The Fine Art of the Gamemaster

Damn I wish I could reference the author of this quote…

Gamesmastering is something like trying to write & direct a screenplay while the cameras are rolling, for half a dozen prima donnas who are all demanding they’re the star of the movie, and you’ve also got to do the special effects and play *all* the bit parts yourself.


Last season, Angel nearly lost the “un” part of his “undead,” at least regarding the life of the series bearing his name. An enormous fan campaign saved it from cancellation, and this season has shaped up to be a very strong, innovative one (not that the previous seasons blew, because they were mostly very good, but there have been consistency problems). Apparently people are noticing. A fan on the boards at Ain’t It Cool posted:

My local affiliate announced (on their news segment after last week’s episode) that Angel is the WB’s second highest rated program. Isn’t that something? To go from the verge of cancellation at the end of last season to the WB’s second most popular show. Seriously, it needs to be renewed.

This reinforces other references I’ve seen to the show doing well this season, so hopefully we’ll get to watch Angel brood and stomp evil a few more years.

Now, if only Joss’ll get someone to let him spin Dana from a few episodes back into her own show…

Conason on the honorable GOP ‘Nam Vets

Joe Conason writes political commentary for Salon and The New York Observer. Here’s his take on the sudden flood of attacks aimed at slandering John Kerry’s authentic military hero status…

Feb. 10, 2004  |  Many months before the dormant controversy over George W. Bush’s military career resurfaced, conservatives and Republicans were raking over yellowed clippings as they sought to revive dim memories of the Vietnam War. Their target was not the errant National Guard Lt. Bush, of course, but the decorated Navy Lt. John F. Kerry.

Last year, when Kerry was considered the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, he began to take flak from the far right over his antiwar activism and his war record. Those attacks slowed when his candidacy stalled and temporarily sank.

But now, as he claims primary victories and climbs past Bush in the polls, Kerry is again the prime target of conservative invective that depicts his peace activism as unpatriotic, anti-military, and somehow hostile to his brothers in arms. With scrutiny focused on Bush’s alleged failure to fulfill his Guard obligations, the destruction of Kerry’s character has reached red-alert urgency on the right. And a key purveyor of this anti-Kerry propaganda is a former Green Beret named Ted Sampley, who has run a profitable business as a “POW/MIA advocate” from his home in North Carolina for most of the past two decades. Few remember that Sampley was critical to efforts to similarly smear Sen. John McCain, another war hero, when he ran for president against George W. Bush in 2000. Now Sampley has started an organization pointedly calling itself “Vietnam Veterans Against Kerry,” which proclaims its determination to ruin Kerry’s campaign.

Republicans are understandably rattled by Kerry’s political appeal to Vietnam-era veterans — and, by extension, to veterans of more recent conflicts as well. From the beginning, the Massachusetts senator has been accompanied by a contingent of vets; but their presence was dramatized last month in Iowa by the sudden appearance of James Rassmann, a veteran who described how Kerry had pulled him out of a river, while machine-gun fire raked their boat, and saved his life. That was why he had traveled from Oregon to join the campaign, Rassmann explained — even though he is a registered Republican.

The Democratic vet offensive inspired a pair of contradictory responding salvos from the Republicans. Versions of both have appeared recently on the Wall Street Journal editorial pages. In a brief essay published on Feb. 7, World War II hero Bob Dole warned that “we do not need to divide America over who served and how,” and pointed out that Kerry himself had issued a similar plea in 1992 regarding the issue of Bill Clinton’s Vietnam draft history. Dole forgot to note that his fellow Republicans, ignoring Kerry’s plea, incessantly excoriated Clinton as a draft dodger and worse.

Only two weeks earlier, the Journal editors had published a harsh attack on Kerry’s war record titled “Conduct Unbecoming: Kerry Doesn’t Deserve Vietnam Vets’ Support.” Written by a former Special Forces lieutenant, the essay complains that Kerry’s antiwar activism was “financed by Jane Fonda,” whose 1972 solidarity visit to Hanoi made her a permanent symbol of betrayal to many Vietnam vets. “Many veterans believe these protests led to more American deaths,” wrote the author, Stephen Sherman, “and to the enslavement of the people on whose behalf the protests were ostensibly being undertaken.” Significantly, he also berates Kerry for suppressing a “revealing inquiry” into the POW/MIA issue, another matter of deep sensitivity for vets, as co-chairman of a Senate investigating committee. Even for the Journal, that was a remarkably irresponsible accusation.

But for the Republicans, cutting off Kerry’s potential base among veterans is as vital as deflecting questions about Bush’s military record. From obscure Web sites to Rush Limbaugh to the Weekly Standard, the right-wing media are eagerly popularizing the same attacks featured in Sherman’s essay. The Web site for Ted Sampley’s Vietnam Veterans Against Kerry offers a pungent example of the right’s rhetorical style: The Viet Cong’s National Liberation Front flag is the background to a shot of a young, fatigue-clad Kerry. That picture is pure computer magic — in other words, a fake.

According to author Susan Katz Keating, who has written extensively on Vietnam veterans and the POW/MIA movement for the Washington Times and Soldier of Fortune magazine, deception is what Sampley does for a living. Her book “Prisoners of Hope: Exploiting the POW-MIA Myth in America,” published in 1994 by Random House, exposes how Sampley and his allies abused the hopes of grieving families for fun and profit. Their best-known victim, until now, was Sen. John McCain. He first drew Sampley’s poisonous attention when, along with Kerry, he debunked the idea that Americans were still being held by Vietnam, and endorsed the restoration of diplomatic relations with the Communist government.

Keating describes in detail how, in 1992, Sampley commenced a “scurrilous” crusade to punish McCain:

“Sampley … accused McCain of being a weak-minded coward who had escaped death by collaborating with the enemy. Sampley claimed that McCain had first been compromised by the Vietnamese, then recruited by the Soviets.

“To those who know McCain and are familiar with his behavior in captivity, the charge is ludicrous. McCain resisted his captors to such a degree that he was isolated in a special prison for troublemakers. He repeatedly refused special favors, including early release, and emerged as a spiritual and religious leader for other prisoners. Nonetheless, Sampley was persistent enough in his claims that the press in McCain’s home state of Arizona picked up on the KGB story.”

In 1992, Sampley wrote a long article that portrayed McCain as a “Manchurian candidate,” who had betrayed America to the North Vietnamese and then enlisted as a secret Communist agent. But it wasn’t until seven years later that the celebrated Navy pilot and ex-POW found out how much damage such smears could inflict. After McCain declared his presidential candidacy in 1999, Sampley revived the “Manchurian candidate” smear as a convenient weapon for the Senator’s political enemies. Some of them, including the prominent conservative Paul Weyrich and Richard Mellon Scaife’s Newsmax Web site, didn’t hesitate to pick up the slimy stuff generated by Sampley. The fringe assault on McCain, amplified by the likes of Weyrich and talk radio, caused grave injury to his campaign during the pivotal South Carolina primary.

Insinuations of treason are being revived for deployment against Kerry, who happens to be a close friend of McCain (Kerry defended McCain against Sampley, denouncing him as a “stupid ass” in print). The simplest way to tar Kerry as an antiwar extremist — and indict him for unpatriotic betrayal in the eyes of many vets — is to pair him with “Hanoi Jane” Fonda. On Monday, Rush Limbaugh published a photograph of Fonda at what appears to be an antiwar rally, under the headline “John Kerry With Hanoi Jane in September, 1970.” And indeed, a blurry face about two rows behind her does resemble the young Kerry.

But Limbaugh, like so many who attack Kerry for working with Fonda against the war, distorts reality. Fonda didn’t travel to Hanoi until August 1972. Obviously that was two years after the September 1970 rally and, more important, a year after she joined demonstrations led by Kerry and his fellow vets in Vietnam Veterans Against the War. By the time Fonda visited Hanoi, Kerry was running for Congress in Boston. There’s no evidence that he worked with Fonda after her notorious trip. (If Monday’s rant indicates Limbaugh’s state of mind, he is absolutely unhinged by the prospect of renewed debate over Vietnam. Might his hysteria have anything to do with his own embarrassing escape from the draft?)

Searching for proof of Kerry’s alleged anti-American radicalism has frustrated his more intelligent adversaries. The current issue of the Weekly Standard carries a windy account of this ongoing quest by David Skinner, who dug up a copy of the New Soldier, a 1971 antiwar volume that carried Kerry’s byline. Skinner offers a long, dull account of his effort to find a copy of this minor, somewhat moldy period piece — and when he does, the results are anticlimactic. “Anti-Kerry oppo researchers will be disappointed to learn that Kerry wrote very little of the book,” he reveals at long last. “It reprints his [1971] Senate testimony and includes a brief afterword from him.” Skinner can’t manage to work up much righteous anger. At the end, he complains that in the midst of the movement’s turmoil, Kerry “was able to have his cake and eat it, too, becoming the establishment, patriotic face of a radical, anti-patriotic movement.”

Please allow me to translate: The Weekly Standard found nothing because there was nothing to find. But that won’t stop the desperate, screaming smears, escalating in volume as Kerry stumps toward his party’s nomination.

Leonard’s Apology to Gov. Bush

Today’s column by Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald is brilliant:

Let me tell you how President George W. Bush ruined my weekend.

But first, a little background.

I write two columns a week, one of which has a Friday deadline for publication the following week. It’s a tricky proposition; you’re tasked with writing something that will still be relevant days later. So you look for subjects that are timely but not likely to change over the weekend.

I figured I’d found such a subject Friday before last when I wrote about former U.S. weapons inspector David Kay’s testimony before a congressional panel. Kay said that he and the Bush administration “were all wrong” in believing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

Kay thought there should be an independent investigation into whatever intelligence failures led our government to believe there were weapons. Aides to the president promptly dismissed the suggestion and as late as that Friday, the president himself was refusing to support it. So I wrote a column sharply critical of his position.

Change of plans

Sunday comes. And with it, news that the president, under pressure from political foes and allies alike, has reluctantly changed his mind and will now support an investigation.

This is where the weekend turns sour, because I know what’s going to happen Monday. And it does. Most newspapers, including the Detroit Free Press, kill the column, but a few run it. So on one page, I’m blasting the president for not supporting the investigation and on another, he is supporting the investigation.

This leads to nasty notes. Some make reference to an affirmative action columnist. Some suggest that I now owe the president an apology.

Which is a real jaw-dropper. He had to be dragged into this like a toddler to a doctor’s office, but I. Owe him. An apology?

Very well, then. Here it is.

Mr. President, I apologize for writing that column. I should have realized that even the most mulish obstructionism has its limits.

And furthermore

While I’m at it, allow me to express contrition for a few other things that are probably somehow my fault.

I apologize that some of your supporters are so ignorant as to think criticism of your war has to do with affirmative action. I should have done a better job educating them.

I apologize that more than 500 Americans have died defending a cause that is apparently not what they were told. I should have protested more vigorously.

I apologize that much of the world hates us. I should have warned you more insistently.

I apologize that a minority of voters, some hanging chads and the Supreme Court got you into this mess. I should have voted twice.

Finally, Mr. President, I apologize that you rammed through laws making it possible to lock up American citizens indefinitely without trial, charges or access to attorneys. I should have fought you harder. But I was scared.

Unfortunately for me, this is another column written on a Friday. I run the risk that by the time it is read, the world will no longer hate us, your supporters will have stopped questioning the patriotism or credentials of dissenters, the Patriot Act will have been repealed, and all those people will no longer be dead.

I apologize in advance.

Raisin’ Kane


I used to have a friend, a big red-bearded Carolinian name of Karl Edward Wagner, who was one of the absolute best dark fantasy writers I’ve ever read. He was, in my eyes, one of the three best sword & sorcery writers of the 20th Century, the other two being Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, and his horror fiction blew most of his peers out of the water. In other words, he was a master. His stories won awards, he was a gifted anthologist, and he was a great guy to go on a bender with at a SF convention.

Karl died in 1994. A nice tribute can be found here.

Karl created a dark sword & sorcery hero who should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Conan of Cimmeria, but unfortunately recognition of Karl’s work never filtered far outside the envelope of genre. That hero was Kane, an immortal warrior cursed by “a mad god” to wander the world for some long forgotten sin, perhaps the first murder. Kane was a true anti-hero, just as likely to be up to no good as he was to be helping someone, and was a fascinating character with a lot of depth.

And Karl wrote like John L. Sullivan threw fists.

Well, perhaps the day will come that Kane is better known to the masses. Tonic Films, which is owned by one of the producers of the recent horror flick Cabin Fever (itself contending for an Independent Spirit Award for Outstanding Achievement), has acquired the rights to Karl’s book Death Angel’s Shadow, a book of three Kane tales, and are planning to film the first story, “Reflections for the Winter of My Soul,” with the possibility of filming the other two if that one does well.

Here’s hoping they do Kane even a quarter as well as Karl did…

What Bush Really Means


Remember me earlier citing the incomparable David Brooks of the New York Times (you know, the flagship of the liberal media)?

A piece in today’s Salon is all about Brooks, and his latest apologia for Gov. George W. Bush…

Deconstructing David Brooks
The New York Times columnist translated Bush’s “Meet the Press” debacle for those who missed its hidden wisdom. Now let’s translate Brooks.

By James Pinkerton

Feb. 11, 2004  |  “Like most of us, President Bush doesn’t have the facility for perfectly expressing his situation in conversation. But if he did, he might have said something like this to Tim Russert in the interview broadcast Sunday …” So David Brooks began a remarkable column in Tuesday’s New York Times.

In other words, if the president faltered, or failed to convince, or otherwise deviated from the neocon line, surely it was but a trip of the tongue, not a rebellion of the mind. So like a frustrated Cyrano de Bergerac shoving his blundering frontman aside, Brooks proceeds to voice the heartfelt thoughts that tantalizingly didn’t come out of the president’s mouth, although they so obviously should have. For the right words are words to move the hearts of patriots to love and to conquest.

Since Brooks has no qualms about lip-syncing for the inarticulate, I’m happy to provide a similar service for Brooks, subtitling for the all-too-articulate. Indeed, so smooth is Brooks’ gloss on what Bush should have said that I feel I must spell it out for the American people, most of whom don’t read the Times. So here follows a translation of David Brooks’ vision of George W. Bush’s vision, in 10 straight-up simple talking points for the noncognoscenti. And by the way, Mr. President, I hope you’re paying attention this time.

I, David Brooks, say that Bush meant to say:

1. You, the American people, must be afraid. Your level of fear is the measure of your grasp of reality. Absolute Fear is Absolute Truth, and must be the driver of all your deeds.

2. Optional wars of aggression make countries safer. Strike first, then repeat indefinitely. Going on the attack diminishes the number, motivation and activity of your enemies.

3. Occupation, and imposing different values by force, is freedom. Success in neocolonialist enterprises is probable. And triumph is inevitable, if we have enough Will.

4. Sins of commission are better than sins of omission: This means America, a big rich country with a lot to lose, must act like a poor desperate country with nothing to lose. This is known as “national greatness.”

5. We are fighting pure evil and the hate in men’s souls — the human condition. This will take a “generational commitment,” and then some. So hurry up, Mrs. Gomez, and bear more sons.

6. Of course, the adversarial elites oppose the Iraq war. Therefore, I have had to put my faith in The People — only to realize that the masses are more interested in their private fleshly pursuits than in their public martial duties. In fact, I slept through that Janet Jackson halftime show, because I’ve been laboring so long at my lonely Churchillian duties. Fortunately, I’ve still got the military ready to join me in this world-historical crusade.

7. Oh wait: Much of the military is critical of this open-ended, no-exit-strategy war. Good thing they don’t have free speech. I will put on another quasi-military costume to convince them I’m one of them.

8. Got God? Check. And if God’s on my side, where does that leave you?

9. I never said I was against Big Government.

10. Finally, if you disagree with any of this, you may be an anti-Semite. Oops, that was just me again, David Brooks. Couldn’t help myself.*

– – – – – – – – – – – –

About the writer
James P. Pinkerton is a columnist for Newsday and a fellow at the New America Foundation.

*Brooks was the git who recently wrote a column implying that disagreeing with the neo-conservatives running Bush was anti-semitic.

Damn, There They Go Again

Astonishingly, we have yet another veteran chiming in with an opinion column in the Atlanta Urinal-Constipation today about the whole military experience and politics thing.

Retired General Zeb Bradford Jr. of Duluth doesn’t attack John Kerry directly, as the other two bozos did, and even states that Kerry and Wes Clark “earned their country’s gratitude.” But the main point of his piece is that military service is not “something to be marketed for political gain.” He says nothing about Bush, but then, Bush isn’t trying to use his AWOL status to gain props from the voters. Go figure.

Gen. Bradford’s piece is pretty mild, and as I said earlier, I don’t see military service as a primary requisite for political office. He seems to think, though, that a veteran like Kerry shouldn’t play up his military service to strengthen his image in the public mind. I disagree.

We’re at war, led there by a man without any solid grounding in the agonies or realities of warfare. His own service record points not only to a rather shallow patriotic impulse, but to a lack of character (especially in the fact that he himself has played up his military service over the years to make him look better than he is. John Kerry’s military record shows courage and strength of character, as does the record of his fight to end the war once he came home.

That’s just a single criterion, and the differences between these two men are far more vast. But with military matters of central import in our daily lives, it’s certainly legitimate to dwell on the qualifications, experiences, and mindset of the candidates to face up to those matters.

Still, the sudden slew of what are basically attacks on Kerry for his military record in order to distract us from the stark diminishment of Bush an honest appraisal of the men’s service would lead to is troubling. Why has the AJC opted to print each of these so soon after the other? Has Jim “the GOP could kill my dog and I’d find a way to say it was good for America” Wooten taken over the entire decision process?

Ah, that ol’ big bad liberal media.

SERENITY to fly again


Buzz inside certain Los Angeles law firms suggests that talent contracts are being hammered out, and they’re timed around a May start for an upcoming Universal feature about a starship captain, a space hooker, a mysterious preacher and a pair of fugitives named Tam. The bad news: under the scenario discussed, “Firefly: The Movie” wouldn’t hit multiplexes until late 2005.

All goooood.


Just got back from the latest chapter in the Savage Worlds game I’m running. It’s straight fantasy, knights and orcs and dwarves and elves and such, and we’re having a lot of fun with it.

Savage Worlds is a generic system that can be used for “any” genre, but is best for those of cinematic or high adventure style. It’s a roleplaying game (rpg), which means each player (except the game-master/referee) creates an imaginary hero and plays it the way an actor would play a character in an improv. When a character attempts something, whether it be shooting someone or picking a lock or piloting a plane through the gap between two redwoods, the player rolls dice to determine success or failure. The gamemaster (GM) creates the situations the players’ characters face, and acts out the roles of enemies and other characters the players’ characters might encounter.

And yes, it’s like Dungeons & Dragons, but better.

D&D and roleplaying games in general are often thought of as geeky pursuits, like learning Klingon or dressing like Chewbacca to hit on pasty-faced chicks in way-too-little chainmail. And there is some crossover in such activities, because roleplaying games are a form of escape, like may activities considered geeky.

It’s not a huge deal, but it is odd that you can paint yourself blue and holler half-naked in the cold at a football game, or obsess about stamps or coins, or follow reality TV shows religiously, or read every Jackie Collins novel, and a certain level of normality is still assumed. Play an rpg, though, and you’re an unwashed loser without social skills. Even though it’s more of a creative, intellectual, social activity than most things people do to pass their spare time…

Their loss. For me, this game is a much-needed social outlet, a hedge against the hours of solo time I spend, and thus against depression and loneliness. And it’s great fun.

I’m planning to run the fantasy game a few months, then when the over-arching plotline is resolved, I’ll start a new game. That one will be pirates. Really lookin’ forward to that.

Anyway, I’ll discuss the gaming here and there, in among the political bitching and whatnot.

Everyone’s Asking: What Sort of GURPS is Tim???

Sean Fannonseanpatfannon pointed to this quiz ( in his own LiveJournal. This is the result of my answers; it explains a lot, I think…

You’re GURPS Cliffhangers. You’re amazingly
concise and fun. You’re into everything from
Nazis to African Safaris, but you manage to
keep your own unique personality.

The Sad Voices of Right Wing Vietnam Vets

The Atlanta Urinal-Constipation has shown an odd and disturbing trend the past few days: there have been several editorial attacks on John Kerry in the opinion pages, including a New York Times column today by David Brooks, who has a real gift for twisted facts and sophistry. I wouldn’t mind them running Brooks, as a general rule, though it would make me doubt their choices (but then, the main conservative voice they give us is Jim Wooten, who’s a spinning idiot at his very best), but it runs with a piece by a black guy lambasting the Democratic National Committee for challenging Dean, and follows two recent columns by Georgian veterans effectively calling John Kerry a traitor because he protested the war upon getting back from fighting it.

Kerry is strong, and it has the GOPpers worried, especially in light of Bush’s plummeting approval ratings. They’re very worried about their man (who was AWOL for a year of the National Guard service his poppy arranged so he wouldn’t have to go fight) having to face off against a true war hero who earned three Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star, and a Silver Star, so the forces are mobilizing to tarnish his patriotism and honor (much as they did to Max Cleland in the last Senate campaign).

Some conservatives are very quick to accuse others of unpatriotic attitudes. Hell, disagree with a lot of them over which American Idol contestant is best and they’ll get pissy and call you a god-hating communist terrorist lover who hates America. Well, okay, that may be hyperbole. But disagree politically and you’re the Devil’s Spawn. They don’t seem to recognize that the right to disagree at all, including with them, is the very essence of being an American.

The ‘Nam vets, though, really bother me. They’re either tarnishing their own honor and integrity by playing rank politics, attacking a fellow vet for sheer partisan reasons, or they truly believe what they’re saying, that John Kerry was unpatriotic and betrayed them by coming home and fighting to bring everyone else home too. As far as I know, the number of people these days who think we should’ve been in ‘Nam at all is very small, so I can’t believe the men who came under fire would reflexively disagree with one of their own who wanted to save them from suffering and dying for bad reasons. To do so would be simple idiocy.

Military service isn’t a requirement for the presidency, and isn’t even a primary concern in my eyes. But the way these two men responded to their service, and their philosophies and actions thereafter, tells me something about them. One served two tours of duty, was wounded thrice, and saved several lives in acts of sheer balls, then returned and fought a war of conscience against the corrupt bastards who sent our troops to die for nothing. The other hid stateside in a National Guard unit made available to him because of who his old man was, didn’t bother serving his time, and has now taken our country to a war based on lies and profit, leading to the deaths so far of over ten thousand people, and an enormous drain on the political and economic strength of our country.

The good thing, I suppose, is that Bush is in enough trouble that he and his supporters are getting scared. The bad thing is that men who should possess a certain measure of wisdom and honor seem willing to sell themselves short through cheap attacks on a true hero.

A Meeting By Moonlight…


This is my blog. Which sounds dirtier than it is, or perhaps more disgusting, but is actually pretty mundane. For the uninitiated, it’s a “web log,” an online journal.

I’ll try to post regularly, and to make it interesting. Any topic is fair game, and if you’re reading it and want to make a comment, feel free.