Monday, September 21, 2009

Dear Michael Schwartz,

Congratulations on being the chief assclown at this year's increasingly inaccurately named "Values Voters Summit." As you can imagine, that's something of a crowded field.

However, when you decided that looking at naked images of the adult female body could turn an 11 year old boy into a gay man, I think you left open a window into your own soul.

When an 11 year old boy unearths his father's Pr0n collection, his first thought isn't "Am I gay?" His first thoughts are more than likely to be "score!" or "wow, what big knockers" or, if he's more sophisticated, "those can't possibly be real."

Unless, of course, said 11-year-old boy was gay to start with. Got something else to tell us about yourself, Michael?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Like a Death in the Family

By the time word had filtered out last night, I was off the grid. Having to be at work around sunrise will do that to you. Therefore, I didn't learn of Ted Kennedy's passing until this morning.

This was a day that was pretty inevitably going to come once the news about his condition began to filter out last year.

Growing up, my parents were moderate right in their political views. In those days, they were Republicans, though they were known to cross party lines occasionally (my dad, for example, voted for Carter in 1976, mainly because of Watergate).

These days of course, the GOP is so crazy that my mom is a a fairly staunch centrist Democrat.

Like most Republicans of the day, my family, including myself, disliked Ted Kennedy. My political views didn't truly change until college, at which point I discovered the world wasn't lily white, that people from different backgrounds, races, and points of view made the world a more interesting place, and that the veiled (and not-so-veiled) classism, racism and sexism of the GOP was not something I could stand any more. In other words, I was a Republican, until I actually saw Republican ideals (an oxymoron in itself) in action during the Reagan years.

One of the political speeches I remember was Kennedy's speech in 1980 at the Democratic National Convention. I couldn't bring myself to support Carter (though I admire what he's done since leaving office), in fact, I supported John Anderson that year. But Ted Kennedy's speech in that convention was electric. Though it took a few years to percolate through, I think Ted spoke to me in a way that no politician has since.

Since that time, and particularly since 1984, when I reregistered as a Democrat for the express purpose of expressing my displeasure with the Reagan Administration (I voted for Mondale), I have come to admire the unique gifts of Ted Kennedy.

For the mess that his personal life was at times, politically, he had the rare gift of knowing exactly where he stood and what his core values were. Better still, he knew how to take those ideals, and work through the arcane procedures and roadblocks of the Senate to put those ideals in action. It's no surprise that Kennedy got so much done when you realize that he combined the unique combination of having unshakeable core values, combined with a willingness to negotiate to put those values into law.

In my mind, he may be the most effective Senator in the history of the Republic. Certainly, he was a political hero of mine. When he endorsed Barack Obama last year, I was at last comfortable with my vote for Barack in the Primary. I really think that endorsement, while it didn't give Barack Massachusetts, did put the stamp of legitimacy on Barack with a whole lot of Democrats, and immediately made him a candidate to be taken seriously.

To bring this full circle, I was saddened when I heard of his illness, was saddened at the mounting evidence in the last month that the end was near, and I haven't been the same since I read it at work this morning. Losing Ted Kennedy is like a death in the family for me.

Anyway, because this is the way I will always remember him, enjoy his 1980 DNC Speech below.

“For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die,” -Edward M Kennedy, 1932-2009.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Please kill me now.

My first foray into science fiction was at age 12, reading Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. In those days, it was still a trilogy.

I've always though that there were at least two SF classics that could never be made into a movie. One was Dune (and David Lynch and Dino De Laurentis proved me right), the other was Foundation. And now, Roland Emmerich is going to prove me right again.

For those who don't know Roland Emmerich, his name translates from the original German into Michael Bay. Every couple of years, he releases a turd in the punch bowl action flick with too damn much CGI, and with the stupidest plots and characters imaginable.

After directing such works of genius as Moon 44, and Universal Soldier (with Jean Claude Van Damme, who couldn't act his way out of a paperbag), and succeeding in turning Stargate into a dull work of sci-fi (and compared to the later TV series, it is dull), his first big success was with Independence Day. A film so bad that it had poor Jeff Goldblum taking down an enemy starship with a freaking Macbook, with Bill Pullman as a wholly unbelievable President, and Randy Quaid as the hero you really wanted to die from the moment he appeared on screen the first time.

It only got worse from there. The Patriot. A really god-awful Godzilla remake. producer of Eight Legged Freaks, The Day After Tomorrow, and 10,000 BC. One brain dead film after another, each stupider than the next.

And that next movie is apparently, you guessed it, Isaac Asimov's Foundation.

I'm not sure if Mr. Emmerich has ever read Foundation, but it's basically the anti-Independence Day. The only person we see actually die on screen happens in the first 75 pages of the novel. And that's a suicide. The novel, which is actually a collection of short stories written by Asimov in serial form, are all about plot, and story, and intrigue, and high-level science fiction with a political edge. In other words, it contains every element a Roland Emmerich film NEVER has, and the very things that Mr. Emmerich has never shown any inclination to take seriously in a film.

I'll say it right now. I'd have rather left Foundation as one of those novels that just never could be made into a movie, instead of leaving it to Roland Emmerich to prove it couldn't be made into a good movie.

(h/t Atrios).

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What If? Star Wars Style...

As you can see from some of the links to the left, I'm a gamer. Unabashedly so.

I've run role-playing games for 30 years now, starting with the old 3 Little Black Book boxed version of Traveller and the original boxed sets of D&D & First Edition AD&D.

At this point, I run two RPG systems. Star Wars Saga Edition and d20 Modern and many of its variant flavors.

I'll talk about d20 Modern another time, but now's the time to geek out over my reimagining of the Star Wars saga. The setting is the same, the background cast of characters are the same, but everything is just slightly off. It begins one hot summer day on Tatooine, in the dusty town of Mos Espa. The Old Republic still exists. Palpatine is still just a Senator from Naboo, and Qui-Gon Jinn, along with Padme Amidala are gambling their future, indeed their lives, on a 9 year old blond slave boy who has the ability to race pods.

The race unfolds through the first lap and a half much as it does in Episode I: The Phantom Menace. On the second lap, in the film, you may recall, Anakin takes a near miss from a slugthrower rifle fired by a Tusken Raider.

In this campaign, however, the Tusken Raider doesn't miss. His bullet easily pierces Anakin's skull, disabling him, and causing the podracer to spin out of control in a disastrous crash. The combination of the bullet wound and the blunt force trauma from the crash kills Anakin Skywalker instantly.

And suddenly, the main protagonists of the six films are gone. No Luke, no Leia, no Anakin, no Darth Vader.

Superficially, the galaxy is the same. There is still a crisis on Naboo. Darth Maul is on Tatooine, hunting down the Naboo fugitives. Darth Sidious/Senator Palpatine is engaged in political maneuvering behind the scenes to arrange the fall of the Chancellor, Finis Valorum. Two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn, the Naboo Queen (Padme Amidala), her retinue, R2D2, and a certain bumbling Gungan, having lost their bet, and their disabled ship, are now stuck on Tatooine...

And so begins the story of our heroes.

I'll post more of this as the story unfolds. Don't want to spoil it for my players, after all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

I Do Not Think That Battle Means What You Think It Means.

"If we're able to stop Obama on this, it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." -Senator Jim "Wholly Owned By Big Pharma" DeMint, R-Pfizer

Before discussing the politics of this in a moment, the GOP seems to be using Waterloo to pretend that they actually read something other than the Cliff's Notes version of the Bible (you know, the one that talks about punishing gays, women, poor people and minorities, but is glaringly silent on that whole compassion, love your brother, caring for the poor, the less fortunate thing). Truth is Senator DeMint didn't even read the Cliff's Notes version of the Napoleonic Wars.

Waterloo was not Napoleon's first defeat. It was his last.

The high water mark of Napoleon's Empire. had actually occurred 8 years earlier at Friedland, in present day Poland in the winter of 1806-07. After defeating the Prussian Army, Napoleon had his showdown with the Tsar, in a pair of battles. The first was a draw. The second, at Friedland, was a decisive French victory. As a result of Friedland, Napoleon was, for the moment the master of Europe. Russia negotiated a peace, and agreed to become part of France's Continental System. The Prussian and Austrian Empires were practically vassals of the French Empire. The Holy Roman Empire had been destroyed. Spain was an ally. Only England, with its powerful navy, but no real army to speak of, still stood against Napoleon.

However, from that point forward, it all started to go downhill. In Spain, in early 1808, a popular revolt, quickly began to degenerate into a bloody civil war. Napoleon, initially invited to aid Spain in the fight, quickly moved to turn its role as an ally in a Spanish Civil War into a war of conquest for Spain and Portugal. It failed. Napoleon won major engagements, but saw his army slowly ground down in a bloody six year guerrilla war. It was in Portugal and Spain that Wellington first rose to prominence. And it was in Spain that ultimately, Napoleon suffered his first major defeats.

In 1809, Austria revolted. Napoleon crushed the Austrian Army, and imposed an even harsher peace than the one imposed on the Austrians four years earlier (and cemented his relationship with Austria by marrying the Austrian Princess Maria Teresa). Even Austria's failed revolt showed that Napoleon's Empire was a house of cards, merely waiting for the first breeze to send the foundations tumbling..

Then in 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia. The Russian Army, outnumbered, slowly gave ground for months. They fought Napoleon to a bloody stalemate at Borodino, retreated again, eventually yielding Moscow to Napoleon.

But the Russians never gave up, and never ceased to harass Napoleon's supply lines, which now ran from Paris and Strasbourg to Moscow. The Russian Winter, which has consumed and destroyed more invading armies over the years than the Russian Army, set in. With no hope of resupply, the Russian Army still mostly intact, and his own army suffering from low morale and low supplies, Napoleon retreated from Moscow. The retreat was cruel. Harassed and attacked by Russian columns, the French Army perished in the snow. Where there had been an army of close to a million men a bare 6 months before, only 50,000 French troops escaped Russia alive.

In 1813, with Russia pouring into Poland and Austria, Napoleon quickly scraped together another army, by calling up the draft classes of 1814 & 1815, and quickly moved it into Germany. After a short, violent Spring Campaign ended in stalemate, first Prussia, then Austria revolted. By Autumn of 1813, Napoleon's new army was surrounded, and virtually destroyed at what became known as the Battle of Nations, in Leipzig, Germany.

Napoleon again retreated to France, again attempting to scrape together what was increasingly becoming an army of children and old men, but the pressure was too much. Facing a combined British-Spanish invasion in the south, and a Russian-Austria-Prussian steamroller in the north and east, Napoleon's army was no match for the armies arrayed against it. In the Spring of 1814, after several unsuccessful battles in France, Napoleon abdicated his throne at Fontainebleu, West of Paris.

For a year, Napoleon was in exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba. During that time, his wife and son (who abdicated his throne shortly after his father) passed into Austrian hands. He would never see either of them again. The Bourbon Monarchy was restored into the throne, under the ineffectual leadership of Louis XVIII, of whom Talleyrand once said that they remembered everything about the Revolution, and learned nothing.

Slowly, word came to Napoleon that the people, and the French Army would not be unhappy if he were to return to the throne. Finally, in the Spring of 1815, Napoleon slipped out of Elba on a friendly ship with a handful of the guards that had been given to him in Elba.

Upon arriving in France, after a few tense confrontations, the Army flocked to Napoleon, and the people followed. Louis XVIII and his court quietly slipped out of France into temporary exile, and Napoleon's second reign, which became known as the "Hundred Days" began.

Knowing that the other European powers would not stand idly by with him on the throne, Napoleon's challenges were many. He had to pacify a France that was heartily sick of war, quickly raise an army to face an inevitable invasion, and ideally do it all quickly enough that he could inflict major defeats on his nearest neighbors (Prussia, Austria, and the English) before they could unite with the Russians on the battlefield, and turn the contest in a war of numbers that Napoleon would lose.

Napoleon moved fast, but his enemies, particularly Prussia and England, would move just as fast. Scraping together all the troops he could spare, Napoleon threw caution to the wind, driving his army into the Belgian countryside, intent on defeating the Prussian and Anglo-Dutch Armies there before they could unite.

He was very nearly successful. His first drive, under Marshal Ney, blunted Blucher's advance at Quatre Bras (albeit at heavy loss), giving Napoleon the chance to destroy the Anglo-Dutch Army, under the Duke of Wellington, ideally before the Prussians could link up.

The Battle of Waterloo got a late start due to an untimely early morning rain, which threatened to turn the battlefield into a quagmire. The rain halted, and Napoleon drove on Wellington's Army. It was a nip and tuck battle. The British prepared positions would hold, but even Wellington described the battle as evenly fought. Then, late in the afternoon, like a sea of field gray clad ants, the Prussian Army began to gather on the surrounding hills to the southwest of Napoleon's Army.

Realizing he was in real danger of being outflanked and crushed between two armies (Wellington's, and the Prussian Army under Blucher) that were each as strong as his own, Napoleon gambled, sending in his last reserves, the Imperial Guard. The Guard's attack on Wellington's Army failed, and the unit broke under the pressure. Within a matter of half an hour, Napoleon's Army had disintegrated.

Napoleon retreated from the battlefield, and several days later would again go into exile, from which he would never return.

History lesson aside, the problem with Waterloo as an analogy is that it means nothing. Waterloo was not Napoleon's doom (that had been cemented several years before), and it certainly wasn't his first setback.

Health care won't be Obama's doom. The dirty little secret being ignored by the media, and blatantly ignored by the useless tits on a bull Blue Dog Democrats, is this. Obama has the votes to pass a health care bill. He has them right now.

The only real issue at debate here is whether Big Pharma or Obama will write the bill. The Republicans are effectively irrelevant in this debate. The success or failure of this will depend on whether Obama can persuade the corporate shill wing of the party (cough. cough. Ben Nelson. cough. cough. Max Baucus) to support a bill that's actually effective, or whether this turns into another giveaway to Merck, Pfizer, Kaiser Permanente, et al.

Ultimately, Obama's first term will be decided the same way all presidencies are. By the state of the economy in 2012. If it's improved over 2008, he will win reelection easily. If it isn't, he risks losing reelection (although given the clowns the GOP seems likely to put up as candidates doesn't make this a lock).

And frankly, Jim Demint, much like the Austrian Army, is irrelevant to the key battle. And that you can take to the bank.

Monday, July 20, 2009

40 Years Ago Today...

OMD-Apollo XI, from the Sugar Tax album.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th.

OK, I admittedly just got this in under the wire.

Happy American Independence Day, to you and yours.

We dined on homemade spaghetti and meatballs, and played some d20 Modern, giving the fireworks a miss.

I hope yours was equally successful.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Sims 3

One thing that didn't get added to the list of things eating my time yesterday is that I took the plunge and picked up the Sims 3 when it was released in early June.

It's a huge step above the Sims 2 (though I miss some of the goodies in the expansions).

Also, it led to somebody creating this, which is probably the best of storytelling I've seen with a version of the game.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's June, Guess it's time for an Update

I've been spending a lot of time with the following this month:

Running games of D20 Modern, or more specifically, Thrilling Tales, the 1920's and 1930's era pulp add-on for D20 Modern.

Running Star Wars Saga Edition, specifically the Dawn of Defiance Campaign. Easily the best RPG system I've ever played or run.

Playing Battlestar Galactica, the Board Game. Highly recommended.

Playing Pandemic. Also highly recommended.

I've also gone to a couple of movies, but nothing that sticks in my mind.

I miss BSG. Fortunately, True Blood is back, and looks better than ever.

What have you been doing?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Killing Time

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Of Bimbos, Nipple Slips, and US Americans

Like every other asshole in America, I have an opinion on Carrie Prejean, and hapless Katie Rees, and it's an ugly one.

Frankly, I had no problem with Carrie Prejean's answer to Perez Hilton's question. She's entitled to her opinion, just like any other religious right Neanderthal. She's also entitled to lose the contest if the judges don't like her answer.

I have no problem with her nude shots (and judging by TMZ, there ARE nude shots). It's the 21st Century. Just about everybody's doing it, including people we'd probably prefer to never see naked. It does make her a bit of a hypocrite, if I remember my summer before high school reading of the bible (a reading which did more than anything to help me realize that the various sects of Christianity were nucking futs to base an organized religion on it), but ultimately that's between her and her invisible sky being.

The line of departure was when she decided to go Full Metal Anita Bryant (minus the talent, plus the silicone funbags) and hold her self up as the latest spokesmodel of hate.

Consider, by comparison, poor hapless Miss Nevada, Katie Rees. Yes, her photos are racier, by a good factor or two. But unlike Miss Prejean's actions, Katie Rees's photographs don't actually hurt anybody. Her actions will not prevent a loving, committed gay or lesbian couple from seeing their significant other in a hospital, or create a situation where the family takes their daughter's or son's money, leaving their long-term lover high and dry in a nasty probate dispute. Miss Prejean did that.

Yet Miss Prejean, silicone funbags and lousy work habits (has she attended one contractual event in her role as Miss California?) gets to keep her job, Miss Rees is out of luck.

Let's not pretend that beauty pageants are any great thing. As a heterosexual male, I like looking at scantily clad beautiful women as much as anybody. Beauty pageants are nothing but soft core porn for people with nothing but basic cable (minus the topless shots; those, apparently come two weeks after the contest, if this year is any guide). The talent competitions are laughable, and the pretense that a 19 year old girl/woman, chosen almost exclusively on her looks in as little clothing as one can show on TV without bringing down the wrath of the FCC, can offer up anything in the way of deep thinking about world peace, civil rights, the economy or anything else is a farce.

If anything good comes out of this at all, it's that we just keep getting closer to the day when these dog and pony bikini shows wink out of existence. It's a day I look forward to, frankly.