My country and I have always had a love/hate relationship with each other. The old bumper sticker about “I love my country, but I fear my government”  has long been a favorite of mine, especially in my younger years. But a few things have caused me to rethink the idea of patriotism, and if I really want to be considered one.

The word patriot is defined as ” a person who loves and strongly supports or fights for his or her country”. It’s a loaded term. Lately, the term has been taken by much of the right-wing neo-con corportocracy that passes for media in this country. After 9/11, questioning the government was seen as unpatriotic. Speaking out about the questionable reasons for going to Iraq was Un-American. It was a flashback to the old days of McCarthy and Communist witch hunts.  I was raised in the era of Nixon and Carter. I’ve read too much history to ever let someone lead me and not question them. The first two things I can remember seeing on TV are the helicopters on the roof of the embassy in Saigon, and the Watergate hearings. Being labeled a patriot at that time felt like a lie.

Then came Obama. The night he was elected felt like a sigh of relief. I was hopeful about a president for the first time since Clinton. I was also tempering that with the reminder of how much damage he did to this country, as well as good. Yes, he fixed the economy, but he also wrecked the media in this country. So there was a new reason to be called a patriot,and be proud to be one.

Flash forward to 2014. Obama has been under siege by so-called patriots for six years. All those asshats who called me Un-American are crying foul every time someone dares to disagree with them for lying about the President. It’s amazing how they can walk upright without falling over from all the reversing of their positions about sanctity of the presidency.

Obama is not making it easy to defend him,though. Allegations about the NSA, our continued drone program, and too much time wasted trying to make nice with those opposed to him. It’s rough to defend him sometimes. Don’t bitch about the ACA to me,though. Yes, it’s making my family’s life harder.But until you can come up with a better solution(I have one), I don’t want to hear it.

So where does that leave a frustrated liberal like me? Do I quit the country I love, and quit defending it in word and deed? What do I tell my daughter, who’s been taught to respect veterans and the sacrifices the ones in her family have made? Do I leave defending this country to those who are willing to do so blindly?

Two events this weekend made me change my mind on this. The first being the hockey game I attended today. It was called a salute to heroes, and featured tributes to service men, police, and first responders. It featured an immense flag, and people all around me cheered for it. SO many people cheering a flag, and not reading the ideals behind it. I bet half of them have read what Jefferson thought about us being a Christian nation, or that he wrote a version of the Bible with Jesus taken out of it. But it was nice to see people who risk their lives for others being honored. I felt glad to see people who you usually only see  on the worst days of your lives being feted.

I felt good about that patriotism, and not just because fire departments,police and standing armies are socialist concepts. The founding fathers didn’t believe in standing armies, that’s how we got the nightmare of the Second Amendment. Yes you have a right to guns, but my kids have a better right to not die from your incompetence and lack of responsible laws. What made me feel good was remembering that this was a country that did great things not just as individuals,but as a society. To me, the so-called greatest generation’s best thing were programs like the WPA and Social Security, not kicking Hitler’s tush. And we didn’t do nearly as much of that as the Russians did,and look where it got them.

I have to be a patriot,honestly, to fight against the other kind of patriot. What kind? The kind that publishes garbage like the book I saw Saturday. It’s called ” The People have Spoken( and They are Wrong):The Case Against Democracy. Yes, I fully admit I haven’t read it. I don’t know If I want a book on my Kindle that might cause me to damage it. But really, how can you run a website called the Federalist, named after a document by one of the Founding Fathers, and then argue against democracy. That’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism. That’s a very different thing. That’s not fighting to make your country remain true, that’s fighting for your country just because you happen to live there. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to wars.

Yes, I’m a patriot. But I won’t let other people decide what that is. I will fight for my country, but for the ideas that made it great. And not just the Constitution,because that can be changed,and has been several times. There’s a reason our forefathers put that mechanism in place. They knew that times would change, and that the Constitution had to as well. Want a country where God is most important, and the rules are set in stone from when the country was founded? No thank you,sir. I’ve seen those places. They’re called Iran and Afghanistan. And I bet most of those blindly decrying their rights here wouldn’t last two seconds over there before converting to save their skins.



Fight the Old!

I’m an old man. I don’t look it, I’m told. But I have several things happening this year and last that are making me think so. For starters, I now wear bifocals. Parts of me hurt everyday. Hair is growing in places where it absolutely has no right to. I am tired, 24/7.And lastly, I’ve turned into a Patton Oswalt bit.

Oswalt has this bit where he says that as you get older, your enjoyment level goes to somewhere between “ew” and “eh”. I find myself wondering if as you get older, if one gets a certain amount of anhedonia. I sometimes find myself not enjoying stuff not nearly as much as I used to.

I’ve been casting about for solutions. I see some folks my age, and they’re worse off than I am. We’re talking one foot in the grave, at least mentally. I’m not that bad off, yet. What frightens me is not so much the lack of joy, but the lack of joy in the new that terrifies the fuck out of me.

When I was in my twenties, new stuff was always setting my brain on fire. New music,new ideas, new authors. It didn’t matter to me if I was johnny come lately,which was good, because I usually was. I’ve never been cool, hip or fashionable. But when I found new stuff, I loved it to death.

Now,when new stuff comes out that I like, I don’t feel the same spark. I don’t have the same kick in the head discovering Watain as I did Ministry. Wardruna are amazing, but I don’t think I’d get on a bus for eight hours to see them like I did when I got the chance to see Esham in 1999.

What’s funny to me about this, is that I really don’t care for nostalgia from artists I love. I’m not going to see Anthrax because I loved a CD they did in 1987. No, I ‘d rather go see them because their last one rocked the camel’s ass. And when I pick up a Andrew Vachss book, it’s because his last one moved me to tears.

This does mean I’ve left some folks behind, it’s true. It’s not because I’ve outgrown their music. I don’t think anyone outgrows music. Some artists just stop moving me. Nine Inch Nails, I loved their  last CD and tour. The new one is aural wallpaper.I think they just decide there’s some music they can share with normal people. I can have a beer with my neighbors, but most of what’s on my Ipod would curdle the milk in their fridge.

Maybe the new can’t come from outside anymore. Are my days as a consumer and lover of media done? Am I doomed to turn into one of those sad ass boomers, buying every re-issue of the Doors CDs because someone found a new take of “Light My Fire” this one with Morrison spanking it on the mic?


The music world lost a true legend this week. Dave Brockie, AKA Oderus Urugus of Gwar.  He died way too soon, and way too young, in my eyes. What was eye opening to me was how younger bands viewed him. Band after band told of how he’d welcomed them on tour, and that his crew were one of the ones to treat new and opening bands with respect and care. This from a guy arrested several times for simulating sex on stage with farm animals.

I think there’s the way to fight the old. Find the new stuff. Help it along. Give money to people  not because you used to like what they do, but because of what they’re doing now. I may be doing the Kickstarter for a 20th Anniversary edition of an RPG, but it’s because I know the guys writing it have still got it. And I’m finding new artists and writers, but I’m much choosier about who I throw my love at.

In ending, here’s some people you should check out. First off, the ones who still have it: KMFDM, Esham, John Skipp, Craig Spector, Brian Keene, Charles Delint,Anthrax, Testament, Fables, Charles Vess, and ICP.

FOr all of you who want new stuff to make you feel young, try some of the following: Wardruna, Tuautha Dea, Alex Bledsoe, Alexa Dunca, Gail Martin, Walk Off the Earth, John G. Hartness, Jim C. Hines and Kevin Hearne. Good Night!

World of Darkness, World of Light(part 2)

In 1993, my love affair with White Wolf had just begun. The next year would see the book that would turn it into a marriage. Her name was Werewolf, and she was gorgeous.

Werewolf Second Edition is a gorgeous book, inside and out. The art, layout, and background all mesh together into a damn near flawless RPG book. What sent it over the top for me was the afterword by Bill Bridges, expressing a love for the Wild  and pledging to donate proceeds to animal charities from the book.

That was a watershed for me. The idea that RPGs could be used to effect real change had never even occurred to me. I began to develop a bad case of hero worship for the WW folks. After that came Mage, and Changeling. I was an utter fanboy, drinking the WW kool-aid with abandon. It felt nice to be involved with products that took on societal taboos,and were up front and loud about it. It was nice, it was delusional, and it couldn’t last.

Two things killed that love affair for me: Collectible Card Games and the rise of LARP.

Magic the Gathering, in a nutshell, tried it’s best to kill tabletop RPGs dead. I don’t blame retailers for fleecing the fools buying their way to victory, Nope, I blame all the statistic loving rules lawyers and power gamers who could use a fat wallet to feel better. I defy anyone to tell me that those games are all about skill, if you need certain cards to win. I never had to pay five bucks to buy into a D and D game.  I don’t even blame game companies for trying to cash in. I do blame those that bet the farm on it, and damn near killed RPGs in the process.

Then came the LARPers.  I can’t fault WW for the innovation. LARPing had been around for ages, and their crew developed a quick and easy way to run them. What I can fault is the type fo people LARPing attracted. Where RPGs once attracted people who had to use their imagination, it now had people who had sewing skills and could act.

Both these things changed the gaming world,and in my opinion, not for the better. The CCG boom attracted all the scumbag sports card guys,trying to get back some of their failed investment in variant comic books.  And the LARP community attracted every rejected Ren Faire wanna be who could afford a cool wardrobe. Several of them seemed to have a tenuous grip on reality. I liked hanging out with guys from a local LARP, but they had enough in game and off game drama to fuel several soaps. My best time LARPng involved me and a friend dressing up as ICP to play vampire versions who had been turned into Sabbat assassins.

Around this time, I became involved deeply with a smaller game company. They used a system similar to WW,but even more primitive. But they were looking for  people to contribute,to help out. So I drank another vat of cult juice until they  crashed and burned.Menawhile, it appeared that WW and CCGs had been taken over by all the guys who used to beat me up or mock me in school.

By this time, I’d had it with WW. They were the kings of the RPG  block,and they knew it. They’d always been cooler than the D and D people, and now they were outselling them too. And with it came pride. I’ve never experienced anything but love from any of the core staff people at WW, but the other con people and volunteers were slowly turning into elitist pricks. So I put away the Pale Puppy brand juice, rejoicing when they decided to end it all. I thought it was an excellent move.

So there I was again, lost without an RPG to love. I was just about ready to quit again when I ran into Deliria. Now here was something I could sink my teeth into. If you’ve never read the core book for that game, you haven’t read the gold standard for RPG books(next to Werewolf Second Edition,it’s a dead heat tie). Phil Brucato conjured magic with that book. I will always thank Phil for that, for restoring my faith in RPGs. I even booth helped for one great con, before the company  crashed and burned in a cloud of bills and drama in the mid aughts.

I should also thank Phil for bringing me back from hate land on White Wolf and the World of Darkness line. It’s been through conversations with him that  I’ve grown to appreciate what magic the early creators of WOD  did. So I now proudly display my WOD books in my office, and hope to add the 20th Anniversary editions as soon as I can afford them all.

Thank you, Phil, Bill Bridges, Justin Achilli and crew. Thank you for bringing me back to a hobby I love, and one I hope to pass onto my children. Here’s to you folks for changing the landscape. Thank you, and good night.

World of Darkness, World of Light (Part 1)

“That’s it,I quit. I hate RPGs!”

It’s late Fall in 1992. I have just DMed my last D&D game. I’ve had it with my players. Can you say power gamers? I had players who wrote the book on it. Every god damn last one had to be special. They’d bring in some add-on that justified their latest amount of weaponry and spells. And I’d let them, tired of the hissy fits that resulted when they didn’t get their way. At first, I thought it was the system. It wasn’t as exemplified when we tried  a superhero game. I made sure it wasn’t Champions, because Champions with them had turned into a forensic accounting class. They managed to power game Villains and Vigilantes,even when I instituted a random power generation rule. It was the last straw.

It was easy at the time. I was about to graduate college. I had friends, a burgeoning career, and a bright future. Who needed the hassle of gaming? It had turned into being about leveling up, about who had the most toys. Looking around for new players didn’t seem to work. Most of the guys at the local gaming club were either military or ex-military, and wargamers. They seemed to be about the killing, and not the thrilling. And half of them would argue rules like it was the Supreme Court.

It had never been about that for me. For me, Dungeons and Dragons had been a way to connect with other kids, something I was sorely lacking. I won’t go into too much detail bout my upbringing,but you could mix together “Cats in the Cradle” by Harry Chapin and “Because of You” by Kelly Clarkson and get the perfect soundtrack.

RPGs became a shorthand, a way to connect.I can’t think of anyone who became my friend,ever, where it wasn’t somehow connected to them. I would not be married today, if it wasn’t for it. It gave me great pleasure to tell Gygax himself that, years ago.  But by 1992, I was burnt out, fed up,and set on living my life, embarking on a great adventure .

Then 1993 happened.

I don’t like to talk about that year. It tears open wounds that I never have allowed to fully heal. Suffice it to say that every single family member I counted on,relied on, for backup when shit got deep,failed me. I don’t blame the ones who couldn’t help.Those who had too much on their plate, or no cash, I understood. No, it was the ones who were entrusted with teaching me about the world,or helping me when my world fell apart,that turned tail and ran. Or kicked me when I was down. A few tried to help,and one took me in.But that’s another post entirely.

Flash forward to Fall of 1993. A monumental low time in my life. I’m living fifty miles from my nearest friend, the woman I’m dating and now living with is slowly despising me. It’s with good reason, because I pretty much have PTSD combined with massive anxiety and depression issues. I’m being stopped by cops every day I go to work, because I resemble a local drug dealer. I don’t drive, and if it wasn’t for a Walkman and Green Day’s Dookie, I think I’d have gone SBC. I am the literal poster boy for no fun to be around.

Then one day Karrie, my girlfriend, says her brother KJ plays RPGs,and wants to know if I’d be interested in playing. My response is a grunt. KJ is Tyler Durden come to life,before there was a Tyler Durden. He rates shows he goes to by how many people he can piss off. But I have nothing better to do, so into the basement I go.

The game is Vampire:The Masquerade. It’s perfect for my mental state. The world is screwed up, and we’re going to dance in the ashes when it burns? I open a book, and there’s an Anthrax lyric quote. This was not your daddy’s RPG. The system was incredibly simple. It took a lot of the rolls out of role playing. It didn’t seem possible to power game it(That would come years later). It was love at first sight.

And it brought me back up. Little by little, it let me vent feelings of anger and betrayal. I played Brujah,the near animal vamps who are looking to rip the systems of vampire culture to shreds. Through the purging of some of the poison, I got a little light back, bit by bit.Yes, it wasn’t perfect,but damn,it was cool. It was the first RPG for me, to say:Yeah, you’re a freak. But it’s OK.

And it was gorgeous and beautiful. Every RPG should have at least one signature artist. For Vampire, for me, it’s Tim Bradstreet. People can holler all they want, but he was the definitive image maker for Vampire. He’s as important to White Wolf as Derek Riggs is to Iron Maiden. Even to this day, I can’t see his work without thinking of Vampire.

So I fell in love with Vampire,and then with White Wolf Games. But the rest of the story awaits in Part 2, which describes how I fell in and out of love(then back again) with the Pale Puppy.

Give the girls some hope.

Just finished reading Divergent, the latest YA novel/trilogy headed for the big screen. Lots of interesting ideas, but does seem to fall into the main YA category these days: Dystopian Boy Choosing.

Dystopian Boy Choosing(referred to from here on out as DBC) was first spawned onto the world by Twilight. People can argue it’s not dystopian,but they’re wrong. They’re not thinking about it from an adolescent viewpoint. In all these, it seems that if the world is not actually ending, they main character certainly feels like their world is. There’s certainly no shortage of negative worldviews in YA cinema, especially the films and books aimed at girls.

Chief among these problematic viewpoints is the idea that a woman needs a man to be fulfilled. I’ve watched that particular line of BS kill so many women;s hopes and dreams , it ain’t funny. Girls need to be taught to hoe their own row, and to keep their own personal inventory. I’m hopefully raising my daughter to need a man for only one thing, and that’s for only one hour at a time, and easily replaced by advances in technology.

Before anyone gets up in my face about talking like this, and how men and women need each other for survival of the species, let me point out a couple things. I’ve been a stepfather to three girls, starting when the youngest was ten, through the oldest now being 26. Most of my friends in college were female, largely due to a long term lease I held in the friend zone.  So while I may not be a member of the estrogen sea, I’ve certainly sailed  a lot in those waters.

Here’s the problem with all of this DBC stuff flooding the Wal-Mart shelves and Kindle lists: It’s gutless and whiny. The heroines may be great(except Bella,who I’d have staked in a second) but the overall tone and message of this subgenre is pathetic and sad. And it’s lazy. Writing fiction where everything sucks in the future has been lining pockets for decades. Nihilism, and the concept that the world is/has/going to have an apocalypse is easy as hell, and gives into despair and apathy.

Where is the YA science fiction that is actually worthy of the title? Science fiction used ot be about the possibilities, about seeing hope in where science would take us. There’s very little science in these futures, and no hope.Where are the Heinlein juveniles of today, that show a brighter future? Where are the heroes that get ahead by brains and not super powers?That show that the world may be different, but that we’ve advanced as a species and gotten better.

I’m not suggesting  a sunshine bright future  right out of the Lego movie. I’m thinking of a bright future where there are new challenges, but a lot fo our old ones have gone away.Where’s the writer willing to put that out there? And yes, I do think I’ll try to write one myself.

I’m not saying this just to be some literary know it all. I think it’s vital to our future as a nation and world. If you don’t give people hope, they give up. That sort of thinking leads right down the path to a nihilistic pit iof inactivity, which is the last thing this country needs. We need to encourage our young folks to dream of a better tomorrow. I’ve already watched two generations get chewed up by nihilism, apathy and ennui. Can we really afford to lose another?

Fred Phelps and the power of hate.

Fred Phelps is dying, according to his son. If this was sixteen years ago, I’d have been dancing a jig, and preparing to pour a fifth of Jameson’s on his grave, making sure it passed through my kidneys first. But thinking about it now, I don’t think I’ll bother.

Most of you have a lot less history with Phelps than some I know.I first encountered Phelps when he decided to start showing up at gay funerals in St. Louis. This was the late 90’s. People on Yahoo Pagan Chat couldn’t believe the stuff I told them about Phelp’s Westboro Church, and the hate they spewed outside funerals. The state of American discourse had not been fully destroyed by the Net yet. I wonder if those who didn’t believe me, what they’d say now.

Phelps will die,and it will be a headline across the country. All of those planning to protest his funeral,or praise whatever gods you do or don’t believe in, don’t bother. Go read some investigative work about Fred’s family, and realize they’re just another sideshow. They’re con artists and grifters, using hate to get cash.

The saddest thing about Fred and his church to me, is how they feed into and benefit from hate. I know something about that particular emotion. I’ve spent weeks, days and months ruled by it. It used to be my master, and hit me with the right thing, and I hand over my leash to it in seconds. Do yourself a favor when it comes to deciding to what to post about Phelps:Don’t be me.

You want the best reason to not give into hate? Here’s the best one,especially if you’re over 30: it’s tiring. It’s third behind only depression and parenting for sucking the energy out of you? Think running a marathon is tiring?Try holding a grudge for a couple of decades. That takes real endurance, my friends.

Here’s what you should do, if you’re really upset about Phelps and his ilk. Go help something they hate. Find an AIDS hospice and volunteer. Protest for reproductive rights. Go find a trans friendly business and go give them some cash. This is how you win against hate, people. You go love something instead.

In ending, I also learned that Phelps has been excommunicated from the church he founded. I like to think it’s because in his dying days, Phelps finally some compassion for those he had spewed so  much vile garbage against.  I have this lovely picture of Phelps sneaking into a gay bar in Leavenworth, the hate in his heart too much to bear anymore. I think of him seeing men in love,even with other men,and wondering where all the love he’d once felt had gone. Maybe that’s what is killing him,here at the end.

I wonder what will become of Westboro without Fred. Most cults and con cams die on the vine without a strong leader. But judging from some of the nonsense being spewed by homophobes in office everywhere, I think they’ll  still be here. But time is not on their side. They are the last bellow of a hateful world, one that fools like me think is on its way out.