Monday, August 31, 2009

I Turn 40

Something funny happened to me today.
I reached middle age. Or as I like to call it, medieval age.
I'm 40 years old today.
In the past, I dreaded birthdays. There's a certain point when you crack 30 that you feel your youth slipping. You loathe your 30s because it signals a dynamic life shift: you tend to slow down and realize you're not a hellion you were during your 20s.
But after breaking the 40 barrier, I just don't give a shit.
I see this as a rite of passage, a milestone on this bumpy, pothole-filled highway that is life.
I'm 40. Bang a gong and let's celebrate.
My 30s were the Decade of Suck. I was married, lost and drifting, isolated and tempest-tossed in a sea of troubles. I struggled with unemployment, poverty and insecurity.
Now? Well, I have experience. I have a teflon heart. I just don't give a damn about the petty, niggling concerns of average mortals.
See, people are obsessed with age and youth in this country. They can't let themselves age well. They want to linger in a pool of delayed adolescence and remain eternally 24. The retarding of aging isn't normal. It's scary and a symptom of how fucked up Americans are. By having elective cosmetic surgery, by injecting yourself with Botox, by dressing like you're going clubbing in 1992, what's that say about your collective security?
We've cultivated the myth in this country that anything old, anything showing its age is undesirable and taboo. Once people get grey hairs, once they slow down, it's a sign of weakness and frailty.
Instead of celebrating age as a milestone, we seek to repress it, isolate it and defy it.
I reject that. I used to be afraid of going bald. There are enough bald men in my family that holidays resemble a Kojak convention. Cursed with the DNA I have, I'll probably look like Larry David by age 45.
Yet I don't care, because losing one's hair is a sign of virility and maturity and toupees make you look like a Tribble is humping your scalp.
Wisdom is something that comes with age. I'd rather be wise and old than unwise and young. I'd rather be the world-weary veteran of life than the wet-behind-the-ears newbie.
Mark Twain once wrote, "If I had been helping the Almighty when he created man, I would have had him begin at the other end, and start human beings with old age. How much better to start old and have all the bitterness and blindness of age in the beginning!"
Besides the whole Benjamin Button reference, you can't start old. There are no babies who act like old men, although there are a lot of old men who act like babies.
I prefer seeing life as a wonderful journey, one where you are chauffeured for a while, then you are driving down the highway at fast speeds alluding the cops, then are hitchhiking, then stay at a friend's house on the way to Boulder, then take public transportation then wander aimlessly around an AAA office in Topeka until you die from boredom.
And that's what life should be: as unpredictable and as exciting as being trapped in a building engulfed in flames as Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks and Megan Fox wrestle naked in Jell-O.
Being 40 is not bad at all.
Hey, it's not like I'm 50.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Strange Bedfellows

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was a featured guest at a rally for GOP Assembly candidates Michel Donohue and John McCann today at Cape May County Park.
Santorum served in the U.S. Senate from 1995 and 2007 and is most noted for his staunch conservative record and positions. He supported an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act that would have allowed “intelligent design”, a blend of religion and pseudo-science to be taught in public schools. He sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act that would have required employers to accommodate the religious practices of their employees by allowing them to wear religious garments and have time off for religious observances. He supported a bill that would have prohibited the National Weather Service from publishing weather data to the public when they could receive it from private forecast services such as AccuWeather, who contributed money to Santorum’s campaigns. Santorum publicly opposed homosexuality, saying it was contrary to a “healthy, stable, traditional family.” He said the focus of traditional marriage was to procreate and lumped homosexuality with other deviant carnal practices such as beastiality and pedophilia. Santorum later clarified that he didn’t have a problem with homosexuals, but “homosexual acts,” which is kind of redundant.
"In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be….Whether it's polygamy, whether it's adultery, whether it's sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family," Santorum told an interviewer in 2003.
Santorum’s comments provoked ire with many politicians and gay rights groups. The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group, also demanded Santorum apologize for his remarks.
Sex columnist Dan Savage hosted a contest to find an alternative definition to “santorum.” The winning definition, which was posted online and is the first reference if you Google “santorum” is: “A frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.”
Reportedly, the slang definition has caught on, and might be the biggest social coup in American politics since a CIA-backed gunman stood on a grassy knoll in Dallas in 1963.
Santorum has every right to his convictions. I’m sure that he really believes that gay people marrying will tear the institution of marriage asunder and within five years America will resemble the desolate wasteland in the Mad Max movies. I’m also convinced that Santorum believes the Bible to be literally true, and creationism happened and dinosaurs were just something paleontologists simply fabricated because the T-Rex looks really badass.
One wonders why the Republican candidates for New Jersey’s First District Assembly would ally themselves with such a controversial figure? Was David Duke too busy? Didn’t Pat Robertson return their calls?
If this is the direction of the Donohue/McCann campaign, then the GOP is in serious trouble. The problem nationally with the GOP is that their convictions are based in the past. Sure, conservatism is about tradition and restraint, but would it hurt to develop a vision for the future? What are they doing in those conservative think tanks besides dreaming of new ways to carve up the Middle East?
It’s like giving the keys for a Honda Civic to someone who only knows how to drive a Model T. When you govern in the past, when your ideas are stale, when you don’t have a clear blueprint for the future, you look like you’re reactive, not proactive. I get that you want to stand up for traditional American values and families. I understand. But is that it? Is the Republican Party a one-trick pony scolding the liberals, wagging their fingers at the decadent sexual deviants, the news media and Hollywood? Is this a party of well-mannered conservative intellectuals like William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater, or a rabble of blue-haired old spinsters and fat hillbillies waving the Bible and wearing AK-47s to public meetings?
Maybe after Buckley's demise, so went the old-school GOP.
If civil discourse and debate is supplanted by shouting matches and threats, if the conservatives and liberals can’t at least agree to put away the rancor and soundbites and listen to each other, then maybe as a nation we’re all screwed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

GenCon 2009

GenCon in Indianapolis is the largest gaming convention in the country. I attended GenCon once before, in 2000 when it was held in Milwaukee. Back then, I went as a gamer, a wide-eyed fanboy obsessed with Deadlands and hoping to meet the people responsible for my favorite hobby.
This time around I went as an author. It's been eight months since Reality Blurs released Ravaged Earth, a pulp setting that took me years to conceive and write. Looking back now, I'd say the sleepless nights, the anguish and worry and hours hunched over the computer writing were worth it. Reality Blurs did a fantastic job with breathing life into my vision, and the number of fans who came up to me at GenCon and told me how they liked the game felt gratifying.
It's a strange feeling when you've played RPGs since 1983 only to find through perseverance, fate and good timing that you have your own game. Usually I'm an outsider looking in. This is a unique opportunity to be included in a network of creative people who love gaming, game creation and the process of making good products.

I snagged several gaming products at GenCon this year: Realms of Cthulhu and RunePunk by Reality Blurs, Weird War II and the Deadlands GM Screen by Pinnacle Entertainment Group, Mysteries of the Hollow Earth by Exile Game Studio, The Battle for Slaughter Gulch board game from Twilight Creations. In addition, I bought some non-gaming related merch: Where the Deep Ones Are, a Lovecraftian children's tale written by Kenneth Hite and illustrated by Andy Hopp, and a Jesus fish in the shape of Cthulhu for my car.

Vendors from all over the country set up booths in the main vendor's hall in the Indiana Convention Center, hawking their products and showcasing their latest games. At the Reality Blurs booth, I had the opportunity to tell people about Ravaged Earth and the upcoming Secrets of Aetherium.
Apart from milling about the vender's hall, I also met several people in the gaming industry. I stayed up into the early morning hours drinking with them. Networking is important with anything, and you know you've bonded when a roomful of gaming professionals laugh at your flimsy Joe Pesci impression.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Highway to Health

President Obama’s proposed healthcare plan is really masking a socialist agenda to make the United States like the former Soviet Union.

President Obama’s proposed healthcare plan will be steeped in Big Government, making bureaucrats in charge of determining the health care of millions.

President Obama’s proposed healthcare plan will create a death panel to determine who lives and who dies and will force the elderly to seek counseling on euthanization.

The Republican’s opposition to the president’s healthcare plan may sound like bad science fiction, a Big Brother meets Big Doctor dystopian future where the population is herded like cattle and deemed fit or unfit.
Yet the problem with this entire issue is not that it’s single payer healthcare versus insurance companies. The issue is what moral ground are we as Americans going to take to ensure that everybody has access to health care.
Disclosure: I receive health insurance through my job that I pay into each year. When I had problems with my back last year, my insurance covered the treatment. Without it, I’d have paid an exorbitant amount. So having a health plan is helpful, to a degree.
I say to a degree because it seems through the current company plan, the employees are paying more but getting less. That’s the trouble with the current system: you’re at the mercy of insurance bureaucrats who determine if you have pre-existing conditions and can receive treatment.
The opponents of Obama’s plan claim it will allow the heavy hand of government to control a person’s healthcare options, effectively robbing them of their most personal choices.
Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice-residential candidate, posted her thoughts about Obama’s healthcare plan on Facebook:

“The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.”

Downright evil? Like you're going to see general practitioners in black cloaks painting pentagrams in sheep's blood before they examine you.
And how is what Palin described any different from the current reality, where insurance companies play God every day with people's lives?
Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths, said publicly that the healthcare bill would “make it mandatory – absolutely require – that every five years people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.”
What the bill actually says is that seniors on Medicare can opt to have voluntary sessions to discuss living wills, health care proxies giving another party the right to make health care decisions, and end-of-life decision-making.
It doesn’t stick the elderly in a state-funded suicide parlor like in Kurt Vonnegut’s story “Welcome to the Monkey House.” In fact, most of the right’s criticism sounds like grim Orwellian tales of euthanasia for the betterment of the Glorious People’s Nation.
What’s next? That the Obama healthcare plan is exploring eugenics?
Let’s face it: the healthcare system in this country is fucked. For the millions of uninsured people going bankrupt because they have to pay their medical expenses, life really sucks.
The libertarian in me rails against government interference, that a Canadian-style healthcare system that’s only single payer without an option for private insurance companies is destined to fail because, well, it’s run by the federal government. And anyone who’s paid attention to the stories about Walter Reed Army Medical Center knows that the government really can fuck things up.
On the other hand, access to good quality healthcare is a basic human right. A sick population can’t work, can’t be productive and can’t function. People need medicine, they need operations and treatment and they need physical and mental therapy.
Unfortunately, whenever money is involved, this argument is forfeit. It all becomes about spinning the good reasons for national health care from their most altruistic and noble intentions to seedy, grimy, hammer and sickle socialist connotations.
I don’t think some form of nationalized healthcare would deteriorate medical care to the point where a nurse would say, “Dr. Mengele, we’re fresh out of leeches!” or “Dr. Crippen, your 2 o’clock assisted suicide is here!”
If politicians didn’t receive campaign contributions from the insurance lobbies and pharmaceutical industry who profit the most from the current health care system, would things be different?
I interviewed a physician who is passionate about single-payer national health care. In May, he publicly protested before the U.S. Senate Hearing on Health Care with his group, Physicians for a National Health Care Program and got arrested for disrupting the proceedings.
According to the physician, 59 percent of American doctors polled nationally support single payer health care, where doctors, hospitals and health care providers are paid through a single national fund.
The physician told me that he opposes Obama's current plan because it still includes an option for insurance companies.
“Keeping private insurance companies intact is like allowing sharks to be in the water where there are minnows,” the physician said. “The only way to cover it and save it is taking private insurance companies out of the playing field completely.”
The physician said the real problem is the pharmaceutical industry and insurance companies contributing money to both Democrats and Republicans.
America is the only industrialized nation without some component of nationalized health care. Is it a good thing or bad thing? Will the general health of our population be served by the current system, or should be take steps to change – moderately or radically – the way health care is funded and delivered?
What we need is an honest, mature debate on this issue from everyone – including backers of the radical single-payer health care – to get their take on how to reform the healthcare system in this country. There also should be input from opponents who say a national healthcare system is too costly, and these opponents should also provide ideas for fixing healthcare.
Whatever the solution, the time for civil discussion and action is now, before we’re all sickened by the threats, distortion and partisan bullshit.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

John Hughes

John Hughes, the director of such classic 1980s films as The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Weird Science, Uncle Buck and Home Alone died today.
During my teenage years, Hughes' movies ruled the screen, and he captured on film more than anyone else what it was like for young people growing up in Reagan's America. His youthful characters showed a malaise coupled with bittersweet optimism that was so rare in cinema. A child of Middle America, his films encapsulated Middle American sensibilities at the same time showing a metamorphosis that teenagers go through.
Out of all his works, it is The Breakfast Club that is the signature Hughes film for me. Encapsulating an entire day of in-school detention, the film shows the personifications of five unique high school cliques: the nerd, the jock, the bully, the popular girl and the basket case and unites them. The movie explores that despite their varying backgrounds and places in the high school hierarchy, each student is going through the same thing. They are experiencing the pangs of teenage years, of social pressures, of peer pressure and parental pressure. They are stuck in the molds fashioned for them and by the end of the film they see each other not as cliched high school tropes but as peers going through the same journey.
Watching The Breakfast Club recently, I was reminded what a talented director Hughes was, to tell such a story with talented young actors who make you feel that their troubles and struggles of adolescence is something real. In the past, movies about teenagers portrayed young people as goofy malt shop stereotypes or rebellious rioters clashing the gong against society's norms. The Breakfast Club had stereotypes, too, but Hughes made the students probe deeper and explain that not all is rosy under the surface, even with the so-called "popular" cliques.
Hughes became one of the story tellers for Generation X, and through his films my generation saw something real and honest about growing up.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Angry Hitler

I'm behind the times on this one, but I've recently discovered an Internet meme with a scene from the 2005 German film "Der Untergang" (The Downfall). People have taken a clip of Hitler in a bunker receiving bad news from his generals, altered the subtitles and posted them to YouTube.
Needless to say, it's extremely funny that something like this would catch on a year ago and continue today, with "Angry Hitler" videos all over the Internet. Taking someone as vile as Hitler and having him chime in on popular cultural references (YouTube, Xbox Live, Michael Jackson and Lost) is just wonderful and shows the creativity of the people who post these clips.

Hitler finds out his subtitles are wrong:

Hitler gets banned from Wikipedia:

Hitler finds out he's a joke on YouTube:

Hitler reacts to Michel Jackson's death:

Hitler gets banned from Xbox Live:

Somebody stole Hitler's car:

Hitler angry over the Lost season finale:

Hitler wants a Mac:

Hitler finds out about the new Watchman ending:

Hitler finds out Sarah Palin resigns: