Tuesday, June 30, 2015

On Supporting Chaosium

If you follow gaming industry news then you already know the big story of the past month was the recent shake up at Chaosium that resulted in the entire upper management being replaced by the old guard of Greg Stafford and Sandy Peterson.

It appears that the old management handled the Kickstarters for Horror on the Orient Express and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition poorly and there are some serious cash flow problems.  Despite saying COC7 was at the printers it wasn't and there were also issues in getting HotOE to European backers.  In short it was a mess and being run into the ground and the Stafford being the founder and majority shareholder in the company stepped in and took over day-to-day management.

One of things Greg is doing is cleaning out the warehouse of their non-core products at clearance prices in order to raise cash and get back to what they do best, namely Cthulhu mythos related games and fiction.  One of the really good deals was a bundle of five books for the Elric of Melniboné role-playing game on sale for $25 instead of $100.  I had seriously thought about buying this when the sale was announced and even was most of the way placing an order online when I had an attack of conscience and decided I didn't really need five Elric RPG books, even at that price, and cancelled the order,  As I've mentioned before, when it comes to wasting money on things I don't need I run against the usual geek stereotype.

Then this morning I was listening to the latest Yog-Sothoth.com Breakfast Club podcast and they were discussing what was going on at Chaosium and I came to the realization that in this case it wasn't wasting money on things I did not need but rather investing money in the continued operation of a gaming company I have known and loved since I first got into the hobby way back in 1977 with the original edition of Runequest.  I don't want to see Chaosium go out of business and I certainly don't want to see Call of Cthulhu disappear from gaming store shelves.  So buying their stuff right now is just doing my part to make sure they have the cash flow to keep operating and meet their Kickstarter commitments.

So I resolved to go back and buy the bundle.  Of course, the bundle itself is no longer for sale.  It looks like they ran out of one of the constituent books.  So I settled for getting just the core Dragon Lords of Melniboné book which was also on sale at a huge discount though the one book including shipping and handling now costs about half of what getting the whole bundle would have had I been on the ball.  A classic example of the early bird gets the worm.

So the upshot of all this is that if you like Chaosium and their products and want them to continue to succeed think about wandering over to their website and buying something that you may or may not actually need.  Every dollar you spend is an investment in helping Stafford and Peterson get the company back on its feet.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On Wizard World Sacramento

Last weekend my friend Val and I drove down to Sacremento for the Wizard World Comic-Con there.  I wore my steampunk airship captain outfit while Val was dressed as a random space alien.

Myself and professional cosplayer Ivy Doomkitty

Val and the world's tallest Mr. Spock cosplayer

We had a good time and though the convention was obviously larger than the one Wizard World ran in Reno last November it didn't seem nearly as crowded.

Surprisingly neither Val nor I emptied our respective bank accounts there. I bought a book by M. Todd Gallowglass and the first volume of Lucifer graphic novel as well as some of Ivy Doomkitty's autographed prints.  My biggest and best purchase was a brown leather map-case/orders satchel to go with my steampunk costume.

The one thing that both us had a hard time coming to grips was that every other booth seemed to be selling Pop!Vinyl dolls. All with exactly the same large selections of the same characters.  How can the market bear that level of saturation?

I know several people don't like Wizard World's cons but I think they do a good job and it was certainly a nice way to spend the day and get my head back together after last week.

Lovecraft and Racism

Over on his blog for the Geekually Yoked podcast, Leeman Kessler wrestles with the issues of portraying H.P. Lovecraft online, especially in a humorous manner, considering the man's heinous racism and anti-Semitism.  He writes:

When I started to play Lovecraft, I made a few rules for myself. I never want to apologize or make excuses for his views. I don’t think it would be honest to say in character, “I’ve seen the light! Multiculturalism is the greatest! How foolish I was!” From time to time I’ve come close but I never fully go over the line. It’s part of why I enjoy having his Evil Twin PH to tackle some of these issues as I did here and here. It’s a cheat that lets me address these issues but not betray the character, such as it is.
The other saving grace is humour. My show is a comedy and as such, I’m able to poke fun both at Lovecraft’s views and also use him to poke modern sensibilities. As Rachel and I just talked about on our most recent podcast, comedy is not just a distraction from drama but can be used to highlight it and throw serious subjects into stark relief and I think some of what I do on Ask Lovecraft reflects it.
Like Leeman, I do not accept the "He was a man of his times" excuse.  Even a cursory reading of his letters shows that his views sometimes bordered on the genocidal.  He had a paranoid fear of miscegenation that would embarrass the average Klansman.  And his anti-Semitism would be looked on with approval with the Nazis.

It's the latter point where he becomes very complex.  He had many Jewish friends, especially in the period when he was living in New York.  And he married a Ukrainian Jewish immigrant, Sonia Green.  Despite that he would make casually anti-Semitic comments around her and when she would remind him he was married to a Jew he would get angry and say that marrying him made her a Lovecraft as if that somehow changed who she was.  That their marriage failed is not really any surprise, though how much can be blamed on his anti-Semitism and how much on the fact that they simply had incompatible personalities is open to discussion.

Despite all of this, I too am a huge Lovecraft fan. As I said, I don't accept the excuses about him.  Nor do I believe that you should separate the man from his work.  In HPL's case that is often impossible.  His racism clearly expresses itself in many of his stories, most famously in The Shadow Over Innsmouth which is clearly about his fears of mongrelization.  But it's a common thread in many other stories too.  In The Call of Cthulhu the worshipers of Cthulhu are either degenerate tribesman, backwoods Creoles (themselves a "mongrel race") or swarthy sailors from places like Greece and Portugal.

Whenever this issue comes up I invariably recommend the documentary Wagner & Me.  In it actor Stephen Fry tries to come to grip with being a fan of the operas of Hitler's favorite composer Richard Wagner despite himself being Jewish.  He asks the question can a Jew enjoy Wagner despite his virulent anti-Semitism?  Can anybody enjoy Wagner despite Hitler's imprimatur?

The key to reading Lovecraft is not to deny his racism but to accept it head on and see how it informs his work.  Intellectual honesty about him or Wagner or any other creative person with odious personal views is the key.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Quote of the Day

"A good speech should be like a woman's skirt; long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest." --Winston Churchill

Buy a Tor Book Day

We now return to our regularly scheduled geekiness.

I'm not going to dwell on the gory details but the loathsome Vox Day is trying to organize a boycott of Tor Books (one of the largest speculative fiction publishers out there and publisher of Vox's particular bete noire, John Scalzi) because Tor art director and associate editor Irene Gallo dared to write some unflattering things about him and the rest of the puppies on her personal Facebook page.  She was later forced to apologize and Tor owner Tom Doherty gave her, in my opinion, unjustified public dressing down.  Nevertheless Vox is still calling for a boycott of Tor.

So today please show your support of Tor and of Irene Gallo and her right to a personal opinion and buy a Tor book or three.  Then post a selfie of you and your book online somewhere with the hashtag #IStandByIrene.

Here I am with my e-book copy of Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

On Hate

I am back from my trip to San Diego and though I was having a hard time thinking about something to write I figured it would be about LEGO Land or the San Diego Zoo.  Today is also the bicentennial of the Battle of Waterloo, which for a Napoleonic history geek like me is very important and also a good subject for a blog post.

Instead I am sitting here practically vibrating with rage over last night's shootings at Charleston's Emmanuel A.M.E. Church.  The details are all over the television and the internet so I don't need to do more than summarize that last night a white man, identified as Dylann Roof, entered the church and sat in on a prayer meeting and bible study for about an hour before pulling out a pistol and opening fire, reloading five times in the process.  Nine people died including the church's pastor Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a South Carolina state senator.

The police and FBI have been very quick to call this, what it is, a hate crime.  It needs to be called what it also is, terrorism.  Ever since 2009 there has been a nationwide increase in the number and membership in right-wing hate groups.  We don't know if Roof is a member of any of these groups but I think we can safely say he shares their beliefs and politics.  If you look in the picture linked above he is wearing a jacked with the flags of apartheid era South Africa and the old Republic of Rhodesia, two of the worst examples of institutionalized white nationalist racism this side of Nazi Germany.  This shooting was done for no other reason than to create fear and hatred and terror and no doubt in the shooter's mind, spark a race war to purge the US of blacks and other undesirables.

The shooter is quoted as saying "You rape our women and you're taking over our country."  Our country?  I don't know about his country but my country is one that has included blacks since 1619, brought here as slaves.  America is just as much a black country as it is a white one.

I'm not black.  There were not many blacks in my suburb of Cleveland growing up.  Honestly, I must admit that I do not have many black friends.  I can't speak to the subject of the black experience in America except to acknowledge on a purely intellectual level that it is not easy. But I have enough humanity to feel sympathy of the victims and their families and African Americans as a whole for this monstrosity.

I don't know if they want my sympathy.  Am I just another middle class, white liberal who is all talk?  I know I want to do something.  Must do something!  This is the 21st century and this kind of crap must stop!  I'm not naive enough to believe that the election of Barack Obama means we have entered a post-racial America.  There's too much evidence to the contrary, including a lot of the recent examples of police brutality.  But I really thought this level of senseless, terroristic violence ended in the 1960s.

I am angry and I am hurt.  My country is better than this.  I want this to be a place where my son can grow up and not have to worry about some nut job with too many guns and too much rage hurting innocent people at prayer.

I could go on but I am having a hard time articulating my feelings.  I know others with a better perspective and better knowledge will write and say things in the next few days that will help me express myself.  But for now I needed to say something.

I'm not an overly religious person and even then it's an eclectic personal spirituality but I am praying for the victims.  I am praying for all African-Americans.  And I am praying for the United States.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Going on vacation

I will be leaving tomorrow for a week's vacation to San Diego with the family.  It is highly unlikely that I will be blogging during that time.  But on the plus side, I promise not to inflict vacation pics on you.  That's what Facebook is for.  :)

Friday, June 5, 2015

A Sense of Perspective

Yesterday io9.com posted a very interesting video that visualizes and puts into perspective all the of the people who died, both military and civilian, during World War Two.

The video is about eighteen minutes long, but please take the time to watch it.

Now that World War Two is 70 years in the past and most of the survivors are dead there is a tendency when talking about casualties to fall into the A Million Is A Statistic trope.  This video succeeds in shaking one out of that mindset by the simple visualizations of the of the graphics.

In particular I commend the creator for really giving the the time to Soviet casualties that they really deserved.  There is a tendency here in the West to ignore the apocalyptic scope of the war on the Eastern Front and the millions of Soviet citizens who died largely as the result of Stalin's use of human wave attacks on the offense and keeping civilians in the cities being fought over on the defense.  Because most of the casualty records have only become available since the end of the Cold War the sheer level of death and destruction has never really been given the play in the US and western Europe that is should.  And it also goes a long way to explain post-war Soviet paranoia.

The section on civilian casualties is particularly chilling.  Besides providing a good visualization of all the Nazi victims of the Holocaust including Roma, gays, other religious and political minorities they also pointed out that Poland suffered the highest percentage of deaths of any country because of the systemic Nazi abuse of the population.  Add in both German and Russian complete indifference to civilians on the Eastern Front as mentioned above.  And the Western Allies don't get a free pass on the civilian deaths front either with a very clear showing of the effect of targeting German and Japanese cities for aerial bombardment.

But in the midst of all these depressing numbers, at the end once actually gets a bit of a surprising sense of perspective of the world today.  Looking at the headlines one gets a feeling that that the world is going to hell in a handbasket with wars, death and destruction seemingly everywhere.  But when you visually compare the relatively low intensity fighting going on in the Middle East and elsewhere to the shear level of carnage of the six years of WW2 you can think "If my grandparents could live through that and stay sane, I can certainly not give in to the fearmongering created by the 24/7 news cycle of today."

Finally, I did like the bit where they scaled WW2 deaths and all other major conflicts in history to world population at the time and when it comes to causing death and destruction, Genghis Khan makes both Hitler and Stalin look like pikers.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Caitlyn Jenner

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that one of the biggest popular culture stories of the past 24 hours has been the Caitlyn (née Bruce) Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine.  It has created, I believe, an even bigger discussion on the subject of gender identity and transgender people than her original announcement that she was a transwoman.

Photoshop courtesy of Matthew Wright

I am not trans but I have many friends who are, both male-to-female and female-to-male.  I also have several friends who don't fit well into gender binary categories at all.  So I have had a lot of time to see, think and talk to people to whom this is very important and in the process have developed my own opinions on the subject.  I hope this doesn't come across as cis-malesplaining.

I used the delightful Wheaties box photoshop above rather than the actual Vanity Fair cover to prove a point.  To people of my generation, Caitlyn Jenner is not a C-list celebrity on Keeping Up With The Kardashians (a program I am very proud to say I have never watched) but rather the person who won the decathlon at 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.  I distinctly remember watching those games on TV and they were the first Olympics to really enter my memory and consciousness.

There is still a large perception in the general public that transwomen are usually very effeminate males before they transition, not macho athletes and national sports heroes like Caitlyn became at the time.  It was one thing for her to say publicly "I am trans" and quite another for her to appear in a dress and make-up on the cover of a fashion magazine.  It directly challenges the M-to-F stereotype. And to my mind, that challenge is a good thing.  Our culture needs to come to terms with the fact that anyone can be trans and more importantly the average person has no say in what gender any other person is.  To quote my friend Missy Ciavarelli:

News flash - you don't get to have an "opinion" on what someone else's gender is. Your "opinion" doesn't matter. You don't get to decide that for someone else.Whatever your "opinion" on gender, respect the other person and their identity and educate yourself, because sex and gender are not the same thing.

Also it is a matter of simple politeness.  What harm comes from referring to any person by the name and pronoun that they prefer?  Anything else is trying to assert your gender norms on another person.

Another issue that came up in several places yesterday was the idea that Caitlyn's transition is somehow less authentic than another transperson's because she is a celebrity and relatively wealthy compared to most other transfolk.  I know from my friends that being trans is very hard and the decision to come out and transition is even harder.  Being a celebrity has nothing to do with it.  And while Caitlyn's wealth means she will be able to afford the surgical and material needs of transitioning better than many (or even most) other transpeople it still does not make the process easy.  Quoting Missy again:

Every trans person's experience is going to be different. And it's going to be difficult to come to terms with the decision to transition *within themselves*. Never mind doing it front of other people. Caitlyn has done this in front of a public that has only ever thought of her as a macho athlete. She may have more money than most, but that's about it. The mean, ignorant replies on Twitter, and I'm sure other places as well, mean she doesn't have this easy by any means. I think it's taken a great deal of courage to come out the way she has, or even at all.

If Caitlyn's very public transition makes it easier for even one other transperson to come to grips with who they really are and make that choice to transition themselves then she is an even bigger hero than she was for winning a gold medal in 1976.

Which leads me to my final thought.  I am very curious to see how the International Olympic Committee is going to handle her transition in the record books.  Yesterday I looked on the official Olympics website and it still said the 1976 decathlon was won by Bruce Jenner, though considering it has been the day she announced her new name I really hadn't expected any change.  I suspect there are going to be some very high level discussions at the IOC about how this is going to be addressed.  My hope is that they will credit that gold medal as being won by Caitlyn rather than Bruce and if they have to stick an asterisk next to it to explain to future generations why a woman won an ostensibly male event, so be it.