What if he IS like Hitler?

Rudolf Herzog did a recent puff piece that explored 11 of the most innappropriate ways in which people compared some person, place or thing to Hitler. Most know this as “Godwin’s Law” which states that the minute you compare your opponent to Hitler in the course of an argument, you have lost that argument. Herzog went through all of the usual suspects (Ahmadinjahd comparing Nato to Hitler, global warming deniers being compared to Hitler, Obama is like Hitler, etc.).

However, when he was brought up the fact that last year Georgia State Representative John Yates had said that illegal immigrants should be shot and likening them to Hitler by saying, “Stopping Hitler was worth the price… It’s our border, they’re invading us,” I had to pause for a second.

What do you do when comparing someone to Hitler doesn’t seem so off the mark or absurd? I’m not saying that Yates is right and illegals are like “Hitler.” After all, the Germans did not invade France in order to cut the grass and wash the dishes. But I don’t think it’s off the mark to say that suggesting we shoot on sight the people whom we suspect of having crossed the border illegally on sight sounds to me like something Hitler might have actually thought WAS a good idea. Does that make me fall afoul of Godwin’s Law?

The Beholder Art (take 2)

(I posted this just before Blogger went down the other day and it vanished into the ether, so now I post it again).
A friend sent me this link to a hidden page at Wizards that was part of a contest of some kind (I don’t know) where they had a picture by Wayne Reynolds of a few adventures throwing down with the gorpy, loveable beholder (see Wayne Reynolds image at right).
The link: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/Article.aspx?x=dnd/4dnd/behold
The page includes 10 different artist’s interpretations of the scene. From the page: The original image is a Wayne Reynolds piece. Jon Schindehette used it as a model, sending it out to wide array of artists and asking for their interpretation of the image using their own specific art styles. The results that came back were impressive, to say the least—and a fascinating look at how D&D art can be expressed in a variety of ways.
I’m sure I’ll come off as a malcontent (after all, Wizards didn’t ask ME to participate), but to my jaded eye, all of the artists chosen seem to share a pretty similar sensibility and there isn’t much of an old school vibe to any of the pictures… where the fuck is the Erol Otus version?
I am considering doing my own version after this month is over and I am somewhat caught up on my own work (so maybe mid June at earliest). I’d like to toss out the suggestion that other members of the OSR with an artistic bent try their hand at the picture… anyone care to take me up on that?

French Film Snobbery and Zombies in Paris

Sometimes a shitty French film is better than a shitty American film. Such is the case with the 2009 movie, ‘La Horde,’ (which I discovered translated into English as, not surprisingly, “The Horde”). “The Horde” has everything you could want (except aliens or sex): zombies, gunplay, people sneaking up and down dingy, claustrophobic hallways, lots of cursing and gallons of blood.

I find myself wondering why I enjoy low-to-midrange budget foreign horror movies more than their American counterparts — perhaps it is just because I am reading subtitles and thus feel like the film is automatically more highbrow? Or maybe I just find some of the horror conventions more entertaining when they are given a slightly different take by someone from another culture? Or maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges… perhaps as an American I get access to every piece of shit that the American film industry craps out whereas only the better French examples make it to my Netflix queu through a winnowing process where French film distributors decide that there is no point in exporting some pieces of Franco-film merde because they won’t make back the cost of subtitling them. That last one is probably the reason why. Or I’m a pretentious know-nothing who thinks a film is automatically ‘better’ because it came from the land of Goddard and good desserts.

The Spanish film “Dagon,” while hardly a masterpiece, was a lot more entertaining to me than most of the Lovecraft adaptations made in the US — go figure.

Part of what entertains me in the samples of ‘exploitation’ French cinema is that the French audience seems to be more willing to allow themselves to be visually entertained even at the expense of verismilitude. There are often scenes of absolutely entertaining acrobatic fighting that defy all common sense, gravity and tactics in some of these films that are, none the less, really entertaining to watch. Speaking of which, has any French film maker made a horror/action flick that combines zombies and parkour? And if not, why not? I can think of few things more entertaining than watching lithe acrobats leaping gracefully from facade to parapet like graceful hip-hop angels while salivating earthbound zombies thrash and moan and clamber over one another as they reach for the delicious human morsels that always dance out of reach.

But enough about that. You came here to read about ‘The Horde’ so I better get to it. The film starts with the funeral of a Parisian police detective. We learn from conversations between the widow and four other detectives that the policeman was killed by a gang of drug dealers whom they had been investigating. The cops swear that they will get revenge and decide to make an ‘unofficial’ and off the books raid on the tenement where the drug dealers hang out.

Cut to a fucked up concrete tenement block at night. Our four cops sneak up to the tenement wearing ski masks and carrying weapons. Despite the fact that one of them has moral reservations about behaving like they are ‘above the law,’ it is made clear that they are out for blood and don’t intend to make arrests — they want to kill the people who killed their comrade. They meet the building’s “super” (in French he is called a ‘concierge,’ which makes me chuckle) who brandishes a shotgun and tells them that the building is condemned and mostly vacant and which floor the dealers can be found on.

They proceed upstairs and begin wiring the door with explosives. The drug dealers can be heard talking inside. Suddenly everything goes pear shaped. The “concierge” shows up and ‘wants to join their team’ and screws everything up — the drug dealers shoot through the door (badly wounding one of the cops) and suddenly the concierge is dead and the cops are prisoners of the drug dealers.

These drug gang seems to have modelled itself on the U.N. because there is at least one of every minority group known to be in Paris in the gang. The gang is led by a pair of Nigerian brothers and has a Czech, one or two Arabic or Armenian looking guys, at least one Frenchman and a Roma as members. Whenever anyone refers to the Roma’s nationality, the subtitles translate it as ‘Carny’ which is hilarious since it makes me think of the scruffy guys who set up and tear down roller coasters for travelling carnivals rather than gypsies (which is what I assume what the person who wrote the subtitles intended).

As the drug dealers try to decide what to do with the cops, one of them goes apeshit and shoots a prisoner with a bag over his head whom they had been interrogating when the cops arrived. We never see this guy but apparently he was the cop’s informant/snitch. While they debate what to do and shoot one of the cops in the leg to show how serious they are, the “I’m sure he was dead” snitch comes running into he room, bleeding all over the place, and kills a couple of the drug dealers while they pump an unbelievable number of bullets into his zombified body.

Everyone is pretty freaked out by this and they lose a few more gang members to the newly minted zombies (all of whom get up a short time after having been killed and attack the group). The survivors all run (or hobble, in the case of the guy who was shot in the leg) up to the the roof where they see jets bombing Paris and hordes of zombies swarming around the building. Uh oh. They agree upon a temporary truce in order to escape the building and the zombies.

In making their way back down to the ground floor, there are several entertaining and acrobatic fights, including a particularly exciting display of one-Carny-versus-two-zombies pugilism. This is where the French horror films get it right. In order to be entertained, it is not necessary that the fight be ‘realistic’ as long as it is frenetic and exciting. I am not really certain how one gypsy won a fist fight with two zombies in a corridor, but his fists and elbows and feet were flying and kicking and snarling and the zombies kept coming back for more and just before the fight began to get tedious they got him onto the other side of the door and took the action elsewhere.

At some point after losing a few more members they hook up with one of the building’s former residents: an old, comically fat and insane war veteran who is joyfully killing zombies in the hallway with a fire axe. The veteran gives them pear brandy and tries to nonchalantly chop off one of the gypsys’ legs because it has an infected zombie bite on it. While in his apartment we get the only ‘context’ for the zombie outbreak… a brief and blurry TV news clip tells of zombie outbreaks all over the city and refugees being evacuated to an army base.

The veteran tells them that the (now zombified) concierge was a gun nut so they travel downstairs to loot his collection. I don’t know what French firearms laws are like or how much money the superintendent of a condemned building would realistically have to devote to his illegal gun collection, but they go into his shitbox apartment and somehow procure pistols, a submachinegun, a 50 caliber machine gun, a machete and (I assume) a fuck of a lot of ammo for all of these weapons because for most of the rest of the film they are blasting away with these weapons.

The interesting thing about guns in these French horror films is that they don’t run out of bullets until the plot requires another cast member be sacrificed to the ravening hordes of zombies by an untimely end of supply of bullets. In a particularly entertainingly choreographed scene, one of the cops lets the rest of the gang escape by first charging into a gang of zombies like an American footballer, then climbing on top of a car and shooting them until he runs out of bullets, then hacking at them with a machete until the machete is torn from his grasp and finally punching them until they drag him down in a swirling mass of bloody hands and open mouths. This seems to take a really long time and it doesn’t seem like the zombies are really trying that hard to actually get him even though they outnumber him by about 8,000 to one. It is completely over-the-top ridiculous and their moves are more tightly syncopated than a Lady Gaga video but at the end I wanted to clap because it was all so entertaining.

I’ve probably given away too much already… but in any zombie movie it is kind of a given that the survivors are going to get their numbers whittled down until there are just a few left and heads will be exploded by shot gun blasts or beaten in with frying pans and this film is no different.

Was it a ‘good movie?’ No. But it was entertaining. And sometimes that just has to be enough.


Stop the presses!

Govenor of Louisianna, Bobby Jindal, the “Curry Kid” of Baton Rouge and apparent future Presidential candidate has released his birth certificate without even being asked!

Way to hit it out of the park, Bobby! You have a bright future ahead of you!

Interestingly, it seems that Bobby’s mother was 3 months pregnant with Bobby when she came to the US to study at Louisianna State University, making me wonder if, in the name of consistency, all the FOX news commentators who go on about people of other ethnicities coming to the US to drop their ‘Anchor Babies’ to get free citizenship for their kids will apply the same term to Jindal… or is an ‘Anchor Baby’ only an ‘Anchor Baby’ if he or she grows up to vote Democrat?

As far as doubts about Jindal’s citizenship, I am glad he laid them to rest early. (sarcasm)Too bad he’s a radical Muslim who wants to enforce Sharia law in the US!(/sarcasm)

The Art of The Game

Yesterday’s post by James over at Grognardia on art in game materials got me thinking about the relationship of art to RPG gaming materials. James begins by stating that he does not like some of the ‘art heavy’ trends he sees in many of the RPG books being produced today… and I have to confess that I wonder if I know what books he is looking at — the last “Art Heavy” rpg book I bought was a copy of the 3.5e players guide several years ago So I perhaps am not buying enough (or the right books) to see what James is talking about. Given thr profusion of full color illustrations that intrude on the text, colored backgrounds and neat-o graphic borders and what-not, I think the 3.5e PHB might fit James’ definition of “art heavy” (and I think it is “overdone”) but the 3.5e PHB was also annoying to me in that WOTC re-used most of the art from the 3e version. My other recent purchases included a copy of Lesserton & Mor from Faster Monkey Games, which I thought was a little too light on the interior illustrations (although I love Peter Mullen’s work on the cover)) .

James writes: …what are your feelings about the increase in the illustrations per page we see in a lot of contemporary gamebooks? Do you like it? Do you view it as essential? And, most importantly from my perspective, has this increase affected your feelings about games and game products that don’t include as much artwork as you might see in, say, a WotC or Paizo offering?

I have mixed feelings on these questions. On the one hand, I draw pictures and hope to earn coin by drawing them, so self interest makes me want to say, “More illustrations, especially by me, please!” On the other hand, I’m getting more and more turned off by the slickness and ‘total marketing package’ represented by books like the WOTC 3.5e books (which , although they are out of print, are pretty much my most “modern” RPG purchase ). Everything from the ‘iconic characters’ like Redgar the Fighter and Lidda the Halfling to the faux parchment backgrounds, spiky armor, piercings and corsets, etc., just reminds me how fucking old and out of touch I am. And, try as I might, I just can’t do the kind of art that Wizards and the other big players seem to be buying. So maybe there are some sour grapes on my part because I am a talentless hack compared to Todd Lockwood and I don’t own a graphic tablet or a copy of Painter software and wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did.

The work being produced by members of the OSR (like the Peter Mullen cover mentioned above, Tony Dowler’s “Year of the Dungeon” blog, work by Three Headed Trolls and other stuff) never fails to bring a smile to my face. And I get a lot out of looking at pictures and ephemera snatched up from the archives of humanity and ‘repurposed’ by Trey over at his blog, “From the Sorcerer’s Skull.”

I don’t know if I think the OSR is going to diverge from ‘mainstream’ RPGs like the current edition of D&D and become a kind of ‘alternative’ aesthetic counterpoint like the weird and perverse underground comics once provided for the more wholesome mainstream comics from Marvel, Dell, Gold Key and DC. But I think that would be a viable alternative vision of what these publications can be for individual members of the OSR to pursue if they choose.

(The picture above right is “Unicorn Dreams” by Pietro Ramirez)

"Special Collectors Edition?"

Recently I clicked on a series of links and ended up at a forum discussion where the forum members were discussing a ‘special collectors edition’ adventure that was only going to be availible if you went to a particular convention (the details are not important to me, but, if you are curious, the link in question is here).

At issue in the discussion (at least in the page that I read) was a special edition copy of an adventure that was going to be availible only if you attended the particular convention. Some people (who want to collect at least one sample of every single adventure this company puts out) were upset because by putting out an adventure that could be purchased only at the Con, the publisher was forcing them to either go to the con or have an incomplete collection.

I’m not really a ‘people person’ (my never-to-be-realized dream is to live alone in a small cabin in the wilderness, near a body of water) so conventions are not my thing, but collecting ‘completeness’ is not something I understand either. I’m plenty greedy and grasping and I like certain things, but I can’t imagine wanting to own books without physically handling and reading them. The pride that some people take in collecting things just to have ‘one of each edition of the same book’ like in this photo just baffles me:

I got that picture from Austrodavidicus’ (sp?) blog. I didn’t know what it was a picture of at first until I read the text and followed the links and discovered that it was multiple copies of the same game (like the original D&D sets) in all the different printings and variations, all wrapped up in plastic. Theres a LOT more to that particular collection. Follow the links and see.

I have no idea of what a collection like that is worth (I suspect it is worth a lot) and, if I had that kind of scratch, I’d probably be trying to buy that aforementioned cabin in the woods as well as a shitload of canned goods, liquor shotgun shells and .30-06 rounds so I would be ready for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. I’d also buy artwork from artists I like (but I would ‘use’ that too — by hanging it on the wall). And I have my own things that I am fond of — I have a lithograph by Arthur Rackham that I am fond of (and I suppose it is worth something, but not a huge amount) and a Piranesi etching of one of his ‘fantastic prisons’ pictures (which I bought for very little and probably still overpaid for) and I crave ownership of expensive Smith & Wesson and Walther pistols and Leica cameras even though I don’t NEED them… so I am not innocent of being infected by the need to own shit.

If it brings the collector joy to have one of each, then good for them I guess. Seeing all those games collected together to just ‘be a collection,’ however, is strange (and sad) to me… especially since I would like to have just one of those boxed sets (but I would probably just ruin it by reading and playing with it). I have a few very tattered OD&D booklets and some PDFs so I suppose I am good.

I don’t know what to think about books and games being produced as “special edition collector’s items.” On the one hand, I suppose it’s good for the people who publish game books (and probably anything that can create positive cash flow ought to be tried… well, nearly anything). On the other hand, I can understand the “completeist’s” frustration at the creation of artificial scarcity.

As a player/reader/tinkerer/doodler, I just don’t think I ‘get’ collecting because my relationship to the books and things that some people see as objects in a collection is quite different. I see it as bedside reading or reference material for my doodles.

No Gen Con for me

I was hoping to go to GenCon this year in order to celebrate the release of my book (“Exquisite Corpses“) and spend some time meeting fine folks at Joseph Browning’s / Expeditious Retreat’s OSRG Booth… (I hear even Ostensible Cat was coming all of the way from Italy!) but continued cash flow problems make that impossible.
I’m just a sad-faced clown, crying on the inside while whining on the outside.

Osama Bin Laden 1957-2011

I’m willing to bet that everyone knows that Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda leader and mastermind behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks, was killed the other day by US forces in Pakistan.

If the news analysis sources that I have been reading are correct, apparently Bin Laden had lost much of his popular appeal in the middle-east and was considered a bit of a liability by his terrorist peers because of his high profile. Despite being unusually tall (6’6″), needing the help of a cane to get around and poor health (that some sources say he required dialysis treatments), Bin Laden managed to evade US forces for about 10 years. He was finally found (and killed)in a walled villa in Abbottabad, Pakistan, just blocks away from an important Pakistani officer’s training school. Abbottabad is apparently a town popular with tourists for it’s beautiful climate, lush vegetation and luxury restaurants, so the fact that Bin Laden was living there (a rather conspicuous location), rather than in a cave up in the mountains of Afghanistan (as those who follow US news reports had always been told), is somewhat embarassing for both the Americans and their allies (who spent so long fruitlessly looking for him in all of the wrong places) and the Pakistani Government (who were assuring the US and her allies of cooperation while harboring known enemies like Bin Laden).

Maybe it hasn’t sunk in yet, but I’m surprised at how little I feel about the end of this chapter of American History even though I have been along for the whole ride… both when Bin Laden was a US “ally” as a leader of the Mujahadeen fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan under Presidents Reagan and Carter and when he became our enemy after 9-11. If any one person’s name was to be given as a ‘reason’ for commiting US forces wars in Afgahanistan and Iraq, it would probably be Bin Laden (with Saddam Hussein in second place).

I think the problem is that I don’t think Bin Laden’s death solves much of anything (in contrast, Hitler’s death by suicide did seem to bring ‘closure’ to WW2 in Europe; although Nazi Germany was effectively defeated, the Germans did not officially surrender until after Hitler was dead). Although President Obama is now talking about more troop withdrawls from Afghanistan, I don’t think Afghanistan (or Iraq) are any closer to being stable countries where the rule of law prevails and the citizens can count on anything close to a stable life than they were before Bin Laden was killed. Perhaps I’m just jaded. Perhaps there have already been too many declarations of ‘mission accomplished’ and victory in the middle east, and then we woke up the next morning and things were just as fucked up as they were the night before.

A lot of the people who were just kids when we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan 10+ years ago are now adults, and many of them, rightly or wrongly, think of the US and the west as the agressors, the invaders, the bullies. Their countries are fucked up, broken down and burned out and the toilets don’t work, there isn’t much on the supermarket shelves, the water isn’t safe to drink unless you boil it, most of the people don’t have work, gunmen and bandits wander the streets and shit blows up all of the time — both Iraq and Afghanistan, despite efforts to the contrary, are breeding grounds for discontent.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not shedding any tears over the death of Bin Laden. He was an evil man who orchestrated mass casualty attacks on civilians (including his own people). He was also fucking weird — he claimed to love bulldozers, bombs, guns and genetically engineered plants and hated music and ‘luxuries’ like cold drinking water because his particular interpretation of a religiously based revolutionary culture. He thought music and cold water were decadent luxuries that made people happy and cooperative and less likely to fight for his cause. But I fear that there are a lot of other charismatic terrorist leaders who have stepped up to take his place (although the US public may not know their names yet). Afghanistan and Iraq don’t seem to have benefited enough from the trillions of dollars and thousands of lives that the US and her allies have poured in there (although the defense industry and the Government subcontractors certainly have done well). And we don’t even know how many Iraquis and Afghanis have died in the past ~10 years.

Given the amount of effort expended measured in dollars and blood shed, shouldn’t things be much better now?