Monday, April 30, 2007

Cthulhu's Gates

So, a busy weekend, filled with work and social obligations. The former included some material for the upcoming Die Seidlers 6/The Settlers 6 game from Blue Byte. The latter included celebrating World Tai Chi Day down in the International District with the rest of my class, and playing History of the World with friends on Bainbridge.

But the interesting part of the dweekend consisted of playing Call of Cthulhu with former-WotCer Charles Ryan, now living in England but over on this side of the pond on business. GMing was Sacnoth, who through great effort found an adventure that we had not all played/read/GMed. And it was pretty good - in addition to Charles and myself, we had representatives from the current WotC Book, Games, and Web departments, so it was old home week.

The adventure used pre-generated characters who were tied into the adventure itself, but they were a scattered group of individuals, some with little or no mythos knowledge, who come together to face horrors from beyond the stars. Over the course of the adventure, many of use discovered that the world was not as we assumed it to be.

And I started to make a list of how one's character passed through in a typical Call of Cthulhu scenario, moving from innocence and ignorance to deadly knowledge. This passage, these stations of the tentacled cross, are pretty common in a lot of scenarios, and where it works, the game seems to work, and where it fails, the game seems to be less grounded. Here's the list I came up with.

Why Do I Care? One of the early challenges for a character is "why ame I here?" If I'm a country vicar who collects stamps, why should I suddenly be involved in a set of mysterious lights over in the old mill? Curiosity can only go so far. In the case of the adventure, my grounded, realistic astronomy professor was dragged in by the disappearance of a lion in the care of my zoologist daughter. Upon resolving that mystery, I was done, but by that time I was comfortable enough with the other players to continue the adventure, but the initial engagement was key.

Who ARE these people? A gathering of random individuals confronted with the strange is one of the challenges of Cthulhu. In the adventure we ran, the pre-gens have connections with each other (often hostile, which threatened group cohesion). In other adventures, it is a Gms challenge to bring people together and keep them together. The "Tatters of the King" adventure I have been running has an odd group of player character (though I have seen odder), but keeping the med student, Texas antiquarian, German test-driver, former occultist, English fop and valet engaged and together has been a challenge.

How do I explain this? When confronted with the first mystery, coming up with a reasonable explanation is a challenge. As a player, I am steeped in cthuloid knowledge and know that I will be fighting eldritch horrors. But my character in the game is my rational scientist, and as such I cannot accept the nameless horrors and must look for other reasons. But there is an eventual point where you use the very language you have been denying and begin the slow slide into the abyss.

Why don't I just walk away/call the authorities? Another challenge point - if it is not your job to explore that sewer, why go down there? After the first brush with danger, why remain in (or worse yet, go back into) the old haunted house. Again, the player needs a good rational to keep him engaged.

Where can I get weapons? For those whose characters already have weapons this becomes: When can I start using weapons? At what point does my knowledge justify breaking and entering? Suddenly seeking out and carrying firepower? Using that firepower? Even if you don't know that the things you are fighting are supernatural, you seek out protection. Some characters (and players) hit this point surprisingly early.

The Monsters Are Real. This is where the psychotic break occurs, where deadly illumination dawns, and is often, though not always, connected with a sudden catastrophic SAN loss on the character's part. (in my case, my scientific professor launched into combat with an eldritch horror, bellowing the secret magic phrase that the crazy professor gave him). This is the graduation moment, when the character fully embrace the reality that the game presents, and from this point forward, you are willing to talk about Mi-Go and ghouls and other monsters. In this passage you are set apart from the safe, real world (noted by the sudden loss of SAN).

And often that's then end of the story, both in canned adventures and in mythos stories. Often because (with small adventures), we're usually on top of the final confrontation and the TPK (total party kill), but even after that the nature of the game changes - you are now part of the new world.

In the same way, all these steps are already taken into account in the "back-story" of Dungeons & Dragons. Everything I've talked about above has already happened before you start your first adventure. You already have your job (your character class) that is built upon the assumption that you fight monsters, are carrying weapons, have a reason for the others to be here (you are all adventurers) and set to some degree apart from the rest of your people.

This may be one more interesting difference between the more popular D&D and the niched-but-praised nature of CoC.

More later,

Friday, April 27, 2007

Article of Faith

I think the thing that really cheesed me off about the Mike Daisey situation was the fact that, while committing vandalism on his work, the assailant was justifying his behavior by being a Christian. I've gotten real tired of people using faith (in particular, MY faith) as cover for their moral cowardice. Hey you kids, quit hiding behind my cross!

MY cross? Maybe not. I caught this on Blog-Lebo, which bounced me over to the Post-Gazette, which made me kinda sad.

By a vote of 195-4, Beverly Heights Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon has decided to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) with the intention of joining a more theologically conservative Presbyterian body.

BHUP is the church I was confirmed in. I am Christian, subgroup Protestant, subgroup Presbyterian, subgroup United Presbyterian, subgroup Beverly Heights United Presbyterian Church, recently deceased. The church itself was originally in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, but moved south soon after the tunnels were punched through Mt. Washington. I grew up in this church, attended Boy Scouts in its basement, played in the bell choir (wonder if that is still around), and pretty much had Presbyterianism installed as my base moral operating system.

The church I remember was comfortable and welcoming. It was apostalic in nature, meaning it was about spreading the good word. There was a lot of sermons about making joyful noises and new wine, and the Book of Acts was a regular feature in Reverend Dosch's sermons. Reverend Dosch typlified a minister to me - a gentle, warm man who could roll into a hellfire sermon when the occaision demanded it. His wife handled the Sunday School and our confirmation classes, and I think it was from her that I got my interest in reading the Bible, and being able to treat it as simultaneously as a spiritual guide, historic artifact, and creative work.

But I went off to college, and despite a few feeble attempts to keep up with organized religion(as opposed to faith), I drifted away. Reverends Dosch and Barrett moved on to other churches. I remember there was some sex scandal long after they left, in the late 80s. The last time I was in the building was for my sister's wedding, which was well over a dozen years ago.[[LATER EDIT: Try 17 years - I found the pictures in a photo book from 1990]]

And in the time since then, the Church veered to the right, heavily. The new ministers and the hard-core faithful viewed the United Presbyterian area as not apostalic, but apostate, corrupted by the very world they sought to reach out to. Too soft on issues of homosexuality, women, and the existence of other faiths. The church leaders haven't paid their dues to the presbytery for seven years, and currently have stiffed them for 72 large. A solid chunk of the congregation lit out a few years back, taking elders and a pastor with them. to join up with South Minster Prebyterian down the road. At the time of the vote, the church was down to 267 members. As a point of comparison, my Boy Scout troop was half that size.

And the breaking point, if I'm reading this correctly, comes from an announcement from the General Assembly that "for us the assurance of salvation is found only in confessing Christ and trusting him alone". The words that have flung them into righteous fury is "For us", which implies that there are other methods of salvation. The current church is very much about absolutes - the phrase "your mileage may vary" is anathema to them. So they're leaving, going evangelical, and want the UP, who they've been yelling at for years, to turn over the church building itself to them. Because, of course, you will know us as Christians because we duck our obligations.

Now the thing of it is, I went back a few years ago and dug up the Presbyterian Book of Confessions and Book of Order, which are pretty much the church's dogma. I found that what was there pretty much jived with my own moral outlook. Open, positive, looking at root causes, and ecumenical in an environment that is becoming increasingly restrictive. I'm a bit more to the left than the church doctrine, but not as much as I thought I would be, and I support a lot of their historical and current initiatives. And my faith, the faith given me by BHUP and Reverend Dosch, has given me the guidance I needed, the encouragement to help others, and the aspiration to be better than I am.

And I am sorry to see my church go away, replaced with an identity that seems to be hostile to what it once stood for. But on the other hand, my faith is not a building, or a minister, or even one particular shade or sect of a larger construct. My faith is what gets me through the day, wonder at the world, and treat others as I would myself choose to be treated.

And if it sounds like I am endorsing faith and religion? Well, I'm just saying that it's worked for me, though your mileage may vary.

More later,

Thursday, April 26, 2007

DOW Breaks 13000!

And it took less than 6 months to gain a thousand points. Why aren't people happier about this?

Maybe it's the fact that the front page, above the fold news story on the front page of the Seattle Times is that gas has been going up steadily for the past few weeks, and now looks like it will cross the four-dollar a gallon line sometime this summer. And mind you, this hasn't been a timid escalation, a frog-in-boiling-water situation. This has been a broad-shoulders striding into higher price ranges, wading ashore like a gulf hurricane, tossing SUVs in its path.

And the reason given for this latest round of escalation? Troubles with Iraq, Iran, Venezuala, Russia, or any of the other oil-producing countries we've been picking on? Sudden weather changes creating more cold (demand on heating oil) or more warmth (encouraging driving) than usual? The article I read put it down to stressed refinery infrastructure and a potential strike by Belgian refinery workers.

Look at the first one hard. The oil companies have been making money hand over fist, and haven't been using any of it for repairs and upgrades? Yeah, right.

And the second concept that was floated - Belgian Refinery Labor. I think they're just using MadLibs for their press releases nowadays.

I remember when gas first nudged tentatively past a buck a gallon, and America was shocked, simply shocked, and demanded action. These days, it gets a mention about two weeks after it has sailed by the three-buck milestone and a shrug of "What are you going to do?". And these strange, strange answers.

But maybe one is tied to the other, cause higher gas prices are good for SOME Americans - those who own large chunks of Exxon stock. The rest of us, not so much.

More later,

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


So I've become a fan of Mike Daisey and have reviewed a lot of his monologues in this space. So I was surprised to find out that this past weekend he suffered a walkout by his audience and had his work vandalized.

What happened next is recorded here (complete with tape). The short form is that a self-identified Christian group took offense to Mike's use of profanity, got up and walked out. None of that is really out of line - in fact, I support it - I've been trapped in enough bad productions where the herd mentality kept me in my seat more than the action on the stage. Where it gets worrisome is that one of the adults walked up to Mike's table, picked up his glass of water, and poured it over his only copy of his notes.

OK, we've just crossed a line, here. I recognize your right to beat feet (though I'd quibble with your cause), but dousing the speaker's work? What kind of thuggishness are we talking about here?

And Mike, to his credit, pulls through it with openness and kindness. Me, I'd be coming across the desk and throwing elbows, but Mike kept looking for answers, which the vandal and the departees did not want to provide.

What Happened Next gets even more interesting, and is here. Mike tracks down the (loudly) self-identified Christian Group and finds that, once the press started asking questions, they morphed into a High School outing from Norco, California. He tracks down the individual who trashed his script, and he and Mike have a talk.

And what strikes me in his discussion is the cascade of excuses offered up throughout the process. Of why this lummox (I am not as kind as Mr. Daisey) felt he was justified to trash Daisey's manuscript:
* I am a Christian, so I was justified.
* There were children present, so I was justified.
* I didn't get the memo there was bad language, so I was justified.
* It was a safety issue, so I was justified.
* It was a security issue, so I was justified.
* You are a libr'ul, so I was justified.
* I was scared, so I was justified.
* I have anger issues, so I was justified.

Each one offered up and each one patiently knocked down by Daisey. And in the end the assailant mans up and apologizes. And Mike forgives him, because that is the worst punishment he could up with - the guy is going to have to deal with the fact that Mike Daisey, this profane liberal who incurred his wrath, acted more Christian than he.

Well, that's second-worst punishment. Because Mike is a monologist and he monologues his life. His assailant entered into that narative when he decided to annoint Mike's manuscript, and now is trapped there, as all of us are trapped in the memories of those we have sinned against. Forgiven, but not forgotten. Yeah, we're going to be hearing this tale as we move forward, and it will remain a self-inflicted wound for the guy who decided to vent his anger against the artist.

Mike Daisey will be talking about it. And, you know, he'd be justified.

More later,

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Play: Guns of August

Gem of the Ocean by August Wilson, Directed by Phylicia Rashad, Seattle Repertory Theatre, through 6 May. 2007.

I've pretty much said what I need to say about August Wilson's works here. Gem of the Ocean, set in 1908 at the start of Wilson's Pittsburgh cycle (though written in 2003) pretty much recapitulates the strengths and weaknesses of his other work. It is all here, laid out like a Sunday Dinner: there is the choice between doing good versus doing right, man's law versus the best interests of the community, hopes offered and then dashed, long speeches of fluid language, and the sudden eruption of violence. And there is something more here in Gem that is less apparent in the other plays - a stronger presence of magaic.

Here's the short-form on the plot: Aunt Ester is a "washer of souls", revered by the black community as a wise woman, mystic, and holy woman (her house at 1839 Wylie Avenue becomes the bone of contention seventy years later in Radio Golf). Citizen Barlow (Kahli Kain), newly arrived from the south, needs to be forgiven for his sins. Ester and her extended family provides him the path to forgiveness, but when things look like a happy ending, sudden violence intrudes and the final resolution is much darker but no less hoperful.

As I said before, Wilson could use an editor, preferably a heartless one with a steely eye that could cut away all the excessive but beautiful words. Michele Shay as Aunt Ester burbles like water through his prose, a continual flow of one-sided conversation that surrounds the viewer and threatens to overwhelm. The entire cast was strong, working with strong material, but there was so much of it, and so much of it was declamation, not conversation.

And then early in the second act, when Barlow goes through the ceremony for to have his soul washed, visiting the ancestors in the City of Bones, the play gathers itself up and enters another dimension, a magical one, Terra Incognito compared to Wilson's other work, yet underlying it all. And while the play grounds itself later in now-familiar territory, it is this section that brings it to life, and sets it apart from its brethren.

The house was packed for the performance, with a lot of newcomers to the theater (judging from the number who failed to turn off their cell phones). I wonder if the high attendance is in part is due to the attention from August Wilson's passing last year, and the idea that now that his work is self-contained and completed, it becomes more accessible (and that the author is not around to contend with your conclusions). Does a man become less confrontational once he is entombed? Or does his voice grow after his passing and his entrance into the City of Bones, strengthened by allies who came before?

A final note on the Rep's season. which closes with this play. Last year I thought was a transitional season between artistic directors, but this year must be laid at the feet of David Esbjornson. This was a superior year of theater for the Rep, with the exception of the bone-rattling self-indulgent Thom Pain. There were performances that left me cold (Blue Door) and those that engaged me deeply (Fire on the Mountain, My Name is Rachel Corrie), and some that were just OK, but in general it was probably the best season of the last few years, and I look forward to what's coming up.

More later,

Saturday, April 21, 2007

I Hear Yah

So I've had precious little personal discretionary time for the past few days, between both social and business commitments. So enjoy this meme instead. I thought I might have broken the test, but I was born in Pittsburgh but spent a good chunk of time North of Chicago.

What American accent do you have?
Created by Xavier on

Midland. The Midland (please don't confuse with "Midwest") itself is the neutral zone between the North and South. But just because you have a Midland accent doesn't mean you're from there. Since it is considered a neutral, default, "non-regional" accent you could easily be from someplace without its own accent, like Florida, or a big city in the South like Dallas, Houston, or Atlanta.

Northern. Whether you have the world famous Inland North accent of the Great Lakes area, or the radio-friendly sound of upstate NY and western New England, your accent is what used to set the standard for American English pronunciation (not much anymore now that the Inland North sounds like it does).

Take this quiz now - it's easy!
We're going to start with "cot" and "caught." When you say those words do they sound the same or different?

More later,

Friday, April 20, 2007

Commencement Address

So being out of town for the heart of this past week, I got the news in bits and pieces - headlines on the papers, soundbites on the passing televisions, and of course the Internet. A troubled young man with two handguns killed 32 people and wounded a similar number at Virginia Tech. And everyone agrees that it is a horrible, horrible thing.

And the usual windbags have come forward to lambast the usual suspects: Computer Games (Jack Thompson), Gheys (Westboro Knuckledragger Church), Liberals (Rush - his logic is that the kids were rich, the shooter must hate the rich, liberals hate the rich, ergo the shooter was liberal). Yet through it all we didn't see a whole lot of information about how the kid got the guns (I had to do a bit of digging to find out it was a Walther 22 and a Glock 9)

Indeed, we've seen the exact opposite - reassurances from the government that despite this terrible, terrible thing, you can rest assured we be doing EXACTLY NOTHING to prevent it from happening again. In fact, the embedded right-wing insists that this was the fault of the victims, since this would never have happened if the students were all packing heat.

And so this is one more teaching moment for our young people, so pay attention, kids. We grown-ups? We don't like you. Its hard to imagine, but it is true. You get to a point where you suddenly wake up and, despite what the warm, white voices on the radio say, discover that when push comes to shove, we don't like you at all. When kids are shot in Ohio, when kids are shot in Colorado, when young people are tear-gassed in their homes on Cap Hill, when an American city drowns. In fact, not only do we not like you, we're going to make sure it will happen again.

We've looked at you, and then looked at the shooter, who killed two people, sent out a press release, then killed 30 more, then killed himself. And we decided to side with the crazy guy with the guns. Cause you know guns don't kill people, alienated playwrights kill people.

Just so you know, we're going to make the comforting noises because we have to, but anything that might keep this from happening again? Forget about it.

Welcome to the future, kids. Watch your ass.

More later,

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Hotel California

So I've spent the past couple days in LA working on casting voice roles for an upcoming project. Originally, I was just to go down there for a single day, but a couple of the actors were not available on that day, so I went down the day before and stayed overnight.

I stayed at The Standard, on Sunset Blvd, near where we were doing the recordings. Now I am so used to the steam-rollered Hyattification of our hotels that I was unprepared for the utter strangeness of a place that occupies its own sense of time and place.

The Standard is in the stretch of Sunset between the Comedy Store and the Body Shop, high enough on the hillside to overlook the city to the south. The building is a undulating concrete structure that looks like was frozen in mid-earthquake, its walls horizontal standing waves of pale blue with white trim. The rooms lacked the traditionally unused cabinets and generic art, instead boasting bare white walls save for a change between matte white and gloss white. A cactus on the desk. A silver bean bag chair. The bed low to the ground without sides, supported from below in a fashion that looks like it hovers there. It looks like a student art project gone horribly upscale.

The lobby is equally off-kilter. A silent art film plays against an empty corridor (El Gringo (2003)). Fishbowl chairs hang from the ceiling and plush coconuts (or oversize fabric plums) litter the waiting area. And behind the reception desk, a young woman is sleeping.

No, I don't mean some xombi clerk, dead on her feet, like at a Sheraton. There is a glass box with a neat, thin, colorful mattress, and a young brunette woman, tank top and bikini briefs, sleeping, or turning over, or staring at the people checking in. Sort of like an aquarium in some high-class hotel, but a bit more unnerving.

And I'll admit, after I got over the "my god, I'm, not in Kansas" feeling, it all pretty much worked. I still judged the place on the amenities - the mattress (firm), the restaurant (sushi was refrigerated, but the lasagna was top-notch), the water pressure (good) and the soundproofing (good on the window-wall overlooking the pool, less-good between the rooms. But in a world of increasing sameness, something this offbase was worth noting.

Oh yeah, one more weirdness. When I got in, the room had a flatscreen. I thumbed it on and ran through the channels. TMC was just starting out "Sunset Blvd.", which I was watching on Sunset Blvd. I shook my head, turned off the tube, and went back to my scripts, weirded out by that more than the girl in the glass box.

More later,

Saturday, April 14, 2007

No Quarter (Part IX)

So normally, I wait until I can handle the coins in question before I pass judgement, but the Washington Quarter just released and, to be honest, this year has such howlers that if I wait, I will have to put up with everyone else beating me to the punch. So without further huggamugga, the class of 2007

ZARDOZ! Across the Big Sky Country comes the huge floating cow skull, which picks up wild young cowboys like Sean Connery and spirits them away to Billings, a land of immortals who long to die (because they are trapped in, you know, Billings). Actually, I find this to be a wonderfully goofy but perfectly acceptable coin, since it dominated by the dead cow skull. What more can you say? ZARCOWZ!

Rating = B

Ah, Fishzilla. During the run-up to this, I admit I preferred the orca, but, given the others surrounding this coin, the Washington State Quarter shows a reserve and a dignity that is missing elsewhere (ZARDOZ!). A state of nature with a recognizable mountain and a subtext that says "why yes, the fish ARE that big out here". Most importantly, the use of white space in the lower right quadrant actually gives it a nice feel, a pocket in the metal which fits the thumb. Not my first choice, but a really nice coin.

Rating = A


And then things go downhill. Wow. So this is where all the people who designed the bad quarters back east ended up. A bird, a saying (in Latin), and the shape of the state. The shape of the state is always a bad sign, particularly since it seems to be wedged in here, as if the falcon was the size of the old Soviet Union and had dragged the state off to feed its provinces. And why a peregrine? Yes, it was endangered, but you find them in Chicago these days. All in all, something that was lashed together the night before the deadline, with the thinking "They'll never accept this - they'll come back and give us more time".

Rating = D

Move over, Ohio. One side, Texas, there is a new KING of Bad Coins. Yep, this is it, possibly the worst coin design in the collection (though there are still five more to go). Sweet googling moogilly, I was making fun of Idaho's giant raptor, and Wyoming came up with:

A mudflap.

This belongs behind the rear tires of jacked up four by four that has never hauled anything larger than a plasma TV and slows down when it hits speed bumps. The idea of putting it on the coin is just ludicrous.

What, Yosemite Sam saying "Back Off" wasn't available?

Rating = E

Sweet lord, I cannot talk about this with a straight face. I mean, did no one in this state seem to pay attention to the, um, phallic nature of the golden spike? That, plus the busy clutter at the bottom of the coin makes it look even more pornographic. This was a case where white space would have worked - just do the engines. Instead, you have something you might see at a smoker in college where someone accidentally mixed in a gay porn reel.

I mean, how is it that supposedly sinful Nevada gets away with one of the prettiest coins, while Utah, of all the states, creates one that needs to be delivered in brown paper bags?

Rating = D (Despite all that, still not as bad as Wyoming. In fact, if Wyoming had only done the Silver Cheesecake Mudflap Girl, it would have been an improvement).

That's it for this year - see you in 2008.

More later,

Thursday, April 12, 2007

No Quarter (Part VIII)

So about a year ago, this space went on at length and ad nauseum about the collectible fifty-state quarters. You can find the ramblings here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Now, Washington State officially rolled out its 2007 Quarter (Fishzilla) yesterday, so its a good time to look at the latest in twenty-five cee technology. And I figure the mental scars may have healed since last time.

So as a reminder here are the rules that you may have a lame quarter:
If you have to remind people what your state looks like, you may have a lame quarter.
If you use a variety of different-sized objects, you may have a lame quarter.
If one of those objects is produce, you may have a lame quarter,
If you have to label the illustration, you may have a lame quarter.
If, after you label the illustration, people still think it is something else, you DEFINITELY have a lame quarter.

The rating system will be, from top to bottom
Cool = A
Not Bad = B
Kinda Lame = C
Very Lame = D

Alright, turn over your papers and begin.

So the first thing you think of when you think of Nevada is the slot machines. I mean the strippers. I mean all-you-eat buffet. OK, OK, Nevada has a problem. You can't even show the Vegas skyline because the buildings there get blown up more often than downtown Baghdad. So this is a surprising little coin in that it is depicts a natural scene of wild horses, with a lot of elements that actually work together to create a visually pleasing design that is not too muddled and has a nice finished feel to it.

The only downside I can point out is that subject could apply to most of the states of the union. But it really looks like they got a talented artist to put this together.

Rating - A - Cool

Ah, Nebraska! Raise you mighty geological digit to the sky, so as to declare to the world "Take your huddled masses over the border to Kansas, and don't let the door hit you on the butte". Seriously, is this like the highest elevation in that state? Is that why it's important?

Actually, for all the snarkiness, it doesn't break any of lameness rules, which really should give it a passing mark.

Rating - B - Not Bad. Really a B-, but that's splitting hairs.


Yeah, remember the movie "Deep Impact" at the end where everyone is running up the hillside as the Atlantic Ocean came in with a really big wave? The ultimate surf's up? OK, that's what this coin made me think of. I mean, if any state is going to claim the Rockies, Colorado gets the nod, but I just don't know what this particular thrust of rock is and why it is superior to the bajillion other thrusts of rock that crinkle the western end of this state. Still, its a lot better than showing the state shape. I was really expecting a square coin.

Rating = B - Not Bad

North Dakota

OK, Kansas, I'll SEE your buffalo and RAISE you a buffalo.. And I'll toss in a mesa and the sunburst thingie from Nevada coin. And, like the Nevada coin, it does a good job creating a scene that evokes a feeling for the state above the State Flower/Bird/Motto mode we've seen elsewhere. In addition, the smoothness of the buffalo's flanks feels good with the rougher raised texture of its mane. Any other animal, and it would have felt too busy - the "white space" created by the bison itself makes it an attractive coin.

Rating = A - Cool

South Dakota

You'd think I'd gone soft, with all of these B and A ratings, but to be honest, almost all the class of 2006 avoided the horrid mistakes and disasters of the crew back east. They actually got beyond the point of making the coin a dumping ground of civic objects and instead using it to evoke a mood.

And then we have South Dakota. OK, they use Mt. Rushmore - if you're going for a tourist attraction, what else is there in SoDak? But Rushmore is a LONG attraction on a ROUND coin, so they have a lot of empty space above it?

What to put into it? How about Rodan, from the old Godzilla movies? Yes, here we see the great winged creature, his strings airbrushed out, hovering above the mountainside, just about to swoop down and, flapping his wings, generating gusts that will take out all the tourist mobile homes on the road below. The Godzilla shows up and they wrestle and someone breaks off Lincoln's nose.

Well, the rest of the year wasn't that bad, at least.

Rating - C - Kinda Lame

Next time, we go from the sublime to the ridiculous, with Fishzilla on the Washington State Quarter being the high point.

More later,

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut has passed on at age 84.

My favorite books of his were Player Piano and Cat's Cradle.

More later,

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Things I've discovered.

I've found a curling game on the net. Well, its not really curling, since you get bonus points for running over power-ups and knocking opponent's stones into the icy waters and you get to explode a stone every so often, but its a start.

I've also found this extreme piece of rudeness from Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. You have five minutes to kill yourself at the office, using staplers, papercutters, shredders, hostile co-workers, and (my personal favorite) dressing up like a pinata. From the same people who closed down Boston with a lite-brite. May or may not be safe for work depending on your place of business.

I've also been informed that "Britney Spears" is an anagram of "Presbyterian". The just makes my head hurt. I take it as proof that the Good Lord Almighty has a really whack sense of humor.

Oh, and the classic Dylan song, "All Along the Watchtower"? If you reverse the lyrics, it ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE.

Two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
While all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view.

Whoa. More later,

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Food Rebellion

So I haven't talked about cooking around the house since the Christmas Party, and for good reason. The Lovely Bride is a tax preparer, an enrolled agent who is the manager of an office for a Large Tax Corporation (LTC). As a result, the period between January and April is a bit sticky as far as cooking. Making matters worse has been my own sudden upswing of activity at work as my company accelerates on Guild Wars: Eye of the North.

Not that we aren't cooking - we're just doing safe traditional recipes - pastas, stews, the occasional spinach pie. But just as often its a case where I'm reaching for the ramen noodles for a quick late bite, or the Lovely Bride comes home late and consumes the lunch that she packed and didn't have time to eat. We get out to eat at restaurants, but we haven't quite caught up to our anniversary dinner yet.

Anyway, there is a breaking point, and the Lovely Bride hit it last week, with the approach of Easter, which in her family, is a cooking holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas.

My first warning was last Tuesday, when I came home and found that she had whipped up some swedish meatballs, a wonderful family recipe that, surprisingly, is in the recipes section of the Tales of the Inn of the Last Home Dragonlance book. (She wrote the cookbook section, and during the test section I ended up eating a lot of spiced potatoes). The meatballs were great, served on fettuccine, and I spent most of Wednesday thinking of them as leftovers, to find out that she had found time to deconstruct two dungeoness crabs and that my crab cakes were firming up in the fridge.

Thursday and Friday I was elsewhere for dinner, but Saturday I get home from the office (yeah, I'm working weekends right now) and she brightly turned to me and said "Good, you're home. I need help stuffing the kielbasa". This is not a sexual innuendo, but rather another family recipe that eventually found its way into the Dragonlance cookbook, and the two of us made pork sausage (yahknow, its impossible to talk about it without going into a 'bevis and butthead' moment - fine, go with it) with an electric sausage stuffer.

This morning, we had kielbasa and pancakes and strawberries for breakfast. A walk down Soos Creek in the middle of the day, and tonight, we're looking forward to a lobster gerwurtz with ginger, served on a bed of spinach.

Then she has to go hull-down for the last crunch, and we go back to leftovers and convenience food for a while.

More later,

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Monday, April 02, 2007

Let Me Deliver the Punchline

A lot of people are pointing out that candidate McCain stated that it's safe to walk through Baghdad, then proved it by walking through Baghdad. Wearing a bullet-proof vest. With a hundred armed soldiers and five choppers backing him up.

Of course, McCain had just gotten Verizon, and thought those other guys were his Network.

I was just waiting for some member of Al-Quaeda to come up to him and ask him about his reception, because outside the Green Zone, I'm telling you, it's a crapshoot.

Just wanted to get that joke in before it shows up on Leno and Letterman tonight.

More later,

Curse of Cthulhu

So, now that this whole thing about the Attorney General lying about kicking out prosecutors who were doing their jobs and replacing them with political hack cronies has died down, we can stop talking about Cthulhu and get back to . . .

What’s that?

It’s STILL going on?

Hell’s Belles, let’s talk a bit more about Cthulhu.

The big thing to keep in mind about all the Cthulhian lore is simply this: Nobody makes any money off this stuff.

I mean, lets move through the generations. Generation 0 unfortunately doesn’t count, since they got roped into the mythos after publication, and often after their own demise. Of the lot, Bierce did pretty good, though he is remembered for Pancho Villa and the Devil’s Dictionary. Chambers did better, I think, being the Tom Clancy of his age. Compared to his output, though, saying that he is best remembered for the King In Yellow is enough to unearth his coffin, strap it to the rotisserie and hit the spin cycle.

Lovecraft himself didn’t die broke, but he didn’t do great on the deal. During his life, he never got the cover of Weird Tales, and his last book was pitched to New York Publishers by a very young Julius Schwartz. Sorry, Julius (Superman) Schwartz. Smith went back to his poetry and lived in what even David Byrne would identify as a shotgun shack.

How about Generation 2? Derleth kept things going with a very small private publishing operation that struggled against the advancing darkness that claimed most of the Weird Tales writers (Hands, folks – anybody read any Seabury Quinn recently?). He’s remembered more in that role as preserver than for his own writings. But by his own admission, Arkham House struggled financially through the years, like a monastery in Ireland keeping the true faith together as the lights went out across Europe.

(And while I may rail about Derleth’s handing out team t-shirts to the various Mythos deities, he made those necessary steps forward to defining the mythos, including whose works were a part of it, though Arkham House. If HP was the primary founder of the horrific gospel, Derleth oversaw its Council of Nicea to decide what went into the dark testament).

Generation 3? Lumley and Lieber have their own legacies that are non-Cthulian in nature. Arkham was a summertime vacation. Generation 4’s Chaosium has struggled in the Arkham House tradition, and a lot of its new material is coming from other sources, such as Germany's Pegasus games. And Generation 5's Pagan Publishing surfaces and disappears from the mists regularly like some primeval beast (though they have the Delta Green d20 version coming out this month - Yay!).

Even comics, movies, and music have all hit this glass ceiling of mainstream acceptability, a particular hazard when you’re hawking Cthulhu plush dolls and “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Hastur” bumper stickers. I suppose that in part this will account of its continued use as a test bed for new creative works. Particularly now that we’ve hit the 70th anniversary of its creator’s death, and the copyright laws have backed off (Lot of Cthulhu at the Emerald City show. Lot of Frank Baum as well. Maybe the two will team up).

Yet, I don’t think we’re ever going to hit that sweet spot, that over-the-top moment where Cthulhu rises over the western ocean like Pokemon and turns into a national craze. Instead, I think it will enter our popular culture of the “things people know without really knowing”, that Sheldrake/Gaia level where everyone knows that Supes is Clark Kent and D&D uses a Dungeon Master and has levels and hit points. It is mired in its own hobby-dom, the realm of those that more interested in it as a subject than as a marketing plan.

And, all things considered, I’m OK with that.

More later,

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Slap Fight

So briefly I went to the Emerald City Comics Convention today, even though, according to the Seattle Weekly, I should have been barred from the doors, coming from the SF and F side of the brainbow. But I had a good time anyway.

The Weekly, in honor of the celebration of comics geekery has exhumed the conflict between local boy publishers Fantagraphics and venerable terrible SF Master Harlan Ellison. The dust-up is major to the players and interesting to those deeply invested to one side or the other, but boils down to a nasty court case over who's calling who a shmo.

And the Weekly comes down pretty much on the side of Gary Groth and Fantagraphics. Yeah, well they're local. I note that they neatly skim over the fact that in the 90s this august company dedicated to grown-up sequential storytelling survived primarily on the sales of its smut books (Its Eros line, which I hope is still selling OK, since I know of couple of the people who worked on the books). Similarly, the article doesn't complicate matters with Ellison's own quirks - supporting the ERA, but last year grabbing the ... hmm ... upper casements ... of an award-winning female SF Author.

But what cheesed me off was not the sandlot argument between two talented creatives, but rather by the assumption that if you follow science fiction, you cannot engage with comics. To which I can only say - Huh? I can go two ways on this statement - pointing out I and many others enjoy both, living in that middle zone where not all our petty cash is eaten up by one genre or the other.

At the same time, I can also look at modern fandom as being impossibly subdivided to the point that the individual genres are merely places to hang one's hat. At Emerald City alone, there were the various media fans, a sprinkling of anime and gaming, the ground-level enthusiasts, the long-underwear superhero readers, and the online comics folk (including some of the nice folk who work are mentioned on the sidebar here), each of which can be considered its own niche within the larger dorkworks of the hobby. Trust me, every person at that convention could look at one part of the room and say, "Well, that's not REALLY comics".

Ditto SF. Star Wars and Star Trek dragged the form fully into new media and did irreparable damage to it. The rising popularity of the genre both destroyed its clubby atmosphere and broke it into fragments, such that one may claim to be a hard-core SF fan without actually having to READ the stuff. And don't get me started on the rifts between SF and Fantasy, between Hard SF and New Wave, and between Traditional Western Fantasy and American Dark Fantasy. Suffice to say that demanding that the various fandoms pull together on this dustup will leave most of us milling in the center, unsure even of the players, much less the causes.

However, no armed guards greeted me at the door, no purity inspectors quizzed me on the Scarlet Witch's family tree, and many of the vendors I saw were equally versed in the broad spectrum of wondrous nerdity. Including many things that I would say "Well, that's not REALLY the genre." I loaded up on various parts of Lovecraftian stuff I had not previously gotten, and picked up the new Peanuts collection from the Fantagraphics booth. While far from harmonious, I would say that fandom in general has not picked up that they are supposed to be embroiled in a civil war.

And those who say otherwise, there is a Wookiee and a couple Imperial stormtroopers that would like to have a few words with you.

More later,