Chain of Title: How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud by David Dayen

Detailed and engaging, it’s the story of the mortgage crisis, centered on three people. One was a lawyer, but the other two were just willing to read and research… and uncovered terrible breakdowns in the mortgage and security processes.

It becomes clear just how extensive the malfeasance of the banks was, and how eager all levels of government were to sweep the shambles of our title system under the carpet and move on.

Diaspora: Gathering Resources

What is Diaspora? It’s a science fiction game, a little less fantastic than Star Trek or Star Wars. Ships still spew reaction mass to travel, it’s a world without transporters and replicators (*probably). The short hand was “Traveler with Fate” — so a modern, less cumbersome system, in a traditional GM & Players role, but without 1970s roleplaying tech.

Basically, it’s useful for a universe somewhat like Firefly with slightly more “realistic” (or just different) ship limitations. In the first session, we’ll generate a cluster of 8-10 or so systems that are close enough for trade and travel. There’s a cool methodology that uses random prompts to encourage us to each create worlds, then link those worlds together with a rough diagram of history, trade connections, etc. Cluster generation is collaborative–we each create the worlds together at the table.

Then we make the characters, who will (probably) become a ship crew that travels between systems. The default idea is that you’ll be independent merchants traveling the black, slipping between systems to turn a profit–but maybe you’ll be explorers, or diplomats trying to defuse the cluster’s crises, or even “archaeologists” exploring the ruins of collapsed cultures. (We might make characters in the same session that we create the cluster–or it might be the second session if we get elaborate with the cluster generation.)

Now that we have the characters and the universe they’ll explore, we’ll launch into play.

Some resources:
Diaspora G+ community
VSCA’s Diaspora page. Which includes the Diaspora SRD, if you’re interested… plus a number of quick references.
Astrobit Diaspora play aids
Diaspora files on BGG
Atomic Rockets, and their common misconceptions page.

Worlds/Campaigns-
2011 Cluster Generation at RPG Meetup
Harmonium Cluster
Labcats play Diaspora
Angels and Omens campaign sessions, campaign setup
A pocket full of star dust

BlueMax Studios, Diaspora

NPCs you’ll meet while traveling
Ship with token
Battlecruiser
Spacehabs mostly cool pictures of space habitats
Random prompt: Aunt Chelsea’s planet
Colors of Blood Earth chemistry discussions
Cool spaceship illustrations
Simple world building from tectonic plates through wind cells and climate zones
Fate SF
Notes on Engineering Goals of Starship Designers

Background info on Stars
Star Gen
Random Star System generator.
Orion’s Arm stellar links page.
Planetary map generators

Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

You know what’s great? I remix version of a bunch of great essays that you read at the time, but retold and gathered.

It’s a great book, in a convenient format to press on people who don’t spend a lot of time reading online–or those who don’t have the time to read essays.

It was a fast read for me, probably due to the familiarity in part. There are some surprises, and it’s always interesting to see how she approaches media–both those that I’ve also encountered, but also stuff that I’ve only heard about. Similarly, her articles about Requires Hate feel very different now, instead of in the middle of the internet’s shock and horror.

Sadly, her asides about her grandmother growing up in Vichy France are even more pointed; her ability to deal with and dismiss abuse hurled her way seems too like a minimum qualification for being an outspoken woman on the internet these days.

If you’re interested but want a sample before you commit, her Hugo winning essay is here: We Have Always Fought: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative. (her blog)

Dead Out by Jon McGoran

A modern day thriller set in Martha’s Vineyard. It sounds like a book 2–there are lots of asides about the tolls of the events of 6 months ago, which makes me think that’s a better starting place.

Our hero’s a cop, hard driven–forced to take vacation time to deal with his stress, but reluctant to do so. His relationships are tricky and fraught; his opposition escalates to violence early–almost implausibly so. There’s a great undercurrent of suspicion and hidden motives; big money makes its play.

It was a fine book–I’d read more by the author, but I’d be sure to read book 1 next. There was too much void in this book, making it feel incomplete without the even more momentous events in book one.

One Jump Ahead by Mark L Van Name

Fast, straightforward and shooty, this is great golden era inspired sci-fi. The gates are alien and weird; the nano-technology is filled with hand waving, but feels limited (particularly by requiring time), while the other technologies feel like reasonable extrapolations–and are completely taken for granted by the locals. The hero is a craft, clandestine survivor–he reminded me a bit of the Stainless Steel Rat.

It’s a fun universe with a lot of “now” aspects carrying forward–Corporations are much like today’s multinationals, just expanded to mutli-planetary. Similarly, despite extensive body modding, gender is basically 20th century, while race has mostly dropped out of description and consideration.

Again, it’s fun and fast–I’ll read the sequels from the library and enthusiastically recommended it to Jennifer.

Species Imperative by Julie E Czerneda

A followup to Survival: Species Imperative, this is the whole trilogy (Survival, Migration, and Regeneration) all under one cover.

The first book, Survival, I discussed in the linked post above. It’s a solid start to the series, with a seriously out of the norm heroine–capable, but uninterested in space, travel, and foreign to conflict.

The second book (Migration) returns less than a year later; Mac’s back on earth preparing for the next crop of grad students and the next salmon run. But she’s different–impatient to hear about offworld activity now that she’s experienced it. There’s a bit of misdirection, kind of a slow speed evasion that’s interesting–and we meet 14, who’s a very interesting character.

That said, this book is slower–in part because it’s the middle book of a trilogy, but also because the second half of the book is basically a scientific conference. It’s interesting to read, but it’s not action packed–it’s definitely something that’d get butchered in a movie, cut down to a series of speech snippets, instead of feeling like an academic conference.

The last book (Regeneration) begins on a tenser note, but that quickly bleeds away. (The excitement has passed over to Nick, but we only get erratic updates on that front.) In the second half of the last book, the aliens are all revealed as truly alien, a scientist and Mac together discover a secret that reveals a new future for the Dhryn, war almost breaks out… it’s a tense end. Still no light sabers or running gunfights–it’s true to a science centered investigation.

Definitely a different approach than most SF&F, treating the science part with honesty as sometimes grindy and never as exciting as a space battle.

Remembering Jim Martin – Vitals and Sports

Vital Stats

Jim was born in May, 1944, in Sacramento where his Dad, William Elmer was training glider pilots for the war effort. After the war, the family settled in Bakersfield; his Dad became a teacher and he got a sister, Mary.

In high school, Jim’s father was named principal for Johnsondale, a lumber town above Porterville. james_d_martin-obit-picture Instead of graduating from such a tiny school, he was sent to Carpinteria High for his senior year, where the thrived

He went to Porterville City College, then to Fresno State, where he graduated with a BA in English.

He married Meredith Lynn Crosby in 1969… during one of Fresno County’s worst floods. He fathered two children, Scott (born in 1973) and Eric (born in 1975). Their first house was on Malsbury, in the Fig Garden Loop. Later, they moved to Sanger, to spare Meredith driving long distances through the winter fog. The lived for a few years on Quality, in a small house backing on fields, then moved into a beautiful house on Jenny that backed on a canal that filled with wild blackberries in the summer.

In 1983 Meredith died from a breast cancer that metastasized, leaving Jim a widower. He raised his sons alone, save for his “19 month mistake,” when he only wished he was raising them alone. They relocated into Fresno from the county, moving into his house on Mesa in 1987, as Eric entered junior high and Scott was a high school freshman.

He retired after 33 years of teaching in 2002. In 2011, Mary Ferchak traveled to California to be his girlfriend and eventual fiancee. After years of health issues, a viral infection killed more than 50% of his heart muscle, sending him to the hospital shortly after Christmas 2012. He spent New Years 2013 in the hospital, but emerged slight of breath thereafter. His stamina never returned; a pacemaker was installed that activated twice in his lifetime.

In 2015, Jim fell into a depressive funk. In January 2016, Mary returned to family in Pittsburgh, while Jim got treatment for his depression and weathered the separation. On September 26th Jim went to the emergency room, where he was swiftly admitted. On the 29th he was moved to the ICU. He never left; on October 3rd he aspirated, his heart stopped, and he couldn’t be revived.

Sports

As a kid, Jim rambled the neighborhood, climbing in dry canals and building forts for his army men. (And throwing them in the air with kleenex parachutes and bombs tied to the army men…) He rode widely on his bicycle and hung out with friends in convenient empty lots. One day he was throwing a horseshoe nail he found at a rock… and it bounced back up, piercing his eye, grievously damaging the vision in it for the rest of his life. He laughed about his lack of depth perception as an adult.

In high school, Jim ran in several track events–all the short distances and the triple jump. “I’m a quarter-horse, not a Clydesdale,” he often remarked later. The 440 was as long as he’d run–and that not willingly. He also played football for Bakersfield High… but the campus was huge, so he was on the “D” squad, due to his small size and light weight. In his senior year he transferred to Carpinteria High, where his coach called him “98 pounds of dynamite”! He played as both a defensive end and a running back.

On Friday, at the reception after Jim’s funeral, his friend Brian Husted told a story of Dad’s first day of practice at Carpinteria High. They were doing a goal line drill; Brian was the running back and Dad was on defense. They lined up and Brian charged the hole; Dad accelerated at full speed and slammed into Brian. After they peeled everyone off the pile, Dad’s back was tweaked by the impact, but he crowed when he heard that he’d kept Brian out of the end zone. Thereafter, they had a call and response at parties and other gatherings; Jim would remind everyone that he’d stopped Brian, and Brian would ask him how his back was.

As a teacher, he often coached sports, particularly track and field and flag football. (He had a story about being interviewed and rejected by the Clovis School District. His interview was going well, but came to an abrupt end after he replied that full contact football in elementary grades was bad due to concussive impacts and greenstick fractures.)

Especially early in his career, he’d be out at Saturday track meets throughout the spring. At later schools, when teachers would divvy up the responsibilities (like yard duty, Christmas plays and the like), he’d often coach–football, basketball, and track. (Never baseball–he wasn’t a fan of the slow pace. And being one eyed was a particular challenge for playing baseball.)

I remember playing basketball with Dad and Uncle Gary against me and Eric in front of the Correia house on Iris on holidays. He loved to startle you with a sharp “boo” when you were trying to shoot. He and Gary played against us as a pair of rambunctious teens–even when I had my inches on him and Eric’s athleticism, they could still intimidate us into taking terrible shots instead of laying up.

When I was at Roosevelt with him (for my 5th and 6th grades, 1984-86), he would still jog around the track to keep the pace, and sometimes line up for a play or two in flag football to demonstrate a technique. The teachers would play basketball 3 on 5, sometimes, at lunch recess. Somehow, five were never enough… especially when I was trying to shoot. [As Dad said a few times… I always knew where to be, but could never capitalize on being open. Fortunately, my early height at least let me get gangly arms waving in the teachers’ face…]

He turned out to coach Eric’s under-10 soccer team; he seemed genuinely happy to get out and drill the kids, even after a day of teaching. Unfortunately, Eric and I came down with serious asthma the same season… so he wound up coaching even after his kids could no longer play. (That was the season of Sara, the great mistake, which connects some dots…)

Remembering Jim Martin 1

So, I started writing an “unlimited length” obituary for Dad and found I was writing the exact wrong length for me. I was cutting the long stories down, and what I was writing kept prompting side stories–about Ralph the Wonder Chicken, his love of Greatest American Hero, working at the lumberyard and at Five Points, playing poker for grocery money in college, the story of my first time playing D&D with him and Mr. Reed (as a 1 HP fighter…), there are so many stories that I couldn’t even nod at them and finish anything.

So, I then decided to break his life out of chronology and group it by topic. But life is an interwoven tapestry; some of the things that mattered so much to me were very tied to what he was going through in other facets of his life at the time.

So, rather than aim for perfection, I’ll instead spill words and more words over time. Hopefully it’s therapeutic–or at least a nice structured way to get thoughts from him down while they’re still somewhat fresh.

For other stories and facets of Dad, see the responses on facebook to the news of his death. Even more responses are here.

The short version of his obituary made it into the Fresno Bee and should make it into the Carpinteria Herald. I’ll place it here too, just so link rot doesn’t doom it.


james_d_martin-obit-picture
James D Martin died October 3rd at 7:20 am at 72 years old. Graveside services were held October 7th at the Carpinteria Cemetery.

Jim was the son of Irma Viola Crump and William Elmer Martin—and could name several generations further back, if you gave him a brief space to explain. His sister Mary and two adult sons, Eric and Scott, each continue with families of their own. He is predeceased by his wife Meredith.

When Jim was born in Sacramento, grew up in Bakersfield, played football as a running back, and competed in track, both in Bakersfield and for Carpinteria High. From Porterville Community College he transferred to Fresno State, where he earned an English degree and began teaching.

He taught elementary students for 33 years throughout Central Unified—at McKinley, Roosevelt, and Steinbeck elementary schools. He was a mentor teacher with a master’s in education, known for his history simulations and the integration of life skills into ordinary lessons.

A memorial will be held in Fresno on Monday, October 10th at the 3602 W Shaw Marie Callender’s from 4 to 6 pm.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Such a good book, so well written.

The book touches a number of tough topics. Baru is a deviant (at least in the society she chooses), exploited talent in a colonial system, a skilled administrator and accountant–and how easy is it to make accounting sound interesting?

At the heart of it is Baru, who is very engagingly written and someone I was interested in seeing both what she chose to do, and what she’d pay doing it.

The author does a great job of making her viewpoint consistent and engaging; I was a huge fan of Baru, even as a child in a terrible system. The empire she serves feels like a well established empire, successful at recruiting and converting at least some locals to support the system.

It’s engaging and well written; while there is strong closure, I can also imagine a sequel. Whichever way it goes, I’ll pay attention to Seth Dickinson going forward.