work the room
Charisma: "In charismatic Russia, the room works YOU!" (You are All That & everybody wants to get a piece of it)
Wisdom: Knowing what approach to working the room (managing a social interaction) will most likely yield the desired social results
Expectation: Sensing the "norms of behavior" in a social setting -- who is "supposed" to be doing what? What roles people are expected to be playing?

4) Spiritual (engagement with the trans-physical, a-rational world -- "the forms that cast the shadows")
Awareness: awareness of the Big Picture (whatever that picture looks like in a given game/world setting)
Recognition: recognition of spiritual presences/manifestations in the physical world
Discernment: discernment of an individual's involvement with The Big Picture
Connection: connection with the non-physical world (which might imply, or be a prerequisite, for working with/interacting with same...)

At this point I figured, this could almost be simplified by using the SAME four sub-categories for each of the primary categories... "Physical Wisdom" vs "Social Wisdom" vs "Spiritual Wisdom", thus giving four "area" categories and four "application" categories. In other words, four "expressions" of each characteristic.

Since I like alliteration, I named them Presence; Practice; Perception; and Plasticity. NOTE BENE: plasticity is a BRILLIANT concept in the RPG context and it is COMPLETELY haikujaguar's! Even if you call it "adaptability" (for descriptive use) or "portability" (to keep the "p") there's no getting away from the fact that this is ENTIRELY her idea and I have stolen it with malice aforethought! (She was kind enough to let me use it here but she deserves all the credit for its existence in this context. All hail the Jaguar, Creator-of-Worlds!)

Presence is "how MUCH of the characteristic do you have?"
Practice is "how rapidly can you deploy/employ/apply that characteristic in a given setting?"
Perception is "how in contact are you with the expressions of that characteristic in your environment?"
Plasticity is "how effective are you at transferring that which you have learned in one context and applying it in another?"



Assuming for sake of argument a D&D-style 3d6 scatter... No, wait, since it's all fours, lets do 4d4 scatter... Mean is 2.5x4=10 points for each of 16 stats; point-buy approach gives 160 points spread across 16 characteristics (I love it when the numbers are nicely rounded)...

(I wish I had a way to do this as a 4x4 grid but that exceeds my Mental/Practice and Mental/Plasticity capabilities!)

CAVEAT! CAVEAT! CAVEAT! I am NOT "Doc"! I don't even pretend to be! Doc is a character, NOT ME! Please do not burn me at the stake! (Or at least, not exclusively because I've spec'd a character with high Spiritual stats; Lord knows there are plenty of better reasons to make me the guest of honor at an auto-da-fe'.)

So, "Doc" the Level 1 Flitzbe:

Physical (32 total points):
Presence: 8 A small but robust little koosh-ball (robust for a Flitzbe, anyway).
Practice: 4 Dodge? Leap? Parry? I'm sorry, this is not the Flitzbe you are looking for. Even "move" is a bit of a crapshoot.
Perception: 16 Surprisingly detailed awareness of physical environment (can't SEE {visible light} as such, but it really helps to be able to taste tachyons, gravitons, and all manner of miscellaneous particles).
Plasticity: 4 Did I mention that zi can maybe roll around some, on a really GOOD day? Not much ability to cross-apply that into ANYTHING -- can't grow neural fibers into lockpicks, or adaptively produce suction cups to walk up the wall and hide in the air vent, or any of that stuff...

Mental (16 total points): These are dump stats for Doc. It's not that zi's stupid, but zi just doesn't "think" the way most sentient lifeforms would normally use the term. If you want someone to remember the first thousand digits of pi (mental presence), calculate hyperspace escape vectors on the fly (mental practice), notice an error in the ship's pre-programmed solution (mental perception), and realize that this means there's more mass on-board than expected due to the presence of a stowaway of a precisely-calculable mass (mental plasticity), you do NOT want to ask the resident Flitzbe...
Presence: 4
Practice: 4
Perception: 4
Plasticity: 4


Social (38 total points):
Presence: 8 Inoffensive, but by no means squee-inducing. (For reference, a kitten with a ball of string gets a 16, a box of baby otters scores a 24, and a flatulent musk ox with a bad disposition is a -1.)
Practice: 8 It takes a non-trivial amount of time for Doc to "read" somebody -- it's not hard to do, since zi's basically EXPERIENCING each person within sensory range, but it's a deliberate process. As a side note, zis range is limited (and it's up to the Author what that range is in feet and inches). So, either another team member is going to need to bring Doc TO everybody at the reception, OR the team will need to pre-position Doc someplace where everybody in the room is already guaranteed to GO... Like, say, atop the shrimp tower at the main buffet table.
Perception: 10 Doc's middling-average score in this area reflects a balance between zis ability to OBSERVE all manner of subtle detail, versus zir lack of anything resembling a frame of reference against which to ANALYZE the information so easily gained. Doc can tell you that the guy over there smells unusually sulfurous and is emanating a distinct sense of worry, but that doesn't help answer any meaningful questions about WHY there's worry. Also conspicuously absent is any contextual information about who the observed individual is in relation to others. Is the worried guy the Ambassador, or the busboy? Not Doc's forte'. Please pass the shrimp.
Plasticity: 12 Despite zis limitations in ANALYZING social data (as discussed under Social/Perception), Doc is reasonably good at "applying" whatever's been absorbed. Do you want to have a disguise checked out, or get a report on your performance of a particular role? Doc can tell whether you have "gotten it right" (or wrong) with a very high degree of fidelity, IF zi's had a chance to observe the "original". And, vice versa, if Doc's already successfully "read" one individual (successfully made a skill check against Social/Perception), Doc is pretty good at finding the same specific or a closely-analogous pattern even in a crowd of superficially similar individuals. (Rather handy skills when looking for impostors or sniffing out a Chatcaavan infiltrator amongst the invited guests...)

Spiritual (74 total points):
Presence: 28 THIS is what Doc does/is/is all about. To put it another way, in matters Spiritual, Doc is an 800-pound gorilla. Zi may LOOK like an unremarkable fuzzy little cantaloupe, but (physical) appearances, in this context, are VERY deceiving. Example 1: Under attack by sanity-shattering multidimensional eldritch horrors? /*DOC DISAPPROVES*/Flitzbe takes no damage/attacker experiences the psychic equivalent of being kicked in the jimmy./ Example 2: In the manifest presence of deity incarnate? Doc would probably nubble zis way over to check that out, unless zi was doing something else at the time, like purring for a team member who needed a boost. Example 3: A group of holy auditors is looking for the next Pope/Dalai Lama/12th Imam? They may well decide to put the crown on Doc. (In any event, other people feel more centered just by having zi around, and Things Just Seem To Work Out Like They're Supposed To. How this would express itself in game mechanics is up to the Authorial Team.)
Practice: 4 Even more than with Social/Practice, Spiritual/Practice is not something to be rushed. There are a lot of very fine gradations to be absorbed and acted upon, and Doc's truly alien outlook neither encourages nor admits any sense of hastiness in the important business of appreciating how Everything Fits Together (and nudging things into place if they're a bit askew). Don't rush an artist. Or a bomb-disposal technician. Or whatever Doc is. Truth is, it wouldn't matter if you tried. Zi's going to take zir time regardless.
Perception: 22 Doc understands where events and people fit in the Big Picture. It's not like precognition (knowing what's going to happen), it's more like knowing how an incomplete yet evolving jigsaw puzzle could look with all the pieces fitted together; and, being able to appreciate what kind of piece someone (or something) is AND what it COULD be -- where and what they are now, where the rest of the puzzle pieces are in relation to them, and what would change as things fitted together. A challenging analogy, but we're trying to express transcendent numinous concepts of a patterned Reality in terms that fit into an RPG. So you get what you've got. Anyway, Doc's very good at this.
Plasticity: 20 Also aces at applying that meta-awareness in multiple contexts. Doc will never be the crewmember who is in just the right place to man the main laser cannon and fend off the pirates so the princess can escape (which, in game mechanics terms, might be one way to express a high Spiritual/Plasticity score). Doc might well take it upon zirself to go exploring in the server closet one afternoon, short out the spaceship's mainframe, and get everybody stuck in hyperspace for a week -- during which time the pirates get detected and destroyed by a passing Alliance cruiser, and nobody is ever the wiser as to how nearly disaster might have befallen them all. (The biggest weakness of all this is the fact that spiritual stats wind up looking a lot more like "luck" and "will" than I want them to, but hey, it's a work in progress.)

Anyway, I had fun, and I hope you did too. What's YOUR Pelted character look like with this stat array? And how would YOU express the spiritual dimensions of a character in terms of an RPG? (I'll be atop the shrimp tower...)

Running!
medicmsh
Brace yourself:

I went for a run.

The significance of this is immense (for me, anyway). It might suggest that some little run-positive knurl on my reptilian brain is re-energizing after a very long hibernation. I don't recall the last time I have WANTED to go running. The last absolutely clear and unambiguous event in this category was when I first got to Korea in two-thousand-and-*hrrumph*. Since that time (over a decade ago, but who's counting?) there were some random 5ks here and there, but they featured strong elements of peer pressure. There was also that one spectacularly ill-advised "perhaps I'll take this interesting shortcut" two-mile-run-that-turned-into-an-eleven-mile-stagger-until-collapse, sometime in two-thousand-and-*hrrACK*, but I think I was briefly infested by alien brain parasites. So: how long has it been since I was running-on-purpose, just-because, no-evidence-of-aliens? Years, at the least! So this is Something.

Anyway, the run itself was otherwise unremarkable in every respect. It featured light rain shading to moderate; a mixture of paved and muddy dirt roads; temps in the mid-fifties; and zero pedestrian or vehicle traffic, which is appropriate for two AM in farm-fringe suburbia. Pace and distance shall not be discussed! Let us focus on the positive ("I made it out the front door without infarcting") rather than the negative ("Even if chased only by carnivorous snails with short attention spans, I am unlikely to survive if I must rely exclusively on my speed and stamina")!

We shall see whether this one-time outlier event translates into anything like a sustained something-or-other... Stay tuned!

Awards:
Most intriguing app:
https://zombiesrungame.com/ by http://www.sixtostart.com/
A great way to add Something Completely Different to an ordinary run. I started my own playlist of music, launched the Zombies! Run! app, and got voiceovers of my role as Runner Five in a post-zombie-apocalypse world of scavengers, secrets, and survival. Plus it logged my pace & distance for me, and dumped them into my now-inescapable Apple Health app for good measure.

Most helpful new tech:
http://www.jaybirdsport.com/X2-bluetooth-headphones/secure-fit/ by http://www.jaybirdsport.com/
Bluetooth earphones that don't fall out, even when running, in the rain, despite sweating and staggering like a guy who just got off the couch after *hrrAWK* years of sedentariness, while being chased by zombies. Nothing short of amazing.

"What has it got in its pocketses?"
medicmsh
I thoroughly enjoyed Blair MacGregor's recent LJ post about camping, weapons, and mindfulness. (It's really good! You should read it!)

http://blairmacg.livejournal.com/155760.html?view=782704#t782704

Anyway, since the main text of the post was a discussion of "items carried, and why they made it onto the packing list," it got me thinking about the "miscellaneous stuff" that I drag around with me. More specifically, I have a key ring without keys on it -- a keychain backup kit, if you will, of things I like having readily accessible. The big restriction of this kit, of course, is that everything has to get through TSA screening (a much larger topic, perhaps appropriate for some future Day of Ranting).

The bonus fire widget (a simple steel-rod-and-magnesium-scraper set) doesn't travel on the keychain, but it goes everywhere the rest of the stuff goes, so it gets screen time too:



And, the ever-popular Keychain-o-Stuff:



In no particular order -- a wee compass (I think it started life as an REI zipper-pull item but it's done some serious traveling since then); a metal whistle (REALLY loud!); a key-shaped multitool (with teeny cross-tip & flat-blade screwdrivers, bottle opener, and plastic-cutter); two little canisters (one for a rolled-up dollar bill, one for a 3-day supply of prescription meds); a stubby Sharpie (for use as a skin marker); a Fisher pen (for writing on sticks of butter while underwater in zero-G); an unused 20G thumb drive (for when the data must be transferred but the wireless is down); and a little gold-and-onyx north-star pendant (to remind me to look up occasionally, and at least TRY to keep moving in the right direction).

What else would fit in (& still allow me to traverse TSA screening un-hassled)? Your insights and suggestions are very much appreciated!

Outskirts of Theads, early January, Year of {illegible}
medicmsh
Here's the text description of the action depicted in a fifteen-second pirate video, shot at about the one-hour mark in the fourth movie. According to the notes that I saw pencilled in the margin of a copy of the script (before that pesky house fire), the setting is "outskirts of Theads, early January". A lot of the names are spelled phonetically. The "e" in "Shest" is a long "e," halfway between the "e" sound in "feta" and the "ay" sound in "hay." More to follow...


There was something oddly familiar about the short, heavily-armored fighter in the middle of the battle...

Shest hissed, a teakettle on the verge of boiling, and froze in place.

The squat figure swung a war-hammer against a zombie’s skull, splintering it, and in the process turned full-front towards the Companions. The voice was as unmistakable as the rough, bearded face. “Tek thet, yeh zombified basterd!”

“Oh my heck.” Sarah was impressed by Albert's mildness of language, probably out of deference to Pixie's presence. Tesha's language was not similarly restrained. Pixie ought to cover her ears, thought Sarah to herself.

“Right,” said Alanna, conversationally. “It’s Obenarr. Except that it’s clearly NOT Obenarr, since we saw him dead and buried in Argent last July. Anybody want to explain this to me?”

“Ghost?” hazarded Albert.

“Vision?” suggested Sarah.

“Trap?” proposed Tesha.

“BazaaaEEEE!” Shest’s shrill warcry faded into the mist, as he hurtled, like a tiny, scaly greyhound, across the hundred meters of open ground separating him from the fight. Pixie, with blue electricity crackling around her muzzle, flew only inches above the ground, a half-second behind him.

“Oh, BLAST that little lizard!” Tesha was most likely referring to Shest, but she didn’t stay long enough to clarify, and charged full speed after her daughter.

Sarah and Albert rolled their eyes at each other and jogged warily towards the fight. Mist curled from the ground, obscuring the combat, but Obenarr’s voice boomed above the fray. “Shest! Yeh wee reptile! Welcome teh th’ party! Yer late, as usual. Ah hope ye’ve brought soom ale?”

Alanna laughed out loud as she passed the other two. “Oh, yeah, that’s Obenarr, no doubt about it. And being dead doesn’t seem to have quenched his thirst one bit.” She nocked and fired arrows with deadly grace as she ran. Veiled forms grunted and fell in the fog.

Sarah found the fight no easier to understand when she was in the midst of it. Cold, mortally wounded, and rotting figures battled with clearly physical weapons, clanging and crunching with ugly resonance. None bled. Victory appeared to be a matter of grisly disassembly and dismemberment, which both sides pursued with equal intensity. A pale blue radiance clung to the fallen zombies and skeletons, burning their remnants to a blue-tinged ash. By contrast, a reddish-black light spread across the other unmoving forms, dissolving them like lye or some eldritch acid. A flash of orange light dazzled her and she lost her footing, rolling to find herself face to face with a zombie’s decapitated head. It’s eyes were mad and rolling and it snapped futilely at her with rotted green and black teeth. Oh Lord, please bless this creature with Your peace, she prayed under her breath. The thing snapped once more and lay still, no longer moving, and began to burn pale blue in the strange black weeds.

She rolled instinctively as a skeleton in rusty armor hacked a long-hafted blade into the turf where she had been a moment earlier. The notched steel stuck in the turf and the skeleton wrestled with it silently. Shest appeared out of the fog, scuttled up the thing’s right leg, and neatly crushed the back of its skull with a single blow. Shest leapt away as the skeleton fell forward, still moving. Obenarr was only a moment behind Shest. The stocky dwarf’s hammer shattered the fallen skeleton’s spine with an impressive crunching noise.

“Mine!” came Shest’s voice, lost again in the fog.

“Yeh wish!” boomed the dwarf. “Killing blow’s the one what counts!” He offered a hand to Sarah, and looked at her carefully. “Yer a mite pale, m’lady,” he added. “Yeh feelin’ a’right?”

The dwarf's breastplate was still crushed and torn from the lethal explosion six months previously. As he pulled her to her feet, Sarah could clearly see the inside of his chest cavity, and what appeared to be his heart and lungs as well. His hand, in hers, was cold but solid. She shook her head, trying to make sense of things.

“Are yeh hart, ma’am?” His accent was impenetrable as ever, and Sarah again shook her head. “No, I’m, uh, fine. Just, well, a little confused.”

Obenarr’s grin was as fierce and bright as ever. “Nat teh woory! We’ll clear these basterds -- soory, ma’am, these beggars -- froom the wall, naow, and then have a bit of a sup, while they’re tryin’ to figger oot how tae coom at oos agin’! Keep yehr head daown, noo!” He waded off into the mist, shouting again. “Shest, yeh wee daft basterd! Yeh’ve made me loose count! An’ where the hell is mah ale?”

A whoosh of flame behind her literally singed the hair on the back of her head. She turned, and Albert waved apologetically from the other side of the conflagration. “Sorry,” he called. “These zombies are particularly flammable.” Figures apparently made of burning meat and cloth flared like torches in the heart of the flame. A “zwip!” “zwip!” sound told her that Alanna was finishing off the still-lumbering zombies with rapid-fire arrows.

Lighting crackled in reverse, from ground to air, somewhere off to her left -- Tesha and Pixie. Sarah caught Pixie’s voice, which sounded puzzled, though high-pitched with excitement. “Mama, whose side are we on? Whee!”

Tesha was punctuating her responses with deep breathing, which told Sarah she was fighting hard. “The rotting ones... Are bad... The ones who just look dead... Are on our side... Most likely... Anyway... When in doubt... Bite!”

Shest scuttled past again, oozing ichor from a scrape on his shoulder. “Obenarr thinks we’re in Argent,” he confided, and was gone again into the mist.

“Hey, Obenarr!” Albert’s voice startled her. “When we kill all the skeletons and zombies, are your friends going to attack us, on account of, you know, us being less dead than them?”

The dwarf stomped past Sarah, swinging his hammer as though it were made of lightweight wood. “What’n’hell yeh rantin’ aboot?” he shouted back. “Yeh’r safe as hooses wi’ th’Silvercloaks! An’ whoos deed, anyhoo?” He let a zombie swing at him with a rusted cutlass, stepped slightly back so that the blade whistled past the tip of his nose, and then crushed the thing’s skull with a punch from his massive plate-armored fist. The zombie fell and began to burn blue. Obenarr strode off again, grumbling cheerfully. “Dam’wizerds. Mad, the lot of ‘em.”

A young man with startlingly blond hair and a corpse-pale complexion stepped cautiously out of the mist. His clothing was black and elegant in style, though stained. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he said politely, “are you the Lady Sarah?”

Sarah drew back. He appeared neither decomposing nor spectral. “Who wants to know?”

The young man drew back apologetically. “Where are my manners! Of course, madam, quite right,” and swept into a courtly bow, took a knee on the black grass, and extended his hands, palms upraised and empty. “Madam, I am Meredith Lackwater, fifth-year academist, junior necromancer of the second rank, of the University of Theads, at your service. I am quite grateful to you and your companions for your recent assistance, but may I suggest we quit this field? The MUA tend to respond in force when magic is used against their raiding parties.”

“The MUA.” Sarah pinched herself discreetly. It hurt.

Meredith looked at her a little oddly. “Maglubiyet’s Undead Army, madam. Bit of a mouthful, hence, MUA.”

Alanna appeared soundlessly out of the mist, and looked with obvious amusement at the young man, who was still kneeling awkwardly. “I offered to break his neck unless he explained himself, and he asked who was in charge,” she said to Sarah. “Needless to say, I sent him to find you.”

Sarah, feeling dreamlike, curtsied formally, then took the young man’s hand. He rose gracefully, tucked her hand under his elbow, and made a polite bow to Alanna. “Thank you, fair elf-maiden. If you would gather your companions, we should depart.”

From the mist came a familiar shout of laughter. “Aye! Naow that’s th’ stuff indeed!” There was a sound as of massive slurping, and then a short, satisfied belch.

Shest’s voice was equally unmistakable, and hissed with amusement. “Half of that’s in your beard. You’re a walking sponge.”

Meredith had the good grace to look slightly embarrassed. “Your elven archer also informs me that I have unintentionally, ah, pressed into service, one of your former colleagues.”

“Yes, and we’ll be discussing that in detail,” added Albert, coming out of the mist to nod curtly at Meredith. “After we’re well away from here.” He strode off, and Meredith followed him, Sarah glad of his arm as her eyes tried and failed to adjust after being dazzled by Albert’s pyrotechnics.

Tesha and Pixie fell in behind them. Tesha was lecturing Pixie fiercely. “I do not care what Shest does, and that is not the issue here. You DO NOT go charging off into battle without my express permission -- and you can be certain that’ll be a long time coming!”

Pixie’s voice was contrite but insistent. “I was really more flying than charging, Mama...”

In the darkness behind her, Sarah heard another shout of laughter from Obenarr, followed by a solid THUMP. Alanna’s voice, much quieter, barely carried to Sarah’s ears. “Obenarr, if you do not keep your voice down, I will pound your helmet all the way down over your nose. Now what is all this about you no longer being dead?”

Obenarr’s voice sounded faintly pained. “Gah, lass! A lesser man would fair to be concoost by a love-tap sooch as thet froom the likes of yeh! And whaffer yeh keep natterin’ on aboot bein’ deed? Ah’m nao moor deed than yeh’r!”

“Obenarr, I can see both your lungs through the hole in your chest.”

“Ah’ve toold yeh time an’agin, lassie, we dwarfs are mehd toof. ‘Tis a flesh woond, eef a bit scrappy.”

“Your heart’s not beating, Obenarr.”

“Then yeh’r beauty’s stopt it cold, an’ that’s the fact of it! Naow if yeh’d faver a wounded dwarf wi’a wee kess, naow...”

The subsequent THUMP was audible for some distance, as was Shest’s paroxysmal hissing. Obenarr’s “Ow...” was considerably more muffled.

The rest of the walk was largely silent...

Ulysses
medicmsh
During my first pass through college (we won't mention the year), a very dear friend gave me a little booklet of selected poems by Tennyson. She double-starred the poem "Ulysses" because she felt that it had particular relevance to my situation at the time. The irony is that while I didn't see much applicability at the time, it has become more and more personal to me over the intervening time. More & more I read the last six lines and find in them a blessing and a curse most apt for my current circumstances:

We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

On good days, the emphasis is on what remains -- the heart, the will, the unyielding essence. This is not such a day.

The poem, for your review & enjoyment, follows in its entirety:

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known--cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honored of them all,--
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Mantis Shrimp -- Bring it on!
medicmsh


Brought to popularity by Matthew ("The Oatmeal") Inman's fascinating and darkly comic expose',

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/mantis_shrimp

the Mantis Shrimp has a devoted following across the Interwebs. Accordingly, I metamorphosed into Shrimpform for the final day of classes in my first year of law school, and found the life of a Mantis Shrimp surprisingly compatible with my everyday existence.



The Mantis Shrimp scuttles about searching for prey (or in my case, is assigned classes and projects), which it dispatches by pounding and/or stabbing that prey repeatedly with hypersonic claws and/or poky little spears (or in my case, by beating my head against the assignment until something goes "crunch"). This has been my approach to law school thus far generally, and in particular to my recent practical exercise in drafting a contract for the installment sale of goods (notional fire ladders, as referenced in yesterday's post, during which I was a fiddler crab). So I have stabbed/bludgeoned the contract until it is no longer wiggling, and delivered its battered and oozing corpse to my professor's inbox. We shall see soon enough whether it is an offering of acceptable quality.

Similarly, I have four final exams upcoming in the next 12 days. This is where the REAL Mantis Shrimp stabbing/bludgeoning-for-time skillset will come into play, as four months of legal coursework are distilled into a handful of three-hour exams, each one counting for 100% of the course grade. Well, as a Mantis Shrimp, I'm happy to say: BRING IT ON! *stabstabTHWACKstabBLUDGEONstabstab!*

At least that's my outlook today, as a Mantis Shrimp. I can only hope I don't wind up in finals as a great auk or a passenger pigeon. I'll keep you posted...


Crab du Jour
medicmsh

In keeping with my current Twitter policy of changing avatars on a daily basis, and adapting my online behavior to match, I have spent the day as a moderately-sized fiddler crab:




Over the course of the day in crab-form, I was intrigued to discover that I had a tiny hammock, a matching pillow, a stuffed cuttlefish (as @MidnightBlaze pointed out, it's thereby a cuddlefish), a very small laptop, and a great facility for making sushi and dicing mini-marshmallows for hot cocoa.

I was also (very briefly) an eggplant:



But that's another story, involving @Iron_Fox (of course), and a NOT-chatcaavan detector made of a first-gen iPhone, duct tape, and road flares.

As for my Legal Skills final project (a notional contract for the sale of nonexistent fire ladders from a hypothetical manufacturer to a fictitious warehouse-operator), it's actually going along reasonably well. With a bit more whacking, it will be in shape to be turned in prior to 4PM tomorrow... er, TODAY... (Well, I did take a nice long nap while in crab-form.)

I wonder what tomorrow (today) will bring?

:=)[ <-- happy crab, with eyestalks.

the day of the Flitzbe
medicmsh
*relative-size chart of Pelted races*
*fuzzy-cantaloupe silhouette of Flitzbe*
*inquisitive/maroon/humming*
*day of images, sounds, smells, textures, tastes*
*purring!*

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