October 19th, 2009


Sandman Slim & Soul in a Bottle

An essentialsaltes two-fer book review, featuring magical shenanigans in Los Angeles.

Richard Kardey's Sandman Slim wants to be a magic-fueled story of revenge set in a contemporary LA that is equal parts Raymond Chandler and Quentin Tarantino. I'll call it a partial success, but I found my attention flagging, and it could only partly be revived by depictions of brutal violence.
Our titular hero got sent to Hell (while still alive) by his erstwhile magical buddies. He survives Hell, and apparently what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Some years later, he reemerges into the world, more physically and magically badass than before, and ready to take revenge on the guy that sent him Downtown (and killed his one true love). The setting would make for a good game of octaNe, but the novel itself was no better than mediocre - solid airplane fodder.

Tim Powers' slim volume, A Soul in a Bottle, is quite a different animal: graceful & quiet, subtle & enchanting. Where the LA in Sandman Slim was a cardboard set to be destroyed by action sequences, the LA in A Soul in a Bottle is much closer to the LA I recognize and love.
A variant volume of poetry, a mysterious redhead, a fatal argument... just a good story told well in words as well as pictures, as JK Potter contributes some lovely images. Thanks again to stevenkaye for the book.

Rizcon etc.

I at least squeezed in one game at Rizcon on Saturday. I was in notjenschiz'z Sky High II - high school for superheroes-in-training. The game used the Primetime Adventures system, which was quite interesting. The conceit is that the players are both the writers and actors on a TV show, while the GM is the Producer. The players come up with a barebones idea of what the next scene will be like, and then act it out. In case of a conflict, a mechanism is used to determine the outcome, and also which player gets to narrate the resolution of the conflict. (making it similar to octaNe... yes, I've got octaNe on the brain.)

In practice, sometimes the system worked really well, and I'm sure the TV show we were making would be better-than-average if it had actually been filmed. Other times, the narrative thread would get bogged down and it wasn't so successful. For a system with so few rules, I think it was still over-complicated. If your players are good enough to handle making up scenes, improv-ing, and narrating situations (even their own failures), then a lot of the frou-frou in the game was not so much an aid as a distraction from the story-telling, but it fit with the TV show conceit.

But on the whole, it was a fun experience with a really good group of players. Thanks to Prime and Riz for making it possible.

Sunday morning, we had the Creamers over for a bit, and the wee ones inspected the pumpkins.

Later Sunday, I made one of my rare appearances on the field of garden battle, as I attacked the hedge with the clippers.
atheist teacher

the New Atheism - a retrospective & meditation

So it's been about 3 years since Wired published Gary Wolf's article that introduced the term 'New Atheists'. I didn't care for the new label (or what it represents) then, and I still don't.

But it's interesting to see it change. Originally, the article was on Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Dan Dennett. Dennett is too much like Santa Claus (in both appearance and non-meanness) for the label to stick, so he seems to be being replaced by Hitchens (with the Four Horsemen of New Atheism being a transitional form) and/or PZ Myers.

Recently, NPR did a story on the schism in atheism, which essentially divides between the New Atheists (and the old?).

PZ apparently said, "Edgy is what young people like," Myers says. "They want to cut through the nonsense right away and want to get to the point. They want to hear the story fast, they want it to be exciting, and they want it to be fun." It sounds like he's pitching Hollywood product, rather than secularism. If the New Atheism really is about ten second films of the pope getting kicked in the nards, then it has to go.

A fable

I don't like baseball. I don't play baseball. I don't go to baseball games.

People like me have often been looked down upon; for decades, it was un-American to not like baseball. The majority sees something vaguely threatening and possibly communistic about those who do not enjoy the national pastime.

I'd try to argue with them. Tell them that if they'd been born in Canada, they might have grown up with an interest in curling or hockey. That there's nothing wrong with not liking baseball. But that was too foreign a concept for them.

Anyway, things have gotten better. People who don't like baseball banded together, and with the help of the ACLU and other likeminded fellow travellers, the legal barriers facing non-baseball likers were lifted. Schoolchildren could remain silent during the singing of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," jurors were no longer sworn in on a T206 Honus Wagner, and so on.

Stirred by these successes, the groups of non-baseball likers tried to figure out what to do next. Sure, there were still a few issues to be dealt with. Many states still had "Three Strikes" laws on the books, but it looked like they were going to remain there, despite the obviously unconstitutional mingling of ball and state.

But for the most part, there was just a room full of people not-playing baseball together. Pretty boring. Not much reason to join when you can not-play baseball at home. And these groups were recognizing that the only thing they had in common was not playing baseball.

Idle bat in idle hand too often turns to crimes unplanned, or whatever the phrase is.

So perhaps inevitably some of the bands of non-baseball players used their meetings to deride baseball:

"Baseball wouldn't flourish if parents didn't play catch with their children; it's child abuse."
"Baseball is just a big rip off. Do you know it's $10 for hot chocolate at Yankee Stadium?"
"Did you hear about the baseball player arrested for drunk driving?" As if baseball had anything to do with drunk driving! Sure, there are some wonderful cases of baseball players who hypocritically tell their fans that drugs are an abomination forbidden by the rules, but who secretly get their hot androgen injections at a seedy motel from a 'personal trainer'. That's well worth criticizing. But more generally speaking, which is the more helpful message? Providing evidence that baseball likers and non-likers commit crimes at roughly equal rates, or shouting "A shortstop was arrested for tax evasion! Durr." Discussing the complicated phenomena of post-championship rioting and how it can be addressed, or just calling the rioters animals blinded by baseball, which oughtta be banned?

The answer seems obvious to me, but pretty soon some of these groups turned from non-baseball playing to active baseball-hating. Anything remotely connected with baseball was immediately anathema. Having formed a club of anti-baseball players, they need the baseball likers in order to explain the reason for their existence. If baseball vanished, then everyone would not-play baseball; but to be anti-baseball, you need a baseball to be your villain. And the way they deride baseball likers and baseball, it's certainly not likely that they are going to convince people to their side and reduce the influence of baseball.

It's a hazy line, and everyone will draw it a different place, but I can't really cheer on a lot of the antics of the new non-baseball playing. Not that I'm a milquetoast closet case non-baseball player. Most of my friends and family know I don't like baseball, and I have used this journal to present my argument that fair and foul do not exist as objective measurements, but are only purely subjective judgments. I think that kind of activity is the right way to engage the issue. I show through my life and actions that people who don't like baseball can be fine citizens. And I try to show the reasons I have for my beliefs, which might actually convince someone who's on the outfield fence of the issue, and only attends baseball games out of habit or familial devotion. Sure, nothing is going to penetrate the faith of a Cubs fan, but as much as I deplore some of the things that baseball can lead to, I don't see any reason to be a dick about it.
Like I said, the line is hazy, so no doubt I'm a dick from time to time.