Friday, December 17, 2010

First (real) snow of 2010!

It got down right snowy today! Take a gander, friend, and enjoy the season!

The scene outside my apartment door as I headed off to work this morn...
...the trees all shown in a diff'rent light with leaves all trimmed in a crown of white...
...treach'rous black ice on the road did ride, safety in my driver I confide. 

And here's a little video taken of the front lot outside Kinoshita Elementary School where all the parents' cars were parked during the day's classroom visitations. (My first YouTube video, ever!)

And here's one more (not mine), to commemorate the snow.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A stroll through a whole lot o' busy

I've been as busy this month as I have since coming to Japan! To go along with that, I've also discovered a great new weight loss program: it's called AnXiEtY! (Lost 2 pounds this month.) Sheesh! Hopefully the holidays will help me to put that back on, but for now I'm just beginning to be glad the month is finally over. Still, there are some great memories here that I'd like to share, and perhaps even build on in the future. So, here goes!

"I'm gonna mess you up...rice!" It's November 7th, and here I am at the Rokunohe Festival taking my turn as a living milling machine; pounding glutinous rice into large doughy mounds that will later be processed into mochi. Mochi-it-to-me, baby! I can say this: making it is a lot more fun than eating it!
"Go, go Power Rangers!" (Friggin' Saban.) The Rokunohe Festival attracted a lot of attention when this color-coordinated bunch showed up. I even got to shake their hands along with all the little kiddies. (I still have a crush on the Pink Ranger, I think ;) 
Then they all decided to kill the Blue Ranger. Not Billy! NOOOO!
Thankfully, we also got to meet the "star" attraction at the Rokunohe Festival! Helping to make this picture look more attractive are fellow ALTs Vanessa and Jocelyn (respectively, on the left).
November 13/14 was the weekend for the Oirase Salmon Festival, my second year in attendance, but first attempt at warming up the crowd as one of the MCs. I also made announcements, and acted as the English spokesman for the festival's main event: the salmon catch!
The Oirase River where salmon come to spawn. The fishery and pens that supply the events are partially in view.
A glorious day presents itself as we look down an avenue of flags from the rear location of the festival grounds.
"Salmon Island." The stone bridge that spans the two wading ponds where the fish are kept for the salmon catch is in the shape of a giant sake (salmon).
A truck dumps a load of salmon into the wading pool to replenish the stock between events.
Salmon Festival mascots. They wouldn't let me take one of them home... :(
Me is for victory!
Get ready for the ROCK SHOW, motherscratcher! Each year the Salmon Festival puts on a bangin' fireworks display.
"Weeping Willow In The Sky With Diamonds"
And how could I take pictures of the fireworks without shooting a little video, too! (It was all during the two weeks between and after these festivals that I had a spat of very busy classes where I was expected to provide a lot of material. And then there was the yearly JET Mid-year Conference that fell right at the tail end of this period. All very procedural and droll—so no pictures—but it bears repeating that this month was equal parts work and play, leaving me almost no time to breathe! If that sounds like a complaint, it's not! I wear any scars with pride.)

On the 20th, I gathered with a gaggle of Towada and Shichinohe ALTs for a farewell party thrown in Viresh's honor (he's the dude standing in the middle). From left to right, starting in the back: Aaron, Valerie, Courtney, Melissa, Crystal, Sanae, Viresh, Mary, Yours Truly, and Anthony. Safe journeys, Viresh!
It's November 30th. Judo time! If I didn't have to blur the students' faces, you would be able to see that the student I'm squaring-off against is wearing an even bigger grin than mine. "You're telling me I get to kick the Eigo-sensei's ass!? Yokatta!"
After receiving instruction from the Judo teacher, we take hold of each other's gi and proceed to slowly work through the steps of the three throws we learned. You're going down, kid!
What'd I tell ya?! Saito-sensei gives me a few pointers while the 2nd-year junior high student patiently waits to be let up. I chuckle inside. (Hehe.)
We take to it again, trying to get the footwork down.
This time I "receive," (or as I like to call it, "take a bone-jarring nap"). I was given high marks for my positioning on the floor, with left hand spread out wide and my head held aloft—just like you're supposed to. Not bad for my first time!
Good times!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Lessons Learned, For Good or Ill: Part the First

I'm a big picture guy. I can often forgive the “little things” that crop up in life so long as I can still get to where I'm going. In other words, so long as the little things in the way don't obscure my view of the big picture, I'm content whatever may come.
I'm also a guy who strongly believes in balance. Too much of anything is a bad thing. And for me, seeking balance is just as much about what you choose not to do as it is what you do do in lieu of something else. (Of course, if you're not careful and wind up becoming obsessive in your pursuits, as I am sometimes guilty, you might end up with doo-doo in your yoo-hoo, and I'm not talking chocolate milk!)
Seeking life's balance in Japan then, has allowed me to contrast my way of doing things with the perceived habits of the Japanese people I interact with on a daily basis. From what I can tell, an average life in northern Japan is scarcely different from anywhere else in Japan, except for variations in dialect and a more agrarian environment—in that, the hours of the day are the same, similar jobs operate on the same premise, and the culinary tastes are largely shared. In fact, it's not the differences that inform me about Japanese society quite so much as it is the shared sameness.
What does that mean?!
The Japanese way: ground yourself in a routine; predictability and functionality rule the day; civic conformity over personal expression. There are certainly qualities here to be looked up to. Routines help us to order our day, and naturally work well with the way our brains learn and retain information. We can all spare to be more functional in our lives or in the way we use and make things (here’s looking at you American car industry!). Predictability can't hurt either; knowing what you're going to do before you do it is a neat trick! And being civic-minded (i.e. valuing citizenship; remember when we used to get grades for that in primary school) is a drum I’d like to beat into classrooms all across the U.S. I can't critique any of these things without instantly making myself a hypocrite in some fashion. At the same time, I can’t help but look at this methodology and compare it to my own on a one-to-one basis.
My way: non-attachment to widespread social “norms”; well-masked but marked-level of zaniness; fearless individuality (not “in-your-face,” but fearless in the sense of being unafraid to be different, or simply be). I don’t feel irreversibly connected to people or places or work or social media. It’s not as if I don’t love and dream about the people and things that come in and out of my life; I simply understand the impermanence of such things, making me somewhat inured to change, and thus less dependent on routines. (This could be a sign that I haven’t found the perfect setting or conditions where such attachment could be fostered, or I avoid them outright?) I enjoy revealing only as much of myself to different people as I deem appropriate (hence the parenthetical question in the last sentence). Maintaining a modicum of mystery in my life is useful and even healthy, so long as I can still let loose and be spontaneous and engage those around me without letting them down. And being a poser is something I’ve never been good at; I do what I do and think what I think because I believe in it, not just because it’s been suggested to me, nor especially because it’s popular.
Both of the above are examples of how to orchestrate one’s life. Life can take many forms, but I think we’d all agree that aiming toward sanity is the very least we can do. There are some aspects of the Japanese life that are quite congruent with how I live my own, and others that very much aren’t. Learning to mix and match what I am with the world around me, constantly reevaluating and even readjusting my comfort level—at times chameleon-like in my pursuits—helps me to aim toward sanity and stay balanced on the narrow road we are all asked to tread.
“Be water, my friend,” Bruce Lee once said. “Now you put water into a cup; it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle; it becomes the bottle. You put it into a teapot; it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or it can crash....” I try to live life not fighting the course that it takes me, but instead allow myself to be gently shaped by the currents, still flowing at my own pace, and crashing through barriers when a new way must be made. So yes, be water, my friends!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Anders Silvermane

Behold! One of the very first D&D characters to have ever been played whilst I was behind the DM screen! Courtesy AvatarArt and the imagination of my brother, Trevor. (Click to enlarge!)

Something in his eyes says he will be the one leaving here alive!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Random Thought of the Day: Triangle Man

Why is he such a d-bag?! Beating up Mr. Particle wasn't enough for this sack?! He had to go and whoop Person Man's ass too?! *shakes head*

Does it have something to do with Triangle Man's lack of proper self-esteem? Perhaps connected to his body image? We all know a triangle has interior angles that add up to 180 total degrees. Does the number 180 have some negative astrological significance that twists Triangle Man's soul? The bastard! Could Triangle Man be a descendent or the reincarnation of Commodus, the sniveling imp of a son to Emperor Marcus Aurelius who died in the year 180 CE?! (And is it any coincidence that "CE" stands for "chaotic evil"!) I. Think. NOT!

How 'bout you?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cruisin' to Kuroishi

There are so many hidden treasures nestled away in the quieter, less traveled places of Aomori that I imagine you could live here your entire life and just so happen to miss one of those places en route to someplace else. I can't speak for all those places we past in-between, but Kuroishi is no longer one of those places for me. I joined my junior high school Japanese Teachers of English (JTEs) and a gaggle of students' parents on a field trip there to make hashi today. Here's a look at the day's travelogue.

Sukayu Onsen nestled away in the hills of Mt. Hakkoda. We made a brief stopover here for a bathroom break and to consider buying sugared treats in the shape of a penis. I'm not kidding. I didn't buy it. (Actually, the place did sell a lot of snacks and other healthy treats, but I had to mention this one. I mean, really?!)
"Japanese woodcarver dude" (we found working at the Kuroishi visitor's center). That pretty much says it.
Let's eat! I snapped this shot as we all sat down to eat on the ground's banquet hall.
A kindly old couple whom I met while enjoying the natural hot spring heated foot bath. Yokatta!
After the foot bath, I saw a horse drawn carriage and went to greet the pony pulling it. Sutekina boushi ne! The pony's name was Miu.
Here the whole gang (minus Tanosaki-sensei, who took the picture) gets ready to load up for the ride home.
Towering over the plain, Aomori's own "Tsugaru Fuji" lingers in the distance, touching the clouds—a fitting end to a heavenly day!
Thanks to everyone (especially Tanosaki-sensei) who made this day special for me! :)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Halloween in Hirosaki

I wasn't on my A-game when it came to snapping pictures this Halloween. (I was more interested in participating and enjoying everything that went on!) Still, my friends and I combined to form team Pac-Man and Company (pure awesome, Sam, great idea!), and here are a few pictures from the JET-hosted party that ensued on October 30th.

Sam (a friend, fellow ALT, and designer of the shirts we wore) and I see Pac-Man in the distance! That or our food had finally arrived. (Same difference.) Here we went out to an izakaya beforehand as a pre-party warmup.
Momoko (a mutual friend and office worker) goes after Pac-Man (aka, Adam, another friend and ALT) after we've ordered. It's quite clear what was on the menu for Momoko!
Red Ghost goes in for the kill!
But nope! Pac-Man's got his power-pill poppin' mojo goin' now! You can even see the three motes of light between them, remnants of the power-pill Pac-Man is devouring! (All of our shirts had the same motif, and at several points during the night we paraded about the dance floor chasing Adam, only to turn around and flee from him in perfect arcade fashion. Great fun!)
Here's part of the prize we each won for having been selected best group costume! It's a tiny "jewel-studded" scabbard complete with a drawable kukri knife inside (straight from Nepal; the evening's proceeds went to support a JET-sponsored charity that works out of that country)! Kakko ii ne!
Here's an all-too-dark picture of me and Claire, a fellow ALT who lives in Hirosaki (the city across the ken where the party was held). She had on a killer chinese dress and headdress—certainly should have won the prize for most tasteful costume of the evening!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Functions of Ritual

Another essay from Anth 116; it's broader than before, but dovetails nicely with the established line of thinking.

Rituals, the world over, form a model from which social norms are delineated. By this I mean that rituals create a "one-way mold" (where those who participate travel), such that by entering, a person becomes changed from passing through the ritual process. Rituals are one-way vehicles, in a sense, because upon coming out of the mold the result is that a certain set of normative qualities will have been etched upon the passenger(s), the intention being that the passenger/participant has been made ready for whatever is to come. These qualities (whether good or bad) are made permanent by the fact that one cannot do the reverse process and rid themselves of the ritual's resultant outcome.

From this, we know that rituals are mainly laid down in order to institute a systematic means for societies, both large and small, to shape and hone their members by taking individual identity and merging it with group identity (thereby creating the "model citizen"). This implies that there is forethought given to how a society should be run. Often, this forethought extends from adherence to myths and sacred allegories exhibiting origin or creation motifs important to the society in question, which can also be models used to define the processes, thoughts, and actions involved with ritualistic behavior. Invariably, rituals are supposed to exert a certain "positive pressure" (from the standpoint of the group) on those who participate. Whether the ritual is enjoyable, obligatory, or purely ceremonial, those going through the ritual should feel they are doing the thing that is most right for them and that they should continue.

In all reality, however, rituals do not always produce the desired results. Participants who are not physically, mentally, or emotionally "prepared" for a ritual can display resistance or even outright opposition to the ritual or its participants. This problem tends to be handled most easily by holding such rituals only during specific times, during specific practices, or in specific places so that those participating may be better able to handle it.

Rituals that have their procedures changed for whatever reason will lead to problems of incongruity or lack of conformity which can create obvious conflicts considering how inured the participants become toward ritual specifics. A major historical example of this culminated during The Reformation, before such time the Roman Catholic Church had engaged in breaking from traditional practices with the institution of indulgences and other forms of elitism, resulting in the loss of numerous lives and the split of the Christian church. The multitude of branches within Christianity that developed afterward is also evidence of how important the specifics can be, considering that this is all that separates some church denominations.

More commonly, though, participants who have grown disaffected toward or become “jaded” by rituals in their society are perhaps a more telling case of how the individual interacts with the group through ritual practice. Jaded individuals can occur when one is over- or under-saturated with the precepts of a ritual, or a particular set. This generally happens as a result of unbalanced conditioning prior to the ritual in question. Take the following for example. A young boy or girl is raised in a Christian home, is publicly schooled, and spends time with friends who are mainly non-Christian. Now, if this child is harshly drilled upon on how to live life as a Christian by his or her parents, what with conflicting examples everywhere else, the child will grow up to be over-saturated with Christian precepts and buck the rituals set forth by those precepts, seeing them as restraints more than guides. Then again, if the child is given little or no attention by the parents at all in this regard, he or she will be under-saturated and look down on other ritual practitioners (as opposed to the ritual itself) as bigoted or woefully biased. Keeping in mind the ritual-as-mold idea from before, one can see how certain participants of ritual can come out “oddly shaped” or even marred by these extenuating circumstances. Ultimately, rituals can have the opposite effect on those participating in them if the proper qualifications are not met or the proper measures not taken.

Rituals need not act differently only in negative ways, however. In going through the process of ritual, an individual might be placed among a select group of people within his or her society. Rituals can serve as an initiation in this way, transforming a person’s "persona" from what it was into something new. A prime example of this would be military basic training. For another example, consider someone who is clearly not a "morning person." If that person was then required to go to work every day at an early hour, they would gradually get used to the morning ritual of, let's say, shower, coffee, and a newspaper. Suddenly they're a morning person (even if they don't care to admit it)! In comparing this identity-solidifying aspect of ritual with how ritual causes us to conform to groups, it's interesting to note how some will seek anonymity within the confines of the ritual, deriving a measure of peace from the sameness, while others seek a unique take, setting themselves apart within the whole in their selectivity (e.g. types of: shower gels/scents or hair products used; rare coffee brand or tea used instead; magazine or online periodical used).

The identity-based purpose of ritual can have a very staying effect on the participant. This permanence will often remain until the participant engages in a similar ritual that has uniquely different identification values placed upon it. If the morning person mentioned above became friends with a regular coffee house goer and racquetball player, the morning person may feel compelled to forego much of their morning ritual in lieu of creating a new ritual of afterwork meetings with the friend (i.e. taking coffee and discussing the day's issues in the coffee house, then showering upon returning home from racquetball). In essence, partaking of two separate rituals, wherein one supplants the other, is akin to changing one’s name, and is truly one of the few ways rituals can be "undone."

Without a doubt, ritual and its function in group ownership and formation carries a deep meaning when looked at through the glass of history. Moreover, I think ritual bears even more significance when put in the context of the individual. Certainly, rituals are remembered (from the past) as belonging to group activity, but it is experienced (in the present) through the individual, and it is because of this that we can discern its meaning. Ritual means to reaffirm; as is evidenced by how a ritual can become so only through repeated instances. Ritual means to communicate; passing down what was learned (often times from the “beginning”) to the present. And in summation, ritual means to take shape (or grow); traveling through a mold to leave what was, and become what is to be. Foremost, though, we must not forget that each element of ritual and its many functions described above are exercises of the self, or rather, the individual. No two people are the same, and thus no two people who experience ritual can do so in the same way. In the midst of ritual, it is all about the one doing it; afterward, it is all about those who have done it.

[This one required quite a bit of editing and rewriting, mainly to better direct the essay from point to point. After a first reading, I was baffled. I must have had a lot of disparate thoughts running through my head when I put this down, because it only just barely held together. Hopefully now it reads like it should. Or not...?]

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Man Who Falls

In honor of Halloween, here's a character build for my favorite creature of the night! (Using the d20 Modern ruleset as published by Wizards of the Coast.)

(circa modern continuity, 1987-present)
Male Human Legendary Strong Hero 7/Fast Hero 4/Smart Hero 5/Dedicated Hero 8; CR 27; LA +2
Medium Humanoid (height 6' 2", weight 210 lb.); Age early 40s

Init +8; Senses (core) Listen +12 (see below), Search +18, Spot +12 (see below); Senses (house) Listen/Spot +28 (see below), Search +29
Languages English, Arabic (speak only), Cantonese (speak only), Farsi (speak only), Filipino (speak only), French, German (speak only), Hebrew (speak only), Hindi, Italian (speak only), Japanese, Korean (speak only), Mandarin (speak only), Navajo (speak only), Russian (speak only), Sign, Spanish, Swahili (speak only), Swedish (speak only), Thai (speak only), Turkish (speak only)

Defense 30, touch 29, flat-footed 30; Defensive Martial Arts, Dodge (+4 Dex, +15 class, +1 equip)
hp 181 (24 HD); Mas 20
Fort +13 (+2 vs. sonic, +4 vs. light [binoculars only]), Ref +11 (+2 vs. falls), Will +16
Action Points 16

Speed 30 ft., Run (x5)
Melee unarmed +23/+18/+13/+8 (1d6+8 nonlethal/lethal, 19-20/x3) or
Melee unarmed +21/+16/+11/+6 (1d6+8) and
Melee unarmed +21 (1d6+6, two-weapon) or
Melee nerve pinch (provokes AoO) +22 (Fort DC 24, paralyzed 1d4+1 rounds) or
Melee by weapon +22/+17/+12/+7 or
Ranged batarang +23/+18/+13/+8 (1d4+7, 20, 30 ft.) or
Ranged by weapon +22/+17/+12/+7
Space 5 ft. by 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Base Atk +18; Grp +25
Atk Options Agile Riposte, Blind-Fight, Combat Expertise, Improved Disarm, Improved Trip, Knockout Punch, Nerve Pinch, Point Blank Shot, Power Attack, Two-Weapon Fighting
Special Qualities legend traits (14), mask

Abilities Str 19 (17), Dex 18 (17), Con 17* (18), Int 20 (18), Wis 19 (18), Cha 17
'(-)' indicate original ability scores based on the calling: Mantle of the Bat (see description below).
* Best recuperative result after a crippling back injury.
Allegiances justice, good, the Wayne family, "the night," law, Gotham City, the Bat family, GCPD, the Justice League; Rep +11 (+4 as Wayne); San 73
Feats Advanced Combat Martial Arts, Agile Riposte**, Aircraft Operation (helicopters**, jet fighters**), Archaic Weapons Proficiency, Armor Proficiency (light), Blind-Fight, Brawl, Combat Expertise, Combat Martial Arts, Combat Reflexes, Combat Throw**, Defensive Martial Arts, Dodge, Elusive Target**, Far Shot, Heroic Surge**, Improved Combat Martial Arts, Improved Damage Threshold**, Improved Disarm, Improved Initiative**, Improved Trip**, Iron Will, Knockout Punch**, Mobility, Nerve Pinch (see Future), Personal Firearms Proficiency, Point Blank Shot, Power Attack, Precise Shot**, Run**, Secret Identity (see Past), Sidekick (Leader score: 25+; see Past), Simple Weapons Proficiency, Surface Vehicle Operation (powerboat)**, Track, Two-Weapon Fighting, Weapon Focus (batarang)
** Bonus feats acquired from the Legend template.
         Note: As a member of the Justice League, Batman has chosen to receive special training with armored suits as his membership perk, allowing him to ignore armor proficiency penalties for any armor that requires only "light armor" as a prerequisite. For example, Batman can use medium or powered armor at no proficiency penalty (though, this does not automatically make him proficient in all the systems of said armor, or in heavy armor, for example).
Flaws Obsessive (Batman takes a –6 penalty on any interpersonal ability or skill check that doesn’t explicitly pertain to the objective at hand.)—Bonus Feat: Sidekick
Skills (core) Balance +10, Bluff +10 (+8 after 1 min. of study), Climb +10, Computer Use +10, Concentration +10, Craft (chemical) +10, Craft (mechanical) +10, Decipher Script +10, Demolitions +12, Disable Device +15, Disguise +15 (+8 to avoid ID), Drive +12 (+2 in Batmobile), Escape Artist +20, Gather Information +10, Hide +20 (+4 w/one-quarter concealment), Intimidate +15 (+8 when recognized only as Batman), Investigate +23, Jump +10 (+2 when running), Knowledge (arcane lore) +9, Knowledge (behavioral sciences) +12, Knowledge (current events) +10, Knowledge (earth and life sciences) +8, Knowledge (physical sciences) +8, Knowledge (streetwise) +15, Knowledge (tactics) +14, Knowledge (technology) +10, Listen +12 (+10 to avoid surprise), Move Silently +20, Navigate +5 (+10 in Batmobile), Pilot +10, Profession (industrialist) +8, Read/Write English, Read/Write French, Read/Write Hindi, Read/Write Japanese, Read/Write Sign, Read/Write Spanish, Repair +8, Research +17, Search +18, Sense Motive +12 (+8 after 1 min. of study), Sleight of Hand +10, Speak Arabic, Speak Cantonese, Speak English, Speak Farsi, Speak Filipino, Speak French, Speak German, Speak Hebrew, Speak Hindi, Speak Italian, Speak Japanese, Speak Korean, Speak Mandarin, Speak Navajo, Speak Russian, Speak Spanish, Speak Swahili, Speak Swedish, Speak Thai, Speak Turkish, Spot +12 (+10 to avoid surprise), Survival +10, Swim +10, Treat Injury +8, Tumble +12
Skills (house) Athletics +22 (+2 on Jump when running), Computer Use +12, Control +16, Craft (chemical) +10, Craft (mechanical) +10, Deduce +26 (+5 on Investigate, +3 on Search), Demolitions +12, Disable Device +15, Disguise +17 (+8 to avoid ID), Drive +12 (+2 in Batmobile), Escape Artist +24, Gather Information +10, Knowledge (arcane lore) +9, Knowledge (behavioral sciences) +12, Knowledge (current events) +10, Knowledge (earth and life sciences) +8, Knowledge (history) +8, Knowledge (physical sciences) +8, Knowledge (streetwise) +17, Knowledge (tactics) +15, Knowledge (technology) +10, Navigate +5 (+10 in Batmobile), Perceive +28 (+10 on Listen/Spot to avoid surprise, +8 on Sense Motive after 1 min. of study), Persuade +22 (+8 on Intimidate when recognized only as Batman, or +8 after 1 min. of study), Pilot +10, Profession (industrialist) +8, Read/Write English, Read/Write French, Read/Write Hindi, Read/Write Japanese, Read/Write Sign, Read/Write Spanish, Repair +8, Research +19, Sneak +31 (+4 on Hide w/one-quarter concealment, +2 on Move Silently), Speak Arabic, Speak Cantonese, Speak English, Speak Farsi, Speak Filipino, Speak French, Speak German, Speak Hebrew, Speak Hindi, Speak Italian, Speak Japanese, Speak Korean, Speak Mandarin, Speak Navajo, Speak Russian, Speak Spanish, Speak Swahili, Speak Swedish, Speak Thai, Speak Turkish, Survival +10, Treat Injury +9, Tumble +15
Talents (Strong Hero) Advanced Melee Smash, Extreme Effort, Improved Melee Smash, Melee Smash
Talents (Fast Hero) Evasion, Uncanny Dodge 1
Talents (Smart Hero) Savant (Investigate), Savant (Research), Plan
Talents (Dedicated Hero) Aware, Cool Under Pressure (Balance, Bluff, Disable Device, Escape Artist, Hide, Move Silently, Sense Motive), Empathy, Skill Emphasis (Search)
Starting Occupation (core) Dilettante (Intimidate as permanent class skill)
Starting Occupation (house) Dilettante (Persuade as permanent class skill)
Wealth Bonus +25 (+39, Wayne Enterprises)

Possessions (+1 CR; carried weight 27.5 lb.)
-cape (ultra-lightweight; slows falls [Ref DC 5 to reduce fall by 10 ft. and 10 ft. again for every 5 points by which the save surpasses the DC], glides [move at last achieved land speed –5 ft./2 rounds, no stunts, descend 15/30 ft. per round, Pilot DC 20 to descend 5/30 ft.]; integrated w/infrared-defeating latex outer layer [provides total concealment vs. infrared]; scalloped design w/weighted tips for defensive purposes [1d4 nonlethal damage, 10-ft. reach, may substitute for unarmed disarm attempts at –2]; combined w/cowl and suit offers equipment bonuses of +4 on Hide in at least one-quarter concealment, +2 on Move Silently, and +8 on Intimidate when Reputation permits recognition; PDC n/a [19], 1.5 lb.)

-2 climbing boots (reduces the penalty for climbing w/o gear to –2; 1.5 lb. each)

-cowl (lightweight; contains Starlite night-vision lenses [equivalent to low-light vision 120 ft.]; directional microphone in ears mounted on telescoping antennae wired w/fiber-optic cable [reduces Listen penalty to –1/40 ft.]; audio processor w/noise reduction speaker [+2 on Fort vs. sonic effects]; universal communicator [see Future] w/belt-boosted range of 5 miles (Int based); built-in inertial navigation unit [prevents disorientation/nausea during aerial acrobatics, +2 on Ref to prevent/during falls]; w/integrated HUD [Future]; provides +8 equipment bonus on Disguise to avoid ID; PDC n/a [23], 0.5 lb.)

-batsuit (light armor, as a “flight suit/helmet” w/integrated “survival suit” [both see Future], nomex biweave construction [acid/fire resistance 5], & booby trapped w/special one-shot stun bolt/taser [auto hit on touch, 1d4 damage, Fort DC 15 paralyzed 1d6 rounds then stunned 1d4+1 rounds], confers a +1 equipment bonus to Defense, no armor check penalty; PDC 35 [Mil +3], 3.5 lb.)

-2 gauntlets (as ultra-lightweight “brass knuckles”; +2 on disarm vs. bladed/hafted/poled weapons; PDC n/a [11]; 0.5 lb. each)

-high-frequency bat signaler (puts out an ultrasonic blip at specific intervals calibrated to attract bats at 10-mile radius; stored in sole of right boot; PDC: n/a [20])

-lead-encased kryptonite ring

-utility belt (ultra-lightweight; secure storage compartment, can hold up to 16 Small items/25 lb., PDC 19, 1 lb.; contains the following standard gear: 11 Small, 1 Tiny, 1 Fine, 18 lb.): 6 batarangs (lightweight, compact [free action to ready]; alternate weapon boomerang/shuriken, returns to user on miss, range 15 ft., designed to benefit from melee smash talents; PDC n/a [18], F, 0.25 lb.), binoculars (ultra-lightweight, w/conventional, infrared & ultraviolet imaging, light amplification [darkvision 120 ft., –2 on Spot/Search], "boom suppression" [+4 on Fort vs. light effects], holographic lensing/digital-zoom combine for 60x magnification [reduces Spot penalty to –1/60 ft.], still-frame photographic capture; PDC 21, S, 1 lb.), climbing claws (w/boots negates climbing penalty w/o gear; D, 0.5 lb.), CO2-propelled grapnel (miniaturized; can lift up to 500 lb., fully deploys as part of attack action when fired, retract speed 150 ft./move action, 30-shot supply, range 150 ft.; PDC 18, T, 2 lb.), crime scene recorder (as “deluxe evidence kit,” compact/ultra-lightweight; free standing multi-spectral high resolution camera, micro gas chromatograph, sample/blood drying bags, fingerprinting dusts/cyanoacrylate adhesive, & direct-link software to forensics hardware in bat-suit, Batcave, and Batmobile; PDC 23, S, 2 lb.), fingerlight (as “penlight”; w/touch-sensitive white, red, and infrared radial LEDs at focused or wide-angle collimated 10,000 micro-candela beams), gas mask (ultra-lightweight; w/extra filter canister; PDC 19, S, 1.5 lb.), 6 gas pellets ("Ver-Sed" [Fort DC 16, paralysis 1d4 min./unconsciousness 1d3 min., victim also suffers amnesia of the last 2d4 min. post-recovery, only fills 5 ft. area, Craft DC 25], and/or CS [as tear gas, except +1 DC, lasts twice as long, only fills 5 ft. area, Craft DC 19]; F), handcuffs (25 zip-tie; D, 0.5 lb.), medical kit [miniaturized, ultra-lightweight; PDC 24, T, 2.5 lb], micro GPS tracers (1 in boot; also 27 mm. "burr" and 22 mm. rubber-edged "throwing" nanobeacons w/500-mile range and digital pulse radio relays to belt [see Future]), minicomputer (fully collapsible 86% standard keyboard w/cutting edge CPU, DOS & non-DOS chip sets, secure-signal cellular phone, digital fax/modem, GPS receiver, & disc player/burner, w/detachable remote system controller for Batmobile; PDC 27, T, 0.5 lb.), 2 monofilament de-cel jumplines (as “duracable” [Future], compact, ultra-lightweight; 150 ft., integrated w/grappler tags, can be combined w/batarangs or CO2-powered grapple gun; PDC 17 [Res +2], S, 2 lb.), palmtop communicator (liquid crystal display, USB plugs and connectors, voice-activated microphone, touch sensitive keypad, uses encrypted cellular phone and email communications via secure-linked global WayneTech satellite transmissions; PDC 17, D), rebreather (as miniaturized “aquaconventer” [Future], except only 15 min. filter; PDC 13, F), 2 smoke bombs (as “grenades,” ultra-lightweight; S, 1 lb.)

-Yanomami blow-gun (1 piercing, range 10 ft., with 4 "Anaconda"-anesthetic tipped darts [Fort DC 14, unconsciousness 4d4 hours, Craft DC 25]; stored in left boot)

Optional utility belt gear (can select up to 6 lb./10 items additional or swap out as needed): aerosol sprays (foaming explosive gels [as “C4/Semtex” via radio controlled detonator caps; includes 4 lb. compressed; PDC: 18 [Mil +3], T, 0.5 lb.], & super-cooled electronic device freezers [4-use canister, causes computers, control panels, keypads, hand-held devices, etc., to become inoperative for 2d6x10 minutes; PDC: 18 [Mil +3], T, 0.5 lb.]), air pistol (see Urban Arcana; fires microtransmitters or tranquilizer darts; S, 2 lb.), antitox injector (see Future; D), bat-bolas (Urban Arcana; S, 2 lb.), chemicomp sensor (Future; D, 1 lb.), 2 detonator caps (lightweight, radio controlled; F), digital micro-camera (D), disguise kit (lightweight, miniaturized; T, 2.5 lb.), flash seal (Future; T, 1 lb.), grenades (concussion/blast [lightweight, w/3-sec. to 40-min. delay, radio controlled or bungee-prima cord detonators, 4d6 concussion; T, 0.5 lb.], flash-bang [lightweight, target becomes dazed and deafened; weighs 0.5 lb.], "pellet" [w/contact or 5-sec. delay fuses, 3d6 slashing; D], & thermite [lightweight, w/contact or 5-sec delay fuses, 6d6 fire; T, 0.5 lb each]), 4 microtransmitters (Urban Arcana; in case, amazing quality, outfitted w/grappler tags for use w/air pistol; F), solvaway sprayer (Future; D), sporekill injector (Future; D), syringe gun (see Dark*Matter; S, 1 lb.), tranquilizer darts ("super"-atropine injection, Fort DC 15, 2d6 Dex/2d6 Str, Craft DC 20]; F), universal tool (as “demolitions kit,” “electrical tool kit,” “lock release gun,” & “mechanical tool kit”; w/rechargeable mini fuel cells, includes cutters and strippers, electro-lockpicking device, as well as 'torx', 'box', and 'star drive' tool points, w/tap, jumper lines, broadband HDTV jack, multiline analyzer, CPU breakout box, RS-232 logic-controlled breakout box, EPROM reader/writer, USB jack, oscilloscope/vector scope display, & electronic probes; S, 3 lb.), wall-penetrating grapnel (4-shot 180-degree directional dart magazine, fires preloaded 300 ft. of jumpline, range increment 150 ft.; PDC: 15 [Lic +1], S, 6 lb.)

New Vehicle Batmobile (sports coupe)
Crew: 1; Pass: 1; Cargo: 350 lb.; Init: –1; Man: +2; Speed: 266 mph [465 (46); 0-60 in 2.4 sec, 1500 hp jet/turbine, gasoline/ethanol mix (16s/25h mpg), 6-speed manual]; Def: 8; Hard: 15; hp: 48; Size: H; Purchase DC: n/a (45); Res: Mil (+3)
Accessories: adhesive trap foam gun (as "sticky foam sprayer," see Urban Arcana; 1 mounted both sides, 3-round discharge); aerosolized regurgitant sprayer (as "tear gas"; 1 mounted both sides); auto-engaged twin auxiliary fuel tanks (+30 gallons, 45 total); barrier/chain cutters (as "huge chainsaw/bolt cutter," 3d8 damage, ignores 4 points of hardness; 1 mounted front); CO2-propelled grapnels (2 mounted front, 45-degree range of fire, range increment 60 ft.); gel-filled tires; infrared camcorder (1 mounted front); internal computer (on-board WayneTech GPS navigation unit [provides +10 equipment bonus on Navigate]); police scanner; satellite datalink connected w/batsuit, Batcave, etc.; sensor baffling; storage compartment; variable polarization windshield; voice recognition system)

Design Notes
1) “Lightweight” and “ultra-lightweight” are terms that I prefer when referring to the Reduced Weight gadget option found in d20 Future Tech. Lightweight indicates a weight reduction of 25%; ultra-lightweight is 50% or more.
2) Modifications to existing and unique equipment was done using the “Gadget System” guidelines given in d20 Future.
3) The base PDC and weight for the cape are those of an “overcoat” from the core rulebook.
4) Ad-hoc rules governing cape-gliding adapted from D&D flight maneuverability and simple geometrics.
5) Cape PDC calculated as follows: 9 (base) + 6 (2/integrated feature: latex coat, scallop design, equip bonuses) + 4 (weight reduction)
6) The base PDC and weight for the cowl are those of “display glasses” from d20 Future.
7) Cowl PDC calculated as follows: 12 (base) + 9 (integrated HUD) + 2 (weight reduction)
8) Batsuit PDC calculated as follows: 10 (base) + 18 (integrated survival suit; I allow integrating one type of armor into another because the flight suit is typed as “tactical” armor, whereas the survival suit is “concealable,” able to be worn underneath existing clothing, etc.) + 7 (booby-trapped; I made an ad hoc addition of +1 to the booby-trap PDC modifier because this gadget is normally only available to weapons)
9) The base PDC, weight, and capacity for the utility belt are those of a “tool belt” from the core rulebook.
10) Determining the exact size limitations for the belt required that I first take stock of everything the character might need on a typical outing, then affix the belt’s capacity based on that assortment rather than force myself to work within a limit. Exchange rate for size differences is 1:2 (1 Small = 2 Tiny, etc.) Belt PDC calculated as follows: 9 (base) + 5 (1/added storage compartment; each application of this gadget provides storage for 2 additional Small items, and I reasoned a standard tool belt can hold 6 Small items; likewise this increases the belt’s weight bearing load by 2.5x) + 4 (weight reduction) + 1 (ad hoc to prevent the belt from spilling items during acrobatics)
11) Constructing a batarang involves combining elements of a boomerang with shuriken using the “Alternate Weapon” gadget. The process of “forging” the two together is accomplished through use of the Craft (mechanical) and Repair skills: first a simple Craft check allows the objects to be disassembled, and a complex Repair check recreates a new item from what was two. Using his shop in the Batcave, Batman can take 10 on both checks and build a new batarang in 2 hours. Batarangs count as archaic weapons, have the base size of a knife, do boomerang damage (bludgeoning/piercing [provided by the shuriken]), have the base weight of shuriken, take the median range between the two, and retain boomerang miss rules. Batman can choose to deal either bludgeoning or piercing damage when attacking with batarangs.
12) Batarang PDC calculated as follows: 10 (base; boomerang plus shuriken cost) + 4 (alternate weapon) + 2 (compact; batarangs fold in half for storage) + 2 (weight reduction). Design advantage to damage added during build process (Craft [mechanical] DC 20).
13) The base PDC, size, and general characteristics for the CO2-powered grapple gun are those of a “grapple-firing crossbow,” while the weight is that of a “flare gun,” both from Urban Arcana. Slightly better range due to more accurate design.
14) CO2-powered grapple gun PDC calculated as follows: 12 (base) + 3 (miniaturized) + 3 (ad hoc for lifting power/speed)
15) Ver-Sed is a type of gas attack Batman once quoted as using in a comic. I don’t know if there is any real-world equivalent, but neither do I care. The name always stuck with me, and so here it is. From his lab in the Batcave, Batman can take 10 to synthesize either gas in 2-4 hours (though Ver-Sed requires a roll, an action point, or an aid on the check). Using the “Making Poisons” section of the core rulebook web enhancement, I determined the Craft DC as follows: 5 (base, halved due to 1/2 area dispersal; this is a type Batman was shown to use up close and personal, not artillery style) + 4 (10 for paralysis effect, reduced 65% [3.5 rounded up] for lessened duration, average time 7 minutes to 2.5 minutes) + 6 (12 for unconsciousness effect, halved due to lessened duration, hours to minutes) + 6 (DC 16 save) + 4 (ad hoc, amnesia effect)
16) Monofilament de-cel jumpline PDC calculated as follows: 4 (base) + 7 (integrated grappler tags) + 2 (compact) + 4 (weight reduction)

NEW Template: The Legend

Only living, sentient, non-deity beings may become legends.
Legends are not born, they are made. Therefore, a character must possess at least 10 HD or character levels before acquiring the Legend template. The more natural talent a hero possesses the less experience is required to raise them to that of legend. If any of the character’s ability scores are less than 14, that character may not acquire the template until possessing at least 14 HD. If any three of the character's ability scores are 18+ (maintaining the above), that character may then acquire the template once possessing only 8 HD. Legends must also be known outside their own circle. The Legend template cannot be acquired until the character's base Reputation bonus is at least +4 (+1 if the character has the Renown feat). Lastly, the hero must complete a number of GM-approved quests beforehand as a kind of final passage into the pages of legend.
Challenge Rating: Same as the base creature +1 per 5 character levels attained as a legend.
Size and Type: The base creature’s size and type remain unchanged.
Hit Dice: As the base creature.
Defense: As the base creature.
Attack/Full Attack: As the base creature.
Damage: As the base creature.
Special Attacks: As the base creature.
Special Qualities: A legend retains all the base creature’s special qualities and gains those listed below.
          Epic Level: Only legends may take class levels beyond 20. Track the number of levels the character has attained as a legend (marked as a part of the tag that identifies the character as a legend, under "Special Qualities," for example).
          Never Say Die (Ex): A legend cannot be killed unless the damage dealt to the legend exceeds the legend's massive damage threshold plus the character’s level plus his or her current action points at the time of "death," (i.e. legends who are dying due to hit point loss automatically stabilize at –9 unless the damage dealt to them previously exceeded their Mas + Lvl + AP). Legends can still die by failing saves (e.g. against spells, poisons, drugs, or powerful weapons, etc.) which would otherwise prevent death or other fatal effects (e.g. ability point loss, etc.). Legends may willfully die from normal damage if they choose to do so.
Abilities: As the base creature.
Skills: As the base creature, except legends receive twice their Intelligence modifier for skill points on every level gained after acquiring the template (i.e. not the first level for which the character qualifies as a legend). Upon becoming a legend, the character ignores cross-class restrictions when buying skill ranks regardless of what class the character takes levels in, and those that the legend mentors, if any, ignore cross-class for each level they attain under the legend's tutelage as well.
Feats: As the base creature, except for every level gained after acquiring the template, a legend may freely select one (1) bonus feat from any list (prerequisites for these feats must still be met).
Reputation: As the base creature +2.
Action Points: As the base creature +2 per character level attained as a legend.
Organization: Any, though usually only one legend can exist in any one group, organization, specific location, or time period, as befits the campaign.
Allegiances: Any.
Advancement: By character class.
Level Adjustment: Same as the base creature +1 (+2 for characters beyond 20th level).

Design Note: This template was created mainly as a “cheat” to create the kind of Batman that I felt most closely resembled the modern iteration of the character as presented in the comics (1987-today), and also as an example of a robust build that the d20 ruleset can be made to fit. Since d20 Modern doesn’t support rules for characters beyond 20th level, I decided to work a fairly difficult-to-achieve template as a means of padding out heroes like Batman and Superman. Without the template, characters truly deserving of the epic treatment are left to never quite realize their full potential. Of course, the template is ultimately only limited by hit dice and the GM’s permission, it might not be a bad idea to quantify the limits on legends further by stating that there can only by one legend in any given area (be it a city, region, state, country, planet, what have you), and before new legends can rise up in their place the old legends must first die or pass on.

New Calling: Mantle of the Bat
Scarred by a traumatic period in one’s early life, those who take up the mantle of the Bat are bound by the fate that it demands. The mantle of the Bat is not merely a totem to which the bearer subscribes, but a calling to which the hero that bears it must answer. Those who wear the mantle of the Bat are forever after tasked with a life dedicated to the cause for its existence, forsaking personal happiness and allegiances to anything other than that which serves to meet the needs of the cause. In preparation to meet the needs of the cause, the hero must be able to travel the world and engage in at least one major test or quest on each continent (or as determined by the GM). Only after death or the absolute certainty that the needs of the cause for the mantle’s existence have been met may the mantle be put to rest. In some ways, the mantle’s demands may conflict with the hero's desires, and thus the mantle may be looked upon as a curse by those who do not understand it. The mantle of the Bat demands nothing less than the unmitigated devotion of the hero's mind and body until all its tasks are complete.

Benefits: To aid in accomplishing the above, the mantle of the Bat bestows the hero with incredible physical and mental acumen, granting the hero two sets of exceptional ability scores: a set of three 18s, and a set of three 17s, each score arranged as desired. Furthermore, the hero receives Secret Identity as a bonus feat so that the wearer of the mantle can operate from a position of relative anonymity.

Why Batman is Lawful Good...
1) He doesn’t kill. Not even his most vile, repulsive, and deserving-of-death foes. To ignore this simple fact is dismissive and comparatively flawed. If we were to apply this same stricture against other similarly themed literary figures, we’d find out exactly how delineating a point this can be. Take Robin Hood or Zorro for example. Both of these characters are shown to kill their adversaries on occasion, and yet they are Goodly aligned, though certainly not Lawful. Batman would be compelled to risk his own life to save a foolish person who wandered into the forest and came across a hungry bear. Robin Hood or Zorro might look at the same person and call it poetic justice. Life is precious to Batman; nay, life is sacred to Batman. “Thou Shalt Not Kill (Or Allow To Be Killed)” is foremost among his life’s commandments.

i. The essential moral theme here is redemption. Evil may be destroyed, but evildoers should be reformed or rehabilitated. Take what darkness life gives you (i.e. the death of one’s parents, the evil that men do, etc.) and make it work for the good of all.

2) He strives to live in a very ordered world. Within the Batcave his word is law. How often have other subordinates of Batman’s chafed at living under his rule: most if not all. Rigid, unwavering, almost totalitarian in his private pursuits; he is a driven taskmaster. He often denies himself the means to a happier life because fighting crime is his duty.

3) He is in every way diametrically opposed to the Joker, his archenemy. The Joker is the epitome of Chaotic Evil.

4) He upholds the system he fights alongside even if he operates outside of it. Succinctly, he must operate outside of it. Man’s laws are in some ways inadequate to a higher, more holistic law. Lawful Good sometimes demands disobeying an unjust/unfair system when it doesn’t do what is necessary. (In the early days, Batman’s only ally was James Gordon, himself a Lawful Good character. Two Lawful Good men trapped in the Chaotic Neutral/Evil world of Gotham.)

5) Batman’s mission is often described by himself and others close to him as a quest or crusade against crime. This is very Lawful Good language in nature.

6) “If Batman is Lawful Good, what is Superman then?” Superman is LG as well! Batman is the LG manifestation of the night. Superman is LG born of the day. They simultaneously work well together, seek to achieve the same ends, and chafe at one another because they are so similar is this way. (Batman and Superman fighting in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a reflection of what could be, not of what is.)

7) “What about Batman’s willingness to break and enter, use intimidation tactics, fight dirty, etc?” To Batman, if villains and criminals do not hold even the smallest laws to be sacred then they forfeit their right to the others. It’s who he is as a “masked vigilante,” an expression of his anger, not a form of punishment. He seeks to strike the fear of God into his enemies. Evil deserves no quarter, and you fight fire with fire.

8) He would put down the cape and cowl if he was sure he was truly no longer needed. A willingness to surrender one’s quest if certain conditions are met shows a sign of restraint typically associated only with the very honorable; a LG trait. (Paradoxically, we know this can never be.)

9) He would fight a worthy foe (e.g. Râ’s al Ghûl, a Lawful Evil character) on even terms (i.e. hand-to-hand, or sword against sword), and defeat such a foe on those terms rather than take an unfair advantage. 

10) Lawful Good vs Neutral Good vs Chaotic Good: Lawful Good means you live by the strictest (highest) standard life has given you. Neutral Good means you live by whatever standard causes the least amount of strife. Chaotic Good means you live by whatever standard suits you best without infringing on others. Thus, Batman is Lawful Good.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

From Cocoon to Butterfly, And Back Again

Well, here's another look back at my musings from college days long since gone. I submitted this one for "Anthropology 116: Myth, Ritual, and Symbol" during the Fall of 2003.

Every year in June (and, less commonly, May) all across the country, people take part in a sort of rite of passage that occurs when one is nearing the end of their so-called adolescence. This ritual generally spans racial, social, economic, and religious barriers such that anyone can take part in it so long as they are willing to spend the four years in preparation of the event that marks the ritual. This rite of passage is, of course, high school graduation, and in considering this “rite of passage” in more than just name alone, a relatively close study of its background, structure, features, and participants is necessary to classify it as such.

We all understand how a high school graduation works: the students march in, their relatives and collective acquaintances observe, the procedure of graduation takes place, and the ceremony ends; but what of the significance of this in light of ritual? Does a typical high school graduation carry with it the requirements necessary to be categorized as a rite of passage (i.e. where one thing changes to another)? First, consider the “ritual space” about which the ceremony takes place. Does it always occur in a similar location? Outdoors or indoors, it would be unheard of to hold a high school graduation anywhere other than on the school grounds where the students attended. This marks the rite of passage as having begun and ended in the same general environment, thus we can conclude that what has changed is not the place but the people inhabiting it.

Then, if the ritual space is a constant (as we would expect of a rite of passage), what of the “ritual action”? In this, we must consider what really goes on during a high school graduation. At the beginning of the ceremony the graduating students enter the ritual space, single file, in like-height pairs, and walk in step toward a tiered-riser of sorts where they are positioned with the tallest in back (forming the front of the procession) and the shortest in front (forming the rear of the procession). Generally, the highest achieving academic paired with the next highest achiever (valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively), are positioned in the front center as a mark of their achievement. Together, these particulars create a theme of ritual that is unbroken and displays a sense of order and pride coupled with the fact that the students are about to graduate.

The marched procession is accompanied by a musical number commonly known as “Pomp and Circumstance,” by which the timed steps of the procession are accounted. It would be strange to perform the graduation ceremony without this song, and stranger still to perform it outside the ceremony; hence the song is of ritual importance. These ceremonies also see the highest few achievers from each class give a brief speech before the customary conference of diplomas. In this we must note three things. First, the term “class” exemplifies who participated in the ritual, namely those students and only those students who have completed high school in that specific school for that specific year. Second, the term “diplomas” refers to a special document which is used only during ceremonies such as these to verify the student’s graduation. And third, the speeches serve as reference to reflect on those events that led up to the ceremony itself. By these three points one can see how ritual sound, ritual objects, and ritual language further mark the validity of a high school graduation as a rite of passage.

Beyond that, a ritual must possess a focus for change, wherein, to borrow a phrase, “The cocoon grows to become the butterfly.” Careful consideration of how my high school graduation ceremony affected me yields the following. Regarding students in high school, they are like inside a cocoon—a closed environment, shielding away “harmful” things while at the same time nourishing. The students’ intention while there is to learn and in effect change their modes of thinking about certain things (e.g. reading, math, the sciences) so that they will be ready for the next step of their lives (should they decide to take that step). Ultimately, change is sought out through the process of high school, and verified by the graduation ritual.

Symbolism can also be a major component, if not the culmination, of the ritual process. Some of the symbols of the graduation ritual are clear to see such as maturation, knowledge, readiness, and dedication. Innately, these are values of which any community or society would benefit from, strengthening the idea that this rite of passage is not bound by cultural moors. High school graduation signifies the end of a change from minor to adult in modern life, but it also designates the beginning of a potential new stage where one enters a different, more affecting, cocoon. High school graduation is a formal sendoff for the student, granting this person permission to pursue whatever career they desire, where often the next step (or cocoon) is college.

Obviously for me, the intended goals of the aforementioned ritual have been achieved; otherwise this paper on said topic would not have existed. I remember high school graduation as something very meaningful, for those too who only observed. The ritual reasserted what high school had been about and where it was going to take me. Not only that, but it separated me from those who had not graduated, and thus, perhaps, exemplified the most important element of a rite of passage. The ritual of graduation, and indeed the greater ritual of high school, is in essence not a mandatory one, rather it is so ingrained in modern day society that to ignore it risks ostracization. And while there are many of us waiting to go from cocoon to butterfly, and back again, some of us are waiting to see what we will become next.

[Afterward: It’s interesting now to read this, and wonder how much of what I was writing at the time I understood? Was there more I was hinting at that didn’t get covered due to length or laziness? At the end of the second-to-last paragraph, it can be inferred that there are other cocoons, other steps left unsaid. What about a relationship? A career? Family? Any of these are equally plausible and commonplace pursuits after schooling. Are we then stuck in a revolving door of cocoon to butterfly to cocoon—never truly evolving, just moving from one stage to another in a monotonous cycle of beginnings and endings? Is this why people of advancing age always claim why they still don’t know anything after so many years? How then can you break this cycle without bucking the system? It seems some risk of being ostracized is important. Being outside the norm allows us a different perspective. Stray too far outside the norm and you risk being a hermit or an outcast, even unto yourself. It’s an involuntary approach, but a selective approach. You may not be able to control all the stimuli that affect you inside the cocoon, but you can control how you react to those stimuli. With high school in mind, a reasonable (and even healthy) level of ostracization might mean not having a girlfriend/going to the prom, not taking drugs, not getting elected to class office, or not caving to peer pressure. Then again, maybe I’m a little biased in my own opinions. What do you think?]

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Plot Summary: Indiana Jones and The Bid for an 'A'

I've been looking at my old papers from college and realized some of them might make for great blog entries. Then again, some of them might work better than Ambien for those of you suffering from sleep deprivation? Either way....

I attended the University of California at Santa Barbara from September 2000 through June 2004. I graduated a double-major with a bachelors in cultural anthropology (emphasis: archaeology) and religious studies (emphasis: Near East), and, thankfully, a lingering interest in the more romantic side of things. Here's a paper I wrote during my junior year for "Anthropology 118TS: Archaeology of the Ancient Near East" (very appropriate, huh!), sources included. The class was taught by Professor Stuart Tyson Smith, an egyptologist and famous for his self-promoted involvement in The Mummy movies (or at least the first two at the time).

Anyway, that's plenty of background I guess. Simply put: this one combines my love of writing stories, Indiana Jones, and a bit of academia into one package. Chickity-check it out!


My name: Dohni Ganderlay, British novitiate from the Cambridge University in the study of archaeology. My life: often does not quite work out the way I want it to, or at the very least, the way I had expected. I have to admit though, that my experiences spent over the last few months under the captured employ of the famed adventurer/archaeologist Henry “Indiana” Jones have been anything but what I would have expected—in retrospect that is!

It is the spring of 1934, and in my twenty-second year I have come to learn that when dealing with life’s problems you must swallow the bad with the good. At the beginning of the year I was hired by a swaggering French archaeologist named René Belloq to work with him on a classical period site in the Levant of the Near East as part of my research training. Monsieur Belloq put me to work in two ways: one, by being responsible for constructing the preliminary report of the dig, and two, by snooping around the competing dig of the aforementioned Indiana Jones, located at Bir Abu-Moya, and secretly causing any stifling trouble that I could. I had no idea what I was in for.

After the first week, I was caught while trying to steal from the mule caravan that Dr. Jones used for carrying supplies. I never was a very good thief! Fortunately, the rugged American spared my life and instead of having me imprisoned or worse, put me to work as his own assistant—what better way to keep an eye on me. To my even greater surprise, he started me on his own site’s preliminary report, the very same thing Belloq had bade of me, and I even found out that both competing dig sites were being employed by a powerful Arab antiquities dealer out of Syria. It seemed a challenge had been posed to the two long-standing rivals, by the interested Arab dealer, to see which archaeologist could finish his respective dig first. The rules, however, consisted of doing this one by the book, (as is not always apparently the case with Dr. Jones and Monsieur Belloq). Be that as it may, I found myself right in the middle struggling to avoid the vengeful hand of the Frenchman, and keep up with the hectic pace of the dig set by the intrepid American.

Chapter 1: The First “Step” Towards a Trench of Trouble

The expedition at Bir Abu-Moya began in late January (due to the time constraints laid upon the "contest" by the Arab dealer), and we were often forced to cover the strip of land where the step trench was going to lay on the south side of the Tell with a sloping network of tarps to prevent the occasional rain from swamping our work. Indy, as he has asked us all to call him, spent much of the first few days pacing the site and orchestrating the ten-week dig plan while reminiscing with the lead digger—a large, joyfully baratone-voiced Egyptian named Sallah—about how he wished there was a dungeon to be delved or a tomb to be raided amidst all this. I kept my wits about me though, and tried to remain as professional as I could, eavesdropping on nearby conversations only when I thought it the least dangerous.

On a more archaeological note, pertaining to the beginning of my preliminary report, I have determined that the first area we uncovered at the base of the Tell can be dated at latest to the Natufian Period (ca. 9000 B.C.). The absence of ceramic material and the fact that later periods tend to show more advanced housing structures (bordering on what is present in the Near East today) are clears signs that this step in the trench is dated as thus. The hut we found was also dug a meter deep into the ground, which is consistent with Natfuian style (Roaf, 30). Additionally, the appearance of Einkorn wheat may have something to do with the temporal placement of the site seeing as how rachis was found on the stalks (indicating a wild variety) and wild cereals were specifically a major part of the diet, as opposed to later domesticated kinds, during this period (Roaf, 27). Considering the wheat found, I have surmised that the basalt mortars and pestles were used to process the harvested grain while the notched piece of basalt found was likely used to shuck the tough husk off of the more pesky stalks. Then, as for the more advanced lithic technologies found, it would seem that the lunates were manufactured as sickle heads to harvest wheat and reused through Helwan retouch as a practice of tradition. Most curious of all was the stone “pillow” burial that Sallah and his sturdy-backed diggers uncovered. “Queer,” Sallah had commented, saying that it looked as if the person had been pinned down, though I was not too sure, and decided to comment on this later after some thought.

One thing is sure, however, this first trench has a cultural affiliation all its own, uniquely Natufian. To help illustrate this point the following is a transcript of a conversation Dr. Jones, Sallah, and I had one evening as the sun dipped down into an orange-purple horizon:

“Well, judging from the finds so far, I’d say the people here at Bir Abu-Moya had some ‘contemporaries in the Zagros Mts.’,” Indy announced after a moment’s thought. “We’re probably standing on what was future Palestinian soil” (Roaf, 30).

“Their economy was certainly one of open settlements,” I added. “Semi-permanent agriculturists I would wager, exploiting a vast array of both plant and animal life if what we know of the Natufian is correct.”

“Perhaps, Indy, we are seeing the decline of a Band community?” Sallah asked sternly but with a tentative pause.

“That’s certainly possible,” I answered, looking towards the rugged American. “We know that there was a trend away from familial-based hunting and gathering, to a more interfamily exchange system between settlements.”

Indy merely nodded in silent confirmation, his five-o’clock-shadowed face looking towards the horizon – towards the distant camp where Belloq resided.

...Chapter 5: The Dig Continues

Two weeks after we finished trench 1, we began on trench 2. The going was not easy, however, not after battling a three day storm that kept us to our tents and had half the crew come down with a cold. There is little rest for the wicked though, and Indy has bade me to work quickly and concisely in my documentation so as to keep up with the rabid pace which is to make up for lost time.

Thus, with mounds of time to myself now, I continue the report. At a glance, step #2 would appear to be Natufian as well due to the lack of ceramics, but the sudden appearance of a rectangular house built using domed-topped mud brick, featuring distinctive “herringbone pattern” thumb impressions (which help to key the molds together), lends the trench to be dated during the “Proto-Neolithic” (ca. 7500 B.C.), or Pre-Pottery Neolithic (Roaf, 31). The house appears to have been sieged by fire and then partially reconstructed such that there was now two adjoining rooms (separating families or parts of family) with the hearth moved to occupy the center of what could be a sort of kitchen or commons. Red ochre is often found decorating interiors beginning in the Proto-Neolithic as it is here, and is one of many things used to illustrate pictorials of animals, which among the most common are lions and bulls (Roaf, 36). It is not surprising then that we find the bull image and lion figures, of which the pregnant woman represents a type of fertility worship, as both motifs are indicative of cultural influences out of Mesopotamia. Ultimately, this becomes the forerunner of what is known as the “Proto-Hasunna” and succeeding “Samarra” cultures, emphasizing a “need for storage buildings over housing,” and “reveals a greater degree of possession awareness” where “lines of social/economic divisions appear” (Lecture, 4/15/03).

From the finds we can also conclude that plant domestication is well under way and goat herding (primarily for the meat, hence the longbone finds) indicates a diversification in resource control and economy. The social complexity is structured around “settled farm villages” with the largest ones being almost 1 hectare in size (Roaf, 33). Ancestor worship, as confirmed by the burial with the displaced skull, indicates a belief that “ancestors probably exercised a powerful influence over their descendants and had to be pacified by prayer and sacrifice” offered up to the skull, presumably (Roaf, 33-34). After examining the burial, Indy had commented that, “That sure wasn’t the way to get ‘ahead’ in life...”, to which I could hardly disagree, though it seemed a brilliant way to get ahead in the afterlife.

And with that, I have not even had a chance to catch my breath, for even now, I can hear Dr. Jones calling me to make ready to accompany him on a trip into the nearest town for replacement supplies after what we lost during the storm.

...Chapter 7: The Dog Days of Digging

Damn Belloq! Damn him straight to hell! I will not soon forget the day that a pack of wild dogs stormed our camp forcing us to scramble to higher places and tearing the throats out of two of our workers! Dr. Jones seems disarmingly unfazed, even though he too knows it was Belloq who sent the hounds, and I thought I caught him actually enjoying the charade as he took pot shots with his revolver at the dirty mongrels. At noon, the dogs just seemed to emerge from a dust cloud in the distance closing until it was too late, and while I am truly rattled, Indy has undauntingly demanded that we press on with the dig, and so we must!?

Step trench #3 has brought us into the Early Bronze Age (ca. 3300 B.C.), as far as I can tell, major clues coming from the more advanced building structure and the fact that the Khirbet Kerak ware found is a local style prevalent during this period (Roaf, 82). The absent finds in the sterile soil below this step help to explain the massive leap in time from the previous step, and various cultural and economic elements which I am about to elucidate also point towards the Early Bronze Age.

The cultural affiliation during this period at the site seems almost entirely Egyptian, more specifically the pre-dynastic period of Naqada in Egypt which would respond to the Early Bronze Age in the Levant. Also, the Abydos ware present may have something to do with the export of olive oil which was exchanged and later found in tombs of the Egyptian First Dynasty, hence giving a background and explaining why both of these commodities appear at Bir Abu-Moya (Roaf, 82). Given this, the cylinder seal and mud-brick building found here both point to the site as having been identified as an “Egyptian colony or trading outpost” (Roaf, 82). Furthermore, the material record here shows us that the tanged axe, likely a hold back item from the earlier Calcolithic period, and the lapis lazuli helps to demonstrate the beginning of a luxury item trade. One might even suggest that the economic elite here were taking on a model of “conspicuous consumption” such to the extent that one would expect this trend to continue and increase (Lecture, 4/29/03).

Thus, without a doubt, it is clear to me that the social complexity of the site at this step would be that of an ancient Egyptian outpost community; utilizing indentured servants or slaves at the beck and call of an Egyptian upper class whose goal was to exploit and orchestrate the agricultural and social development of the land. “It holds,” Sallah told me, “that some of the greatest and most enduring legacies have been left by that cradle of the Nile—Egypt!” he finished with a wink. And quite frankly, how can I deny that?

...Chapter 13: From the Middle Bronze to a Bronzed Middle

We began on step trench #4 on the seventh week of the dig, clearly behind schedule but determined to beat Belloq with time to spare. I have to admit, I am fully behind Indy now, finding his slapdash nature quite amusing and often finding myself fantasizing about one day becoming like him...well, um, moving on.

The date for this particular step falls during the time of the Middle Bronze Age with the knowledge that Amenemhet I, whose cartouch was among our finds, reigned from 1991-1962 B.C., but more specifically cerca 1800 B.C. because we know that “after about 1800, almost all Middle Bronze Age sites in the Levant were fortified” (Roaf, 118). My notes on the casemate wall and gate include the fact that it would have been nigh impregnable with its rubble-filled central recesses, and difficult to siege due to the man-made slope (for deterring tunneling, ramming, and tower attempts directed at the walls themselves), while the narrow, three-chambered entrance would have created multiple barriers for enemies to bypass—no easy task! Clearly, though, the destruction of the walls and burnt remains is a testament to how fiercely the city-states of this time were warring with each other.

Indy was quite insightful in helping me piece together parts of the social network that was occurring at the time, mainly that a group known as the Amorites (Semitic interlopers) were migrating in from the south and mixing with groups from the north such as the Hurrians (an Indo-European sect out of the Caucasus Mts.), and lead to, among other things, a synthesis of works in metallurgy and craftsmanship, particularly with bronze weaponry (Lecture, 5/1/03). In turn, I have attributed the “duckbill” axe and trident finds to such a cultural composition. And, so far as the economy appears in this step, there seems to be a crystallization of the concept of increasing conspicuous consumption, what with the finds of lapis beads, the gold falcon’s head, and the decadence in which the inscribed tablet we found went about describing a particular door.

Speaking of which, the tablet bore an incomplete passage dictating the introduction of a communication between what I believe are two remnant city-state rulers of a fallen Egyptian Old Kingdom. Now, undoubtedly, the comparable power between such rulers after the fall of a great dynasty would vary, and as such, one ruler might answer to another, creating a kind of “big king/little king” relationship (Lecture, 5/6/03). In order to sequester aid or resources beyond one’s immediate control, let us say, a little king might have to humble himself either in person or via tablet inscription to the nearest big king, as we have here. This brings the hierarchy of the social order in to view and helps to explain possible alliances or rivalries we might see in future steps.

As a final note for this trench, we also find Tell el-Yahidiya ware sherds among the finds, notable as a style that emerged out of this mixed culture during the Middle Bronze Age that resulted in finely made pottery “featuring a red polish, and black punctate” (Lecture, 5/1/03). As an aside, while we were sifting through the sherds, Indy became startled and jumped back letting out an alarmed breath as he leaned away from something nearby. I do confess, the man is quite intriguing for all his courage, after all, it was only a baby gartner snake! Unfortunately, Indy got the last laugh when I had made the mistake of overindulging in the little bit of sun we had one day, partially under an umbrella, only to have earned a dark and painful tan across my stomach, and the new British colloquial nickname of “The Walking-Fag” (i.e. The Walking-Cigarette). [I think I must have felt uncomfortable here using such a term, so I concluded to clarify my intentions, and the joke was just too good to pass up!]

...Chapter 18: Famous Last Words

I began work on step #5 during the later half of the eighth week, quickly finding myself with growing speculations as to how the overall site here at Bir Abu-Moya impacted the historical scene. Once again, the destruction wrought on a wide-scale here gave us near perfect preservation, and judging from advanced building architecture and artworks found within, namely the appearance of the portico entrance and the base ring ware (both of which are thought to have originated during the same era), we came to the conclusion that this new step was from the Late Bronze Age (Lecture, 5/15/03). The scarab that we recovered was also key in designating the exact time frame to around 1250 B.C., due to the fact that it is inscribed for Ramesses II who is known to have ruled during this period (Roaf, 144).

Semblances of cultural development in this step all point to a syncretism of styles and motifs, mainly through art and remnants of religious practice. Bir Abu-Moya was without a doubt a frontier for converging ivory styles drawing upon both a “Syrian” tradition, as displayed through the remains of the back-to-back women piece, and a “Phoenician” tradition (closely related to the art of Egypt), as embodied by the openwork panels which were also found (Roaf, 156). The Hurrian sealing, alternately, creates an interesting dichotomy with the previous and more absolute Egyptian occupation level, manifesting itself in a seemingly international style wherein the materialization of ideology (i.e. depictions of rituals and the gods involved in a reinforcing manner that has a lasting effect) can clearly be seen.

Economic values are shifting such to the extent that bronze (formerly an extremely valuable commodity used exclusively in weaponsmithing) is now being seen used in the construction of figurines as we have here, suggesting that perhaps more valuable resources are on the way (i.e. the advent of the Iron Age). Beyond that, there are more things I will touch on about this step later, but the social complexity at this point is certainly one of demonstrative opulence held in check by the fact that this site seems to have been on the front lines of ongoing territory disputes and, more locally, solid attempts at multicultural uniformity leading to the creation of new ceramic styles, and new ways of looking at worship.

I think it was Dr. Jones who said, “The people of this time and place were living life the way their superiors adjudicated it for them...mixing together those elements which they often wanted to survive by. That, or become lost in time.” Its ironic, now, that he had said that, for neither I nor any of the crew have seen or heard from him in the last nine hours.

...Chapter 25: The End of a Long Road

We have entered the tenth week and still no sign of the American! Every day at dawn we send out a group to search and see if they can find Indy, but no such luck yet. We are confident Belloq has not beaten us, though there is no way to be sure, and while the digging continues with everyone on edge, we are no less determined now that Sallah has taken over. Nevertheless, I am still committed to doing my part, and so my look at step trench #6 begins.

From what we know of history, the Sea Peoples and Assyrians became increasingly important in the development, for good or for poor, of the Levant during much of the periods which we have already covered. With that in mind, I see the utter destruction at this level akin to that which would have been perpetrated against Assyrian takings in the Levant (mainly because of the interregional hatred that was expressed towards Assyrian rule), and furthermore, the presence of Assyrian potsherds helps to give a material context (Lecture, 5/27/03). Thus, I place this trench during the later half of the Iron Age, sometime during the 7th or 8th century B.C.

I have come to the conclusion that the body under the eastern building was an Assyrian soldier, both the scale-mail armor and blow to the head (with no proper burial) indicate features and the kind of fate one might expect of an unfortunate Assyrian guard. The body under the western wall, however, could have been a priestly dignitary carrying a sacred temple vessel to safety, one which bears an inscription that possibly translates into “ox-head, fence, house,” or “The Sanctuary of the Bovine Altar” (Roaf, 150). Certainly, there was some sort of religious activity going on in the western building as there is a “horned altar” positioned out front where there appears to have been animal sacrifices made judging from the organic residue found (Lecture, 5/27/03). These finds coupled with the “woman with lions stand” and the “cow Kernoi” help to elaborate upon a flourishing international style of syncretist beliefs, meshing both Mesopotamian (from the Assyrian rule) and Aegean (from contact with the Sea Peoples) traditions into a unique motif. It is astonishing how much pressure from outside forces (e.g. the Egyptians from the south, Hurrians from the north, Sea Peoples from the west, and Assyrians from the east) this region was able to endure and ultimately assimilate into an identity of its own.

The economy in this period at Bir Abu-Moya is almost exclusively mercantilism centered around guild-based polities. The evidence of converging pottery styles, cremation practices, and extensive warfare indicates a culture consistent with that of the Philistines during the Iron Age, while the social complexity was likely that of a peripheral imperial city-state. And while our understanding of the Bir Abu-Moya site becomes clearer, so too does the events surrounding Indy’s disappearance. I will not soon forget when he came riding in atop a brown stallion just today exchanging gunshots with a group of pursuing Arabs. A scramble throughout the camp to find a hiding place until the dust had settled ensued, and when we finally got a chance to talk to the dirty and bruised American, he said that he had left fully a week and a half ago to spy on Belloq’s operation. Apparently, the wily Frenchman had hired a group of nomad strongmen to patrol his camp and, for Indy, there had simply been too many eyes to dodge. Subsequently, Indy told us, he had spent the remaining time eluding the nomads in an attempt to get back. The good news was, Belloq’s men had revolted against him (chaffing under the Frenchman’s direction) and Belloq was out of the race. Thus, we had won and our adventure at Bir Abu-Moya was over!

Epilogue: Interpreting The Mysteries

Bir Abu-Moya begins in the Natufian, a time in which there is little else going on as far as historical and archaeological records have thus far shown in the Levant or in many of the surrounding areas. In fact, modern Israel and Palestine constitute some of the only areas that we have knowledge of there even having been a Natufian period (Lecture, 4/8/03). This is partially to explain for why we see an odd example of secondary burial in step trench 1 (the skeleton with the stones) during this time but not in any other, mainly showing how Bir Abu-Moya remained untouched by other cultures, but also how the people kept to their Neolithic beliefs.

At step trench 2, we see a slow departure from more Neolithic modes of thinking wherein family ties are most important, to a linked community where families are dependent on each other. The house’s development shows an evolution from round huts to squarish designs to facilitate adding on, individual walls which are easier to repair in case of fire, and interior walls which help to divide portions of the house between men and women or among different facets of activity that each room in the house serves. This abrupt change coincides with the changing economy from hunting and gathering to farming, and roving band societies to semi-permanent ones based on exchange routes with other nearby settlements.

The odd circular foundation found at step trench 3, which appears during an era after a long time of vacancy at Bir Abu-Moya, is likely a tower (among others) positioned at the edge of the Tell proper to look out for invaders during a tentative time of Egyptian expansion. After all, these are foreign lands to Egyptian rulers and not as secure as their homelands. Then again, the tower could be a sort of storage chamber necessary for large supply depots in an ongoing effort to expand. In either case, Bir Abu-Moya changes after a long period of absent settlement (due to continuing bad weather conditions and drought) where farming is no longer the main drive, but rather outpost links in a long chain of state-controlled trade routes are the purpose.

By the time of step trench 4, a cycle of continual claims and loses by numerous different cultures and states vying for control has begun, each seeking to exploit the established land to its own desires. With the fall of the Old Egyptian dynasty we begin to see how there is a need to hold on to bits and pieces of the past occupations and mesh them with the new, so as the new protective walls come up around the site at this level, so too do we find the older mud brick structure still in place, though it has been relegated by its new rulers to a lesser designation (i.e. the dung depository) as a negative statement aimed at the previous rulers.

Then, as we enter steps 5 and 6 we see how the example of materialization of ideology takes the form of temples set up to reinforce state-oriented codes and religious edicts. The pattern remains the same but there is now a clear sign of “one-upmanship” being expressed by each successive ruling faction. Thus, when we find objects that conflict with the new order winding up discarded in a pit, we can assume that those objects were the things that were meant to be forgotten. In all cases, we still find the society repeating itself: ancestor veneration with the skulls, burnt pits with the remains of enemies and/or sacrifices, and new buildings erected to protect and facilitate survival are all in the later steps. Each time though, the details are included in the growing melting pot of culture that is the Levant in its entirety as it stands today.


Lecture. "Anthropology 118TS: Archaeology of the Ancient Near East." Professor Stuart Smith. UCSB. Spring, 2003.

Roaf, Michael. Cultural Atlas of Mesopotamia and the Ancient Near East. Andromeda Oxford Limited, 1966. 27-156.

[And yes, I got an 'A' on this one. :-)]