Highs and Lows

Nik and I got back from Origins tonight. We had to connect through Memphis and the flight to Seattle was shitty. I swear, the seats are deliberately designed to cause back pain. It takes no more than 15 minutes in one of those for me to feel it, then it’s hours of being uncomfortable. I don’t have a bad back and I sit in all kinds of chairs without difficulty. Something about those airline seats though. I think it must be a conspiracy.

Origins was a show of extremes. High highs and low lows. On the upside, it was Green Ronin’s most successful Origins ever. Sales were excellent, the fans were enthusiastic, we had a lot of demos going on, and our Black Sails Over Freeport adventure won an Origins Award. On the other hand, the GAMA Board of Directors was taken over by a group that will surely move it in the exact wrong direction. While some members of this group are decent folk individually, the puppet masters are lying, duplicitous snakes who are the absolute last people that should be in charge of the industry’s only trade organization. That farce of an election was a black day for GAMA. And it really is a shame because the GAMA staff put on a great show and they deserve better treatment than they’re going to get.

Before the show, I had said to Nik, “You know, I really have no desire to hang out in the Big Bar on Two” (this is a bar in the Hyatt that’s pretty much where the entire game industry socializes after show hours). Naturally, that’s exactly where I ended up on three nights. It was good to catch up with old friends and to meet some of the new faces of the industry. It’s always fun to hang out with John Kovalic, a cartoonist friend of mine and perhaps the nicest, most humane person in the game industry. John has never let his success go to his head, has never gotten cynical and jaded about the biz, and has never left behind the passion for games that gets most of us into this crazy industry in the first place. I admire him for all those things, and for being kind, generous, and above all genuine. The industry could use more guys like Johnny K.

As long as I’m getting all maudlin at 2 am, I should also add that the events of the last eight months (that culminated at Origins) have made me admire my wife even more than I already did. Throughout all the ugly politics, she kept her head, worked hard and honestly, refused to knuckle under to liars and bullies, and conducted herself with the utmost of professionalism. Although often accused of being “volatile”, she did not loose her cool despite the daily attacks on her integrity and the huge amounts of shit thrown at her. In a strange way, the very adversity of the situation seemed to bring out the best in her. It’s my sincere hope that when this is all over with, people will look back on what she did (as an unpaid volunteer, I might add) and show some appreciation for her diligence and dedication. In the short term, my clumsy affections will have to do.

Where Next, Columbus?

Just a quick note posted from Nik’s computer to say that I’m currently in Columbus, OH for the Origins game convention. Don’t expect I’ll be posting much, with four days of con, stupid politics, and meeetings aplenty. I’ll update if I can but it may not be until next week.

You all be good now.

Worth a Try

Over the past several years (and at least once on this very blog) I have talked about how I’d feel a lot more comfortable about the upcoming elections if they were being monitored by the UN. The current administration has proven over and over again that it will lie and cheat to get its way. Considering the problems with the last election, why should we expect this one to be any different? And indeed, it’d probably be easier for them this time, with all the implements of state power under their control, not to mention the lack of a paper trail with all the new electronic voting machines.

A few weeks back, I wondered how exactly one would get the UN involved. So I went and poked around the UN website for a while (I had never been there, it’s actually rather interesting) and found the area about election monitoring. The rule seemed to be that a UN member state must request assistance for monitors to come on in. Since there was an e-mail address for the responsible department, I decided to drop them a linr and inquire. I wrote:

This may seem like a strange question, but is there any way to get the UN to send international observers to cover the American presidential election in November without the US government requesting it? The 2000 elections were botched so badly that many people don’t have faith that the results of the coming election are going to be fair, especially considering that the owners of the companies that make the e-voting machines are outspoken Republicans. I’m sure the Bush administration would howl with outrage, but I’m at least one American who would feel a lot better if the eyes of the world were watching this process closely.

Three weeks went by and I didn’t hear anything back. Knowing how customer service can be, I figured that was that. Today, I actually got a response. They wrote:

Dear Sir,

I regret to inform you that the UN is unable to send observers without an official request from the Member State.

Thank you for your interest in our work!

Ah well. It was worth a try and at least the UN answers its e-mail. I wonder if a petition for UN monitors would do any good. I’m sure the administration would never ever make the request, but perhaps the fact that citizens of a country that’s supposedly schools others in democracy would feel the need for this kind of intervention could be worth something as we lead up to the election.

End of a (Youth) Era

Well, it’s official: I am no longer a youth. On the upside, neither am I a tool. Phew. In honor of my vanished youth, here’s a song from 1981 by guys even older than I am. It’s “Youth of America” by the Wipers, which has been in my head since that Mission of Burma show. My apologies to Reagn Youth, Sonic Youth, Youth Youth Youth, Youth of Today, Wasted Youth, both Youth Brigades, and Youth Gone Mad for not chosing their lyrics to celebrate this occasion. As is often sadly the case, these lyrics from over 20 years ago have lost none of their relevance.

Youth of America

Is living in the jungle

Fighting for survival

But there’s no place to go

Youth of America

There’s pressure all around

The walls are crumbling down

The walls are coming down on you

It is time we rectify this now

We got to see it now

Got to see it now, now, now

They attack you from the right side

Down the left side

Down the middle till you don’t know who you are

Stay around, think it don’t really matters

There trying to put you 6 feet under the ground

It is time we rectify this now

We got to feel this now

Got to feel now, now, now

It is time we rectify this now

We got to heal it now

Got to heal it now, now, now

Youth of America

Is living in the jungle

Fighting for survival

But there’s no place to go

No place to go

No place to go

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer

Now there’s no place left to go

Got to get off of this rot

Do you want to be born here again?

I don’t want to be born here again

This just ain’t no existence

Beware of those guys in disguise

We’re living in the jungle fighting for survival

Can’t wait much longer


They’ll attack you from the right side

Down the left side

Down the middle till you don’t know who you are

Stay around, think it don’t really matters

There trying to put you 6 feet under the ground

It is time we rectify this now

We got to hear it now

Got to hear it now, now, now

Youth of America

Youth of America

Youth, youth, youth, youth, youth

Voidoid Voided

Anarchy flags are once again at half mast here in Seattle. Robert Quine, guitarist of the late, great Richard Hell and the Voidoids, was found dead this week. Weirdly, you can read about it on CNN.


He apparently died of a heroin overdose. It may have been suicide, as he was grieving the death of his wife. How ironic that he would survive NYC in the 70s only to die by heroin in 2004.

I can’t claim to have known the man. He was a fixture on the Lower East Side when I lived in NYC, we had some mutual friends, and met briefly on a couple of occasions. I can say I respected the hell out of him as a musician and his work with the Voidoids was brilliant. Here’s to you, Robert.

Mission Accomplished

Back in the yonder days of the mid-80s, when I was just getting into punk rock, Mission of Burma broke up. They were a Boston band and so local to me. I remember when they played their final show at the Bradford Hotel, but I hadn’t heard any of their records at that point. Within a year I was cursing myself for having missed that show. I eventually tracked down every LP and 7″ and even acquired some bootleg tapes of early live shows. There were a couple of posthumous records (one live, one studio) but it seemed they were gone forever. They had broken up because of guitarist Roger Miller’s tinnitus, you see, not because of rancor amongst the members.

Then last year something amazing happened: Mission of Burma got back together to play small number of shows. Ear protection has apparently improved so much over the past 20 years that Roger can once again play live. I caught their Seattle show at the Experience Music Project and it was amazing. I figured it was pretty much a one-time event though. However, they decided to stick around and record a new album. Groups that reunite after 20 years very rarely put out decent records, but once again Burma delivered with the OnOffOn LP. They are now touring to support the record, so I was able to see them again over the weekend. Fucking great show too. They played searing renditions of classics like Academy Fight Song, That’s When I Reach for My Revolver, and That’s How I Escaped My Certain Fate, plus new songs like The Setup and Wounded World. Burma has also always had great taste in cover songs and they closed with two seminal American punk songs: Class War by the Dils (dedicated to the legacy of Ronnie Reagan) and Youth of America by the Wipers. I left the club totally jazzed up. I love that feeling.

So here’s a band I never thought I’d get to see and now I’ve seen them twice in a year. Sometimes, life is good.

Storming the Beaches? Maybe Next Year

A little over a year ago I realized that this year would be the 60th Anniversary of D-Day. I’ve wanted to visit the Normandy beaches since I was a kid, but the opportunity never presented itself. Last summer I started thinking about maybe making the trip in 2004. I figured the 60th anniversary would be a good time and the absurd anti-French sentiment in the US would keep the number of yahoos down. I talked about my plans at the various summer cons and soon Hal and Rick signed on. We’d go together, we decided, and indulge in our history nerdism to the max.

Even up to about six months ago, it seemed like we might still go. We did some research and made some tentative plans. Then, as often happens, life intruded on our fantasy. None of us had a week to spare in June. We all work in the game industry and early June is when we gear up for summer con season. On top of that, with GR’s deal with GW, Hal and I had even more work to do than usual. By March it was perfectly clear: we weren’t going. I wish I had been able to be in France today. Maybe next year.

Tomorrow’s Never Yesterday

While waiting for Nik to get in from the airport, I caught Die Another Day on cable. I hadn’t seen it in the theater and Bond seemed a fine way to kill a couple of hours. Turns out Die Another Day blows. Spoilers below if you haven’t seen it.

Top Five Points of Suckage

5. The theme is godawful. As the opening credits were rolling I wondered what talentless fuck had done the song. A few minutes later I had my answer: Madonna. Ugh, just terrible. Furthermore, Madonna shows up and “acts” in the movie and she’s terrible at that too. New rule for future Bond movies: no Ciccone.

4. The film is absurdly self-referential. It’s full of gags that reference the older Bond films, which is a mistake because it just reminds you how much better they were!

3. At the beginning of the flick, Bond is captured. OK, that happens sometimes, but of course the suave Bond always manages an escape toot sweet. This time, the North Koreans hold him for 14 months and torture him mercilessly. And he doesn’t escape, he’s released in a prisoner exchange. That, my friend, is not 007.

2. The villain has a satellite in the sky that can focus the light of the sun like a big frickin’ laser. His master plan? Destroy the minefields between North and South Korea so the northern army can pour south. What kind of master plan is that? If you’ve got a giant laser in the sky, start roasting Seoul (or better yet, Washington DC) until the world meets your insane demands! Don’t they teach these evil villains anything these days?

1. The tidal wave surfing sequence. ‘Nuff said.

So Close

I just watched So Close, a Hong Kong action flick from 2002. It was directed by Corey Yuen, who helmed such fine films as New Legend of Shaolin and Fong Sai Yuk, so I thought it might be decent. He also worked on the Transporter and I have to wonder if doing a picture in the West resulted in cross-pollination of the ugly kind. It’s weird. Here’s a guy whose pedigree goes back to the martial arts films of the early 70s, who honed his directorial chops during the Hong Kong’s new wave in the late 80s and early 90s. The man knows how to choreograph a fight scene. And yet, So Close seems like an attempt to import many of the tricks of the Matrix into Hong Kong, which is strange. A good HK flick doesn’t need cheesy computer tricks, yet this film is full of them. And the tricks aren’t even good ones. The fake stuff looks really fake, especially the liberally used breaking glass that goes everywhere but never cuts anybody.

The story involves two sisters, who use a high tech satellite system their father invented to prosper as high-paid assassins (what else?!). They kill off the megalomaniacal head of an evil corporation of the cyberpunk variety. It turns out they were hired by the murdered CEO’s brother, who wanted to seize power for himself. Karen Mok plays the super intuitive cop who is on the case. She spends much of the movie chasing the two sisters. Of course, it is a forgone conclusion that cop and assassin will eventually join forces to wreak bloody vengeance on the backstabbing corporate bastard and his legion of gun-toting followers.

Some of the action scenes are good. Zhao Wei, who was delightful in Shaolin Soccer, does well with the role of the younger sister. Shu Qi, the older sister, is stylish enough but a bit flat. Of the leads, the real surprise is Karen Mok. She came up in the early 90s and really seems to have come into her own. She manages to be funny, ass kicking, and hot all at the same time. Despite the best efforts of the actresses though, So Close is ultimately a let down. It’s too long, there’s too much melodrama, and the computer effects are not worthy of a real HK action flick. Bring back wires and trampolines I say!

Two More for the List

I watched Tora, Tora, Tora on Memorial Day while designing WFRP careers. I had watched Midway, a movie I liked a lot as a kid, last week and found it was in fact quite mediocre. Tora, Tora, Tora was a much better film, and stood up to my memories of it. When I was younger, I found the political scenes dull. I wanted the get to the incredible aerial sequences. Nowadays I find the actions leading up to Pearl Harbor quite interesting. So much so that after watching the movie, I pulled down my copy of Day of Deceit and started reading it. The thesis of this book is that FDR knew about the attack ahead of time but let it happen because he knew such a thing would shake America out of its isolationism and free him up to go to war in Europe. I’ve had this book for a couple of years now but hadn’t gotten around to reading it. Ditto for War Without Mercy, another Pacific War book I’ve been reading lately. More on that book later.