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October 17th, 2013
11:11 am


I was going to write about lunch, but I didn't
I don't know that I've got a full historicized how-do-ye-do that explains American fascism. Is it enough to know that Lindbergh and Ford liked Hitler? That we had our own brownshirts in the days before World War II? That we herded Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during the war?

Is it enough to know that we defended slavery and exterminated Indians and let the Klan run the South for a long time?

"Racism backed by political power" is an adequate working definition of fascism. There's usually a more deliberately nationalistic element to it as well -- but nationalism and racism are frequently different facets of the same object. Both of them define a group's identity by drawing thick lines separating Us from Them. Hence one of my deep problems with American exceptionalism; it claims that there's an Us which is inherently different from (and better than) a bunch of Thems. Life doesn't actually work like that.

Tangent there, I suppose. My thoughts on this are still in fragments. But I want to at least get more of those fragments on display.

My mind wants to connect American fascism to the nutjob Republicans who tried holding the government hostage. My mind is also a fervent left-wing partisan, so we have to tread lightly. We have to consider information, not just feelings. And yet that right there is one of the facets -- fascism is a feeling. It's impervious to facts. Many people on the nutjob right are motivated by their feelings, not by facts. Real facts, ones you can prove and validate outside the echo chamber of Fox News, ones that can make you change your mind.

And the left-o-sphere has been buzzing about Hofstadter's classic essay "The Paranoid Style of American Politics" lately. It seems relevant. Some people are convinced that They are out to get Us. Right now, most of those people are on the right wing. These are the same people who argue that polls have "too many government employees" in their samples, the same ones who honestly didn't believe that Mitt Romney was going to lose. You know -- ignorant people.

I think fascism depends on ignorance. I'm not sure exactly how, but it does. Ignorance and fear. And right now, those are most prominently on display in a certain American political party, which in turn is largely coming from a certain geographic region of the country, and most definitely coming from a certain demographic profile. Ignorance and fear. Us and Them. Is it fascism if it doesn't have political power? I'm not sure.

Flip the question -- if it gets political power, will it be fascism?

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October 10th, 2013
04:22 pm


Agents of A.C.R.O.N.Y.M.
Got more to say about fascism and America and history and the Tea Party movement and the shutdown, but that's not what I'm thinking about at the moment. A large chunk of my processing power is given over to the TV show "Agents of SHIELD."

My God, I want to like that show.

My God, I don't like that show.

I'm trying. I'm really trying, guys. But 3 episodes in, we've had maybe 10 minutes of actual interesting TV. And don't Whedon me your Whedons -- I already know that shows can take a while to find their rhythm. That's not the problem here. This show has no idea what it's doing, is the problem here. And I'm actually quite distressed by it, because I want so badly to like everything, anything, about it.

Agent Coulson's fun. I guess. He's at his best when he has cinema-scale disasters that he can be wry at. No such disasters here. Three weeks in, all he's gotten are a weak Buffy episode, a weak A-Team episode, and a weak Burn Notice episode. Nothing that he can underreact to.

Melinda May is kinda fun. The super-competent spy who'd rather be doing paperwork? Kinda annoyed when she has to kick ass and save everyone else? That has potential.

I will drown the hatefully twee FitzSimmons in a tub. And then I will drown the tub.

Skye? Agent Broody McLoner whose name I can't remember after 3 episodes? Meh. Nothing happening there. I assume they're our main characters because they're pretty, and I assume they're devoid of interestingness because this is a 7 PM show on the network owned by Disney.*

It doesn't matter what the title says -- the show's only about SHIELD, or about Marvel, if it includes things that you'd see in a SHIELD comic book published by Marvel. Comics, people! Not a simple-minded procedural, not a "trust us that you'll love all the mysteriously-alluded-to backstories" mindjob, not a brainless low-budget action show. Each episode should be an issue of the SHIELD comic. And I give them credit for going with the one-and-done stories while just nodding at plot arcs. But a comic is more than its structure. It's possibility. It's invention. It doesn't need time to develop into something interesting -- each issue of the comic has to be interesting by itself. That's what's missing.

Well, that's one thing that's missing. Also missing -- sinister rival spy organizations. Neat gadgets. Threats that constantly ratchet up until a surprising climax. The witty denoument after the surprising climax. Clever thinking. Superheroes. Why did that Peterson guy in the pilot not get recruited to the team? A single parent with new superhuman powers in a world that's only had supers for a couple years -- great way to round out the cast.

What we need from this show is "The Wild Wild West." Not the terrible movie, the fairly good TV program that ran in the 1960s. Spies, style, gadgets, some oddball plotting, some grandiose masterminds to thwart.

I don't wanna see the Generically Attractive Young People Brigade deal with glowy boxes. Any show could give us that, and many have. Aside from The X-Files, none of those shows are any damn good. And I want a SHIELD show to be good, not just entertaining. Especially since the paint-by-numbers plots of the first 3 episodes haven't entertained me anyway.

In fairness, I should point out that The Wife and Kid #2 are enjoying it.

*Is this a kids' show? That would explain many of my problems with it. And why it's at 7 PM on the network owned by Disney -- a good harbor for programming that skews younger.

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October 4th, 2013
04:14 pm


It takes a worried man
I spend a surprising amount of time worrying about fascism.

Granted, we beat Hitler and Mussolini and Hirohito. And, as Chevy Chase once reminded us, Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead. But fascism itself is alive and kicking. We conflate it with Nazis, mostly, but it's a broader term. And it applies to things people are doing and saying and believing right now.

I think fascism is harder to define than some of the other creepy governmental forms, like communism or theocracy. The best I've come up with so far is: violent ultra-nationalism. It's the belief that Different Groups Of People Exist, and that They Are Fundamentally Different, and that One Group Should Rule Another Group, and that Hurting The Weaker Groups Is Okay. Codify that with a governing structure and voila! Fascism!

So why do I worry about it? Because despite its crushing defeat in World War II, the movement is alive and healthy all around the world. Right now, the fascist Golden Dawn party holds almost 10% of the seats in Greece's parliament, and seems to have infiltrated their police. France has long had the fascistic National Front party in its government and its civic life. The term "Islamofascist" was a poorly-chosen distraction, but some of the hyper-religious groups in the Middle East do qualify.

What about here? We'll talk about that soon.

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August 14th, 2013
10:56 am


In a galaxy far away
The thing about running ~3 games/year is that players want to see some advancement, and it's not all going to come as a result of what happens at the table.More thoughts on that Star Wars game.Collapse )

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July 31st, 2013
04:04 pm


A long, long time ago
The crucial thing to know about my Star Wars game is that I run it for my improv buddies Scott, Steve, and Mark. It's a specific thing the four of us do together. Scott and Steve have been best friends for, oh, 20+ years now. Steve has an extensive geek background. Scott doesn't -- he was never interested in roleplaying until about 5 years ago, when I (not entirely accidentally) mentioned the existence of a Star Wars RPG. That particular thing interested him. Mark is kind of an outlier to our group, a conservative rural small-business owner, but also very clever and funny and a dude who roleplayed in high school. So we have a good mix of personalities and playing styles. If it matters, we play the d6 Star Wars game, first edition. It's one of my favorite games and the best one I've ever found for getting new players interested in RPGs.

The characters themselves are The Absolute Archetypal Star Wars Party. Steve created Dash Zzohren, a smuggler and scoundrel, possessed of a starship and also a big debt to a crime boss. Scott is his brother Hawke Zzohren, minor Jedi in search of training and on the run from the Empire. Mark is the mercenary Victarian, not possessed of (or interested in) much backstory, nominally affiliated with the Rebellion because he enjoys a good scrap. The Dash-Hawke dynamic is very similar to the actual Steve-Scott dynamic.

We haven't had much continuity. They all live in a different city than me, and we all have some combination of jobs and kids to wrangle, so we only play around 3 times per year. Some elements have occurred in the background as subplots a la Chris Claremont -- looming situations that go unresolved, or enigmatic events which hint at an unexplored backstory. The crime boss, Zal Duster, was in the background for a long time, occasionally sending the boys on missions or sending people to kill them, sometimes simultaneously. And the enigmatic Purple Lightsaber Jedi showed up once or twice to mess with them before being outed as Some Kind Of Sith Or Something, in turn appearing as That Apparently Nice Imperial Official With Rebel Sympathies. He's been fun to have in the background. And who could forget Ugarth the Unkillable, angry woman from the junkyard planet, who later emerged as Purple Lightsaber Jedi's apparent apprentice?

But mostly they've been doing whatever I could think of from one session to another. Being locked in a building full of insane R2 units, getting the chance to steal the Millenium Falcon, salvaging a planetary ion cannon while being betrayed by two entirely different groups... you know, Star Wars stuff. This is all useful for understanding what happens. Next time: WORLDS WILL LIVE! WORLDS WILL DIE! NOTHING WILL BE THE SAME!

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July 25th, 2013
01:18 pm


Hey! I found a use for this thing!
LJ isn't great for communicating with my friends anymore, and I'm not looking for a quiet space to express my views. But it's still handy for lists.

I ran a Star Wars RPG session last week. TThat should tell you whether you care about the rest of my entry.Collapse )

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April 24th, 2013
09:32 am


Remembering Calvin
It's not quite 2 years since I had my decrepit old cat Calvin put to sleep. At the time, I made a quick list of Things I Remember About Calvin, which I promptly set down somewhere and forgot. I found it this morning. This time, I'm going to put it on the internet so that even if I forget, someone else might stumble across it 20 years from now.

You're welcome, internet.

Things I Remember About CalvinCollapse )

We have a dog now, and I love the dog. But cats are still my favorite critters.

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April 18th, 2013
01:04 pm


Also considered: "Playing Under A Mushroom Cloud"
Dammit, I want to talk to someone about my thesis. You're elected.

The defense was a cakewalk. I thought it might be, since my advisor had said "it will be a cakewalk and we'll absolutely approve you;" I was still nervous. But all the questions were softballs. Most of them were along the lines of "Have you considered writing a book?" or "Do you think you could turn this into a couple of journal articles?" In addition to my 3 committee members, the department chair showed up, along with a semi-creepy grad student and a scowling old professor who always goes to every defense. The chair did get me with some firsthand memories of 1950s TV commercials; you gotta watch out for those primary sources.

A lot of things in the 1950s come back to TV, at least from my perspective.

It took a while to come up with a thesis title I didn't hate. I'm still not wild about it, but I guess it does the job -- "Playing By New Rules: Games and American Domestic Culture, 1945-1965". At least you know what it's about.

I find myself looking for people who have graduate degrees, particularly academic ones, so that I can Talk About My Master's Degree. I'm not looking to explain my research or my interpretations per se, although I certainly would. I just want to vent about the process. And about the enormous, enormous weight that's gone now. I hadn't realized just how much pressure I felt until I un-felt it a few days ago. The release and the relief rush to the forefront whenever I have an excuse -- the college president met me on the stairs, asked how I was, and got an earful about my defense.

Hopefully that goes away soon.

But not too soon. I did something cool, dammit. Something that most people never even attempt -- and many of those never finish. There may not be much demand for knowledge on the peculiar intersection between board games, the early Cold War, and domestic American anxieties, but I AM NOW ONE OF THE WORLD'S LEADING EXPERTS ON IT. That's a strange, nice feeling.

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March 19th, 2013
04:18 pm


Remembering Mom
My mother died 8 years ago today. That's a while. I've gotten married (and so has Dad). I've grown a beard (so, again, has Dad). About a year ago, I started having trouble remembering the sound of Mom's voice. I hadn't entirely forgotten it, but it became harder to conjure up. Melancholy, to be sure, and perhaps a symbol of how things inevitably move on. Then twice in the last couple of months Mom has shown up in a dream, including 2 nights ago, and it turns out I remember the sound of her voice just fine now that I've heard it. Thanks, Mom.

The fact that Mom was saving me from zombies 2 nights ago is totally a bonus.

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March 7th, 2013
01:37 pm


Keening about my thesis
One of my great strengths as a writer is that I'm keenly aware of deadlines. One of my great flaws as a writer is that I'm keenly aware of deadlines.

I know when the Real Deadline is. Not the one that the editor tells you about; that's the point where the editor hopes to get your stuff so they can fix it. I'm attuned to the Real Deadline, the point at which it has to be good. That's the deadline I write for. My goal is to make my stuff clean enough (and fun enough) that the editor doesn't have much to do. Which means that I don't always hit the editing deadline, since I only care about the Real Deadline.

Now I'm running into the Real Deadline on my thesis. And it's not as clean (or as fun) as it could be. "Done is better than perfect," I keep telling myself. But I don't believe it. I'm either going to turn in a thesis that isn't nearly as good as I think it should be, or I'm not going to turn one in at all.

Yes, yes, the less-good thesis is still better than the non-thesis.

My hope, as I amble toward age 40, is that I'm learning to accept the done-is-better idea. I haven't yet. I also haven't finished many of the things I've started.

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