WTC:RPG, Stage II

Cover Flight

I’m glad to say that readers have continued to bother me about this, asking what’s going on and when it will happen. I’m now pleased to announce that, while massively behind where I thought we’d be on this, we will presently be ready for Stage II in WtC:RPG’s developement.

I have no excuse for the delays, other than to plead that writing a set of game rules for playing in the Post-Event World, even one using a preexisting open-sourced set of rules (the Fate System), has meant climbing a much more difficult learning curve than I anticipate. This is not simply a vanity project, and I want Wearing the Cape: The Roleplaying Game to impress even long-time gamers.

So what is Stage II?

I have previously had some dedicated Fate players taking a swing at the first, word-doc draft of the game to help me discover if anything is obviously broken. Stage II is to present a fully blocked draft of the game (minus much of the still-developing artwork) for a select and dedicated group of gamers who have never played a Fate-based roleplaying game. Why? WtC:RPG is designed for both long-time gamers and for newbies—reader of the book who have never played a tabletop RPG before, or who have previously played but with other systems like D20, Pathfinder, Champions, Mutants and Masterminds, and others.

Which means Stage II is the playtest for both playability and learnability. The rules must both work and be understandable by players with no previous experience. I think it’s ready to show everyone. But frankly, after all of the work that has gone into this, I’m terrified.

So, for everyone who has been patiently waiting, who can participate?

If you have a group of at least three willing victims, and the willingness to commit to not just read over the rules but test them hard and provide feedback on learning and play, you are welcome to join the effort to make the Post-Event World a playable reality. We have a google+ community page where test subjects—I mean playtesters—can talk to me and each other. All playtesters will get their names (and hero names) in the second-page credits in the game, and may have a strong influence on how this project is finished up and carried into the future.

Thank you all in advance.

On other news, Teamups and Crossovers is still an ongoing project slated for publication in the fall. It began as an opportunity to simply do some short stories involving other characters in the Post-Event World, but has evolved into a series of linked adventures interspersed with standalone pieces. One of the stories is co-written, another written by a never-before published writer, and a third written with permission—the story of Astra’s adventures in another superhero universe altogether. I never know until I’ve published, but I think that all Wearing the Cape fans are going to be thrilled.

So, lots more to come.

Marion G. Harmon

 

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Fake Hate.

Haters-Gonna-Hate-Meme-Leonardo-12

“The whole world is festering with unhappy souls. The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles. Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch, and I don’t like anybody very much!” (The Merry Minuet, by The Kingston Trio)

I remember hearing The Merry Minuet on the radio as a teen, and laughing about itespecially laughing at the last lines, which present the “solution” (go listen to it on Youtube). Because you have to laugh, at least once in awhile, at the truth of the song; something bad is always happening somewhere, and most of the time the bad thing that’s happening is us. As a species we are flawed and often hateful, and we know it. “We have met the enemy, and they is us.” (Pogo)

We hate each other. This is obvious, at least if you follow the news media much.

Part of this of course is that hate sells, and “People get along!” or “People agree to disagree!” isn’t a grabby headline. But part of it is the simple truth; when it comes to blaming others for our problems, to quote another song “Any Mick’ll do, any black, any Jew. Any poor wee bugger who’s not like you.” (Any Mick’ll Do, by Brian McNeill.) It’s baked into our DNA or written into our souls, or what have you; it’s human nature to separate the world into Us and Them and hate Them. This is nothing new, and it seems that no sooner do we bury one prejudice against someone Not Like Us than another appears or exhumes itself; it’s like zombiesyou can shoot as many as you like, but you’ll always be in a target-rich environment.

But lately I’ve been paying attention to a phenomena that is new to me; fake hate.

It has multiple causes, but I think it comes back (as most of my observations on social conflict do) to The Syllogism.

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

It hinges on Statement 3: If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
If you believe that Statement 3 is true about someonefor example if you believe that their opposition to abortion is rooted in misogyny or their opposition to Affirmative Action is rooted in racism, or their opposition to the 2nd Amendment is rooted it their desire to render you defenselessthen you expect those people to act in specific ways. You expect the hateful to act hatefully.

And often, they don’t.

I’m not saying there are not plenty of racists or sexists out there (and reverse-racists and reverse-sexists); you can trawl the internet and find all the hate and vituperation you can stomach, coming from people on every side of every social conflict of our time. Neither the Far Right nor the Radical Left have a monopoly on hatefulness. But for all of the words many of us hurl at each other online and at protests, apparently, as a society, we are not being hateful enough in practice.

Apparently, the haters are good at disguising their hate.

And this is a problem for radicals or reformers who want to change society. After all, if Statement 3 is true, but your ignorant, stupid, evil enemies are hiding it or at least not acting on it, then right-thinking people will not get angry enough to see the rightness of the changes you want to make.

When you’re right but nobody is listening, being righteous is not enough. You need to show them you’re right.

Which brings us to this sad event: http://www.kvue.com/news/local/whole-foods-accuser-drops-lawsuit-over-cake/196619953 .

To sum up;

“An openly gay pastor who claimed that a grocery store bakery wrote a homophobic message on his cake has dropped his lawsuit against Whole Foods, claiming he made up the story, according to news reports. ‘I apologize to the LGBT community for diverting attention from real issues,’ Pastor Jordan Brown said in a statement, according to the ABC affiliate in Austin and other news reports. Brown normally preaches about love and acceptance, with a particular focus on outreach to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians, at the church he leads in Austin. But after he picked up a cake in April that was supposed to say ‘Love Wins,’ he turned to preaching in the media, and in court.

“The company’s response to Brown’s statement on Monday was brief: ‘We’re very pleased that the truth has come to light. Given Mr. Brown’s apology and public admission that his story was a complete fabrication, we see no reason to move forward with our counter suit to defend the integrity of our brand and team members.'”

(Washington Post)

Now, I do not pretend to see into the heart of Pastor Brown. I like to think that he didn’t make up the accusation to attack a blameless employee and an entire corporation for selfish reasons. I believe that he believed he was committing the sin of False Witness in a good cause; drawing public attention to ant-gay sentiments by providing a concrete incidence of anti-gay behavior. Photo evidence and a public lawsuit is certainly one way to get attention. (I know my first reaction on hearing the story was disgust.)

But then it turned out that Whole Foods could provide video evidence that the cake’s packaging had been tampered with after purchase, and Pastor Brown’s own pictures raise doubt that the employee who made the cake provided the last, deeply offensive, word. And now Pastor Brown has admitted that he fabricated the story, and apologized.

And I wish I could be surprised. I don’t like to be cynical about anything, but in the past few years fake-hate reporting has become increasingly common. I first saw it appearing in reports of on-campus incidents; someone would hang a noose, paint up offensive graffiti, or commit some other disgusting act of racist expression on campus, everyone would go crazy, and then the investigation would reveal that it was actually done by an “anti-racist” group or individual to raise awareness of racism. But it has spread off campus, too, with impacts that range from trivial to life-destroying.

As another example, a young Muslim student recently made up an account of anti-Muslim aggravated assault and posted it on Facebook. When it came out that the hate-crime was fake, one respondent wrote “Why would she make it all up? I don’t understand, she needed attention that bad. She had the whole Muslim community in an uproar and I as a Muslim student attending Uta was very worried. Instead of honoring the victims of the chapel hill shooting she fabricated a lie to gain attention from others focusing on that tragedy. I’m truly ashamed.”

http://www.arlingtonvoice.com/crime-emergency-education/story/feb/13/2015/muslim-uta-students-claim-aggravated-assault-weapon-was

The most famous (or infamous) recent example of this is the University of Virginia fraternity rape story published in Rolling Stones magazine, which now appears to be entirely false and is the focus of several ongoing lawsuits.

In the incidents when they have falsely claimed victimization, less generous opinion of the perpetrators of these incidents would be that they are just attention-seekers. They themselves reject this judgement, claiming idealism and good intentions. Authorities are also lax to prosecute these incidents.

“A University of Chicago student who claimed his Facebook page was hacked and filled with racist and violent messages against him and another student has now admitted he faked the attack.

“Intended to shame the school into making drastic changes around race and speech on campus, the hoax appears to have worked.

“The students behind the ruse, the hoodwinked university and the school newspaper have argued that the hoax – which provoked a federal investigation – should not detract from fixing the school’s “culture of racial intolerance,” in the words of a petition demanding policy changes.”

(The College Fix, http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/20329/ )

So people lie. We know this, and what makes these incidents so bad?

Fake-Hate is a serious problem because every time a story like this happens, the public trust is damaged. There are serious social issues to be discussed today, but any discussion in good faith depends on trust; injuring the public trust is a disservice to everyone, but especially to those on the same side as the persons telling these lies.

What can be done about it?

It’s disingenuous to simply say that we should all calm down and stop hating on each other so much (buying into Syllogism Statement #3) that we’re willing to Make Up Crap about them because They Deserve It. A more realistic approach is to use the law; after all, laws are being broken here. And this is happening with some cases.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/woman-admits-tweeting-fake-threats-fellow-black-students-204320195.html

If enough liars are convicted for their actions, others will decide that the price of lying for the cause is too high. Meanwhile, the next time you hear reports about a senseless and disgusting expression of hate, wait awhile; it may be an incidence of Fake-Hate.

M.G.Harmon

(Note: for more incidents of Fake-Hate, just google “fake hate crimes.” You’ll find enough to read for hours if not days.)

 

 

 

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War is Never Civil.

Civil War

Team Steve! Team Tony! Wait, this feels familiar…

I have just come from watching Captain America III: Civil War. I went into it with lower expectations than I might have; Batman v. Superman was…okay but flawed and I enjoyed it mainly by telling myself I was watching a Frank Miller interpretation of the real Batman and Superman. I think the main problem is that BvS’s writer and director were trying too hard to “re-imagine” those iconic heroes. Civil War, on the other hand, is proof that Marvel Studio’s writers firmly understand that they don’t need to re-imagine anything. Update the backstories a bit, yes, but in CV they have continued to hew as closely as possible to the character of the heroes we know and love. And the result is genius.

No spoilers this time, other than the setup and general theme. The setup is payoff on the fact that, even when they won (which is most of the time), the Avengers left a lot of collateral damage in their wake. Some of it they were responsible for. Plus they are a private organization that can dismantle national armies, and they answer to no-one. So, four years after the Avengers are founded, the United Nations is moving to put them under the control of a supervisory panel. If the team won’t allow it, it must disband.

That’s the setup.

The theme springs from the setup; before the members of the team can fully hash it out among themselves, a crisis immediately blows up around the Winter Soldier (no spoiler there since it’s in all the previews). The team becomes divided between those willing to, out of principle, follow the new law, and those who, out of principle, cannot.

Yes, Marvel set it up so that both sides are right at various times and with the information each has, and it hurts to watch this band of brothers (and sisters) get ripped apart. In the end, I don’t know who made the right call initially: Steve, or Tony?

You decide. Get thee to a theater. Go!

(Also, the introductions of Panther and Spiderman are awesome.)

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Money Is (Sometimes) The Enemy Of Art

I am the opposite of an art snob (or literature snob). I think JK Rowling deserves her millions. So does every indie band that goes mainstream to cash in big, and every writer who scores a movie franchise.

But.

I will be the first to admit that money can be the enemy of quality, whatever the medium of artistic expression.

The current example that made me think of this is the declining story quality of the Castle TV franchise. Don’t get me wrong; it continues to be entertaining. But the tightness and fire of the first few seasons is gone, and there is nothing the show’s writers and directors can do to get it back.

And it’s not their fault; Castle has been killed by the limitations of storytelling.

Castle 1

Castle, Season One: New York’s best homicide detective is saddled with a playboy mystery writer. She’s by the book, he writes the book. He sees her as his “muse,” she sees him as the pain in her ass. Hi-jinx ensue.

I could go on about the genius of the writers in how they layered, seemingly effortlessly, character into these two common archetypes. I won’t.

Castle 8

Castle, Season Eight: New York’s youngest police captain leaves her writer husband to protect him from the potential fallout of a dangerous and off the books investigation she is conducting. He tries to win her back. Even though he hasn’t really lost her and she could have told him their separation was just a cover. Needless angst ensues.

So, what happened? Simply put, what happened is the heart of the show was, by the end of Season 2, about the deepening relationship between Castle and Beckett (which should have resolved by the end of Season 3, but the writers didn’t know what do do next). But clearly and from the beginning, Castle and Beckett were meant to be Caskett, and the show could have done one of two things when that definitively happened; end with a wedding, or turn into a cozier Hart to Hart kind of series–possibly with more emphasis put on other characters like Alexis, Javier, and Ryan. Castle and Beckett’s romantic relationship should not have remained core of the repeating season arc.

And this is where money became the enemy of art. Because the heart of the show was about two characters and their relationship, the show owners would take a huge risk if they tried to change the central dynamic. Successful multi-season shows are valuable properties, and any serious change would threaten the show’s value. So instead, they settled into a repetitive cycle of relationship-threatening crisis.

This is called “going stale.”

And it’s a cautionary tale to all writers telling multi-season or multi-book stories; sometimes, the nature of the story you’re telling puts an unavoidable endpoint to it. Once you reach that endpoint, you’re either done or you have to take the elements you’ve got and tell a new story with them.

What begins, must end. But sometimes, for both authors and writers, the money is too good. Or the fan-pressure is to strong. What then?

Marion G. Harmon

Addendum: I was disturbed enough by the writer’s handling of the protracted Caskett Dance (which went on waaaay too long), that during a dry spell last year I actually wrote two fanfiction Castle episodes. Anyone interested in seeing my shame can find them on Fanfiction.net: The Long Holiday and Summer Heat.

 

 

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Movie Review: Batman v Superman.

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice.jpgSuperhero epic as war movie.

A few of my readers have expressed enthusiasm over hearing my thoughts on Batman vs. Superman. I suppose they think that, being a successful writer of superhero fiction myself, I am uniquely qualified to pass judgement on the movie. So here goes.

But first, go see it.

You think I’m joking? Nope. It’s worth the ticket price, whatever you think afterward. And since my expressing my opinion involves all sorts of spoilery stuff, you should see it first so you can give me your opinion.

So go see it. Come back. I’ll wait.

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Back now? Okay then. First, and to leave no doubt, I liked it. A lot. I’ve read reviewers who dismissed it as tendentious moralizing buried under hours of CGI fighting, so I went to see BvS prepared to be disappointed. I will grant that, if you didn’t like 2013’s Man of Steel, then you won’t like Superman v Batman. After all, it’s the next stone in the new movie-mythology being made here.

The movie wasn’t perfect. I thought that director Zack Snyder overdid the religious iconography just a bit (movie watchers are pretty smart, Zack–one or two theologically resonant images is good, a bucket of over-the-top imagery is gratuitous). I wasn’t fond of the shaky-cam work. But I’m going to write about what I liked.

Titans at war. That was the impression I came away with. The battle scenes (just calling them fight-scenes is selling them short), were pushed with driving orchestration that brutalized your ears as much as the scale of force hit your eyes. The message in the images and sound was that this was a battlefield no mortal could survive upon; Batman survived first because Superman wasn’t trying to kill him, and later because he could react faster than Doomsday—like a fly ducking the flyswatter. Just watching it leaves you disoriented and a bit shell-shocked.

This is the power of Superman taken to its “real-world” conclusion. Just as the battle with the Kryptonians in Man of Steel laid waste to the center of Metropolis (which, a year and a half later, is marked by a huge open Ground Zero and the contained Kryptonian wreck), the last battle in BvS lays waste to Gotham Harbor.

And BvS drives home a theme begun in Man of Steel: we would not trust gods among us. There are several characters representing this distrust, including a senator, who is principled, and Lex Luthor, who is not. The senator is motivated by the very real concern that if Superman is not held accountable then he will abuse the privilege. Luthor, on the other hand, see’s Superman through his own eyes. Of course he doesn’t consciously think of it this way, but, as a corrupt man seeking power, he cannot believe that power does not always corrupt.

Luthor knows what he would be if he had the power of Superman; a false but nonetheless unopposable  god-king. He would rule, he thinks that sooner or later Superman would do the same, and the thought of Superman ruling him, corrupt or not, is intolerable. The extent of his pathology is evident in the fact that he created Doomsday as a last resort should Batman fail; the world could burn—he could die—but so long as Superman fell he simply didn’t care.

Personally, I found Luthor’s nihilist stance a little underdeveloped. “If God is all powerful, he cannot be all good. If God is all good, he cannot be all powerful.” This is a criticism of divinity reasoned through and dismissed in the first few lectures of any serious theology course; while it sounds profound and even unanswerable, it is only unanswerable for those who have no interest in answering it. Luthor dismisses God, and Truth and Goodness, because recognizing anything higher than himself is impossible. He’s forced to recognize Superman, whom he tries to pull down as his nemesis because he cannot tolerate that. It makes a decent motivation, because while it’s a flawed one it is a very human one.

Batman, like Luthor, does not trust Superman although for different reasons. In Batman’s case, he has stared into the abyss too long (twenty years wearing the cape to clean up Gotham). “How many people stay good?” Unlike Luthor, his motivation for fighting Superman is mostly altruistic; he wants to save humanity, not himself. It’s also personal for Bruce, in that as an observer on Ground Zero for the Battle of Metropolis, where he lost dozens of friends and members of his “corporate” family, he has internalized the event with his own parent’s deaths. There’s a lot of anger there, and it pushes his whole story.

A last note on Bruce Wayne/Batman. In the end, what stops him from killing Superman is an interesting fact that I’d never thought about; his slain mother, and Clark’s living one, are both named Martha.

I mentioned religious imagery, and  Luthor’s almost existential rebellion against the mere fact of Superman. Yes, Superman is a Christ-figure. Some might find this objectionable. I don’t; divine or not, real or not, Christ is a type. There have been many Christ-figures in history, men and women willing to use their lives and even lay them down in the service of others. With great power comes great opportunity for service. In BvS, Clark’s existential crisis comes because while he wants to serve, the reaction of a significant portion of the public to his service is…mixed.

un-American Aliens

Of course Luthor is manipulating events, but the underlying distrust had to be there to begin with.

Interestingly, one thing that BvS seems to conclude is that, as idealistic as Clark is, Louis is both more of a realist and at the same time more committed. She is certain where he is not. She is his heart, the one who makes him finally and unreservedly claim Earth as his home.

Which brings us to the end of the movie, and Doomsday.

You see this coming, at least if you are reasonably steeped in Superman lore. I thought it was done superbly, tied in seamlessly to the elements from The Dark Knight Returns. And really, it had to be something like this. After all, you need a threat to match the heroes; that’s one problem with superheroes as strong as Superman (and one reason why I made even A Class Atlas-Types in the Post-Event World much less powerful). And Superman’s self-sacrificing death certainly buried the anti-Superman movement—as well as launching the assembling of the metahumans who will now form the Justice League.

I look forward to it, the next step being next year’s Wonder Woman.

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Wearing the Cape Update and Q & A.

Hollywood Nights, small

When heroes go Hollywood.

So there hasn’t been much news on the game or book front recently, and I apologize for that. As should now be obvious, there was no January Kickstarter. This is because it has been taking longer than I thought to master the intricacies of a second RPG system for the game (as you may remember, my first pick was Cortex Plus). The good news is progress is being made, the major issues have been hammered out, and Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game will still see the light of day in 2016. (The above pic. is piece of art from the background-chapter of the rulebook; brownie points if you can tell me who all of them are.)

And what I suspect is even better news for fans of the books, Wearing the Cape: Crossovers will be out in 2016 as well. The semi-anthology will feature Astra stories interspersed with non-Astra stories, so readers who want to see more of the Post-Event World than is only seen through Astra’s eyes will get a treat. Four of the stories are finished, and as previously mentioned, readers will also get to visit several “extrareality” superhero worlds and meet some amazing heroes in other settings. I hope to have a new edition of the series’ newsletter up soon, with another of the stories from the coming book.

Meanwhile, I thought I’d take this opportunity to throw the blog open for an in-post Q & A; if you have any questions about the current titles, the coming title, the game, or, well, anything, drop a comment here. I’ll fold everything into an Update and Q & A part II.

Marion G. Harmon

 

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The Radical Moderate 3: “The Worst Form of Government.”

Moderation cartoon

I did not expect to be writing another Radical Moderate post for awhile, but with the presidential primaries coming up quickly, I thought I’d better get my two cents in.

No, I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.

Instead, I’m going to talk about the Worst Form of Government; i.e., democracy.

Because democracy sucks. Really. Every election cycle is the same—incumbents or wannabe-incumbents puffing their accomplishments, covering their mistakes, slinging crap at their opponents, each side gathering growing Greek choruses explaining why their chosen candidate walks on water and pisses wine. Their candidate is always the one who will finally clean the shit out of the Augean Stables, whip the money changers from the holy temple, et cetera, et cetera.

And of course my favorite syllogism rules the election cycle.

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

The only difference is the candidates must at least debate a little. But it’s mostly pro-forma, and studies have shown that public debates rarely move the needle of public opinion much.

And when the election is over? Sometimes the winning candidate actually picks up a shovel after taking office, but then he must fight the rest of his political party plus the other party to get anything real accomplished—while fighting for his political survival against opponents who don’t want him to accomplish anything and who will try an minimize or discredit everything he does accomplish, so that they have a chance of beating him in the next election.

Most of the time nothing substantive gets done. The stables remain full of crap and buzzing flies.

And now that I’ve thoroughly depressed you, a word from Winston Churchill:

Democracy

Because the man was absolutely right, and here’s the disconnect. “No on pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.” Except we do, or at least we believe that it can be made reasonably perfect or nearly all-wise if we just elect the right people. This is because we labor under the delusion that elections are supposed to reveal the wisdom of the people; a water-to-wine miracle in which a largely uninformed citizenry somehow identifies and chooses the most informed and qualified citizen to lead them.

Sounds a little silly, put that way, doesn’t it? And that’s not even beginning to talk about the effects of tribal thinking (by tribes I mean liberals and conservatives).

The truth is that elections are not there to give us the best possible leadership; they never do. The best man or woman for the job is almost never the most electable one—the paradox is baked into the system. Elections are there to give us the opportunity to hold our leaders accountable. Without democracy, the only way for citizens to hold their leaders accountable is through armed revolution. Bullets are the only alternative to ballots.

So, what should you be looking for in a candidate? That is very much a question of taste and ideology, and I’m not going to say Vote For X!

Jareth For President

Ahem.

Okay, I will say this; whatever your political tribe, look carefully at your candidates. All of them will claim that they can fix everything, or at least fix Problem X. They might actually be able to do some good, there, who knows? But most of the time applying government to social and economic problems is like trying to do brain surgery with a drill (to extend the metaphor, you need the drill, but only up to a point).

Democracy 1

In my opinion, the chief qualification for office a candidate can display is his understanding of what we are. We are not a pure democracy (pray daily that we never become one).

Democracy 3

The framers of the Constitution, the political leaders who argued for and against it, and the citizens who voted to make it the Law of The Land, were deeply suspicious of government power. Of course everyone is, but they were also deeply suspicious of the power of the people. They understood that a majority could be as bad a tyrant as one man, so they wrote up and ratified a grant of power with all sorts of Thou Shalt Nots; the Constitution, and most specifically, the Bill of Rights, is the Ten Commandments for US government.

Famously, at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, an attendee asked Ben Franklin “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” Franklin replied “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

We are a constitutional democracy, within the framework of a republic. The next president must be the candidate who best respects the limits of the Chief Executive and the constitutional limits of American democracy. Democracies die when they lose sight of the limits of government power. The First French Republic devolved into terror, tyranny, and empire. The Italian Parliament freely elected Benito Mussolini—the father of modern fascism—in 1922. In 1925, “by necessity,” he set up a legal dictatorship.

None of the current candidates, of either party, are a potential Mussolini. But as we follow successive leaders who whittle away at those Thou Shalt Nots, we get closer to the day when the we find ourselves living under an unconstitutional democracy, led by a government that considers mere rights subordinate to peace, efficiency, prosperity, fairness, equality, and all good things. It will do what is necessary, for our own good.

To end with one last quote; “Necessity is the justification for every infringement of human liberty: it is the argument of tyrants, the creed of slaves.”

In this election cycle, vote for the candidate most likely to sustain and strengthen the worst form of government.

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Hope and Fear as The Force Awakens.

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterNow that pretty much everyone has seen The Force Awakens, I can seriously (and unseriously) talk about it. Nothing I write here will change anybody’s mind about the film, one way or another, but you get to hear what I think.

I should start by saying that Star Wars formed a huge part of the geography of my imagination as a kid. I was 12 when it came out. I remember hearing radio-adds for it before it opened, already exposed to the fantasy of J.R.R Tolkien and the science fiction of Robert A. Heinlein. So… Luke Skywalker? Darth Vader? A Death Star? It sounded like cheesy Flash Gordon sci-fi pulp and I wasn’t that interested. But our dad took me and my brother to see it.

Over the next half a year I spent my allowance to see it seven more times. I collected every one of the original Star Wars bubble-gum cards. I bought a bunch of the action figures. To play with. And I endlessly wrote author-inserting fanfic in my head. Yeah, it was kind of a big deal.

So, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of The Jedi? Also good, although not quite the magic of the first film. The prequels? Um, moving along.

Actually, the prequels did me one favor; having survived them, I went to see The Force Awakens with practically zero expectations. I hoped it wouldn’t suck.

It didn’t suck.

Mind you it wasn’t great, either. I give it a 6 or 7 out of 10. 4 out of 5 Amazon stars.

First the bad: it was so closely derivative of Star Wars: A New Hope that it wasn’t funny. A rebel carrying vital information is captured by the Evil Minion of the Empire/First Order, but not before he gives it to his faithful droid to keep safe. Faithful droid wanders until discovering The Hero, who is then forced by circumstance to flee her “home,” beginning her quest to get the McGuffin where it’s supposed to go. A planet is blown up, there is a capture and rescue, cliff-hanging inside the Death Star 3.0, scrappy rebels blowing the First Order’s new Big Freaking Gun to dust-bunnies by exploiting an ill-guarded weakness…

Sigh.

I also wasn’t fond of the way Han died.

But.

I’m going back to the theater.

Why?

Mainly because of Rey.

Star-wars-rey

Rey may very well be the best character of the Star Wars franchise. She’s a non-whiny and self sufficient Luke, with a powerful moral compass. She doesn’t buy a stolen droid, she rescues (and then refuses to sell) a wandering one. Far from whining about wanting to “leave the farm,” she’s right where she wants to be (or thinks she needs to be); when she sets out to return little BB-8, she intends to do the job and then come right back “home.” She’s not tagging along after someone, either, and, captured, she rescues (or half-rescues) herself.

In many ways, by sticking so closely to the original character-story of Star Wars: A New Hope—desert-world farmboy/salvager thrust into The Fight Against Evil—The Force Awakens makes Rey The Hero 2.0. Thinking about it afterwards, I couldn’t help thinking that Rey was what Luke should have been in A New Hope. There’s a reason why most Star Wars fans of my generation thought Han Solo the most interesting character (admit it; if Luke hadn’t had the Force with him he would have been completely uninteresting).

In TFA, Rey is the one who chooses the goal; she’s nobody’s sidekick. Her desires are far more compelling than Luke’s; she longs for family, not adventure. She is a strong though untested hero from the very beginning, and because she feels so solid as a character, she is the emotional and moral center of the movie; the other characters were never inconsequential, but Rey’s is the central story and the one that shapes the others’.

So my final take on The Force Awakens? In some ways it feels like A New Hope done better. For all the derivativeness I complained about, it is a worthy entry in the Star Wars franchise, with a new band of very strong characters, of which Rey is the best. Since the new story has only begun, I will suspend judgement of the plot until we see how it ends.

And until then I’m just going to enjoy it.

Marion G. Harmon

 

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The Radical Moderate 2: Fear and Loathing

Moderation cartoonOscar Wilde once said “Everything in moderation, including moderation!” He also said, “The world was my oyster, but I used the wrong fork.” Oscar Wilde was very good at puncturing over-inflated rhetoric with a few well-chosen words, and I like to think he would have approved of my syllogistic statement of the source of the almost visceral loathing that animates so much of our modern political discourse. I recently added a fourth point to the syllogism, which I think caps it perfectly.

  1. I am a rational/good human being.
  2. Because I am a rational/good human being, I believe X.
  3. If you do not believe X, you are either ignorant, stupid, or evil.
  4. Because you are ignorant, stupid, or evil, it is useless to debate with you and pointless to listen to you.

The event leading to my addition of point 4 is the San Bernardino shooting, the latest mass shooting in the US and the most deadly terrorist shooting since the Fort Hood shooting several years ago. Even while evidence quickly accumulated that the shooting was motivated by radical Islamism, most of the political and media heat was turned on the issue of Gun Control. President Obama has called for at least stripping the right to buy guns from those on the Terror Watch List. Startling amounts of vituperation have been poured on any politician or pundit disagreeing with this; the kindest comment is “NRA lapdog.” Others are calling for stronger weapon restrictions and even confiscations, and calling all who object or caution “terrorists,” “evil,” and other not nice things.

To refer to an “authoritative text” on the current state of the debate, I will defer to the NY Times front-page editorial.

The editorial is eloquent and to the point: although many questions need to be asked over how the shooters were able to radicalize and prepare themselves so thoroughly without detection, the Times’ editors feel that the lethality of the weapons used, and the shooter’s access to them, must also be addressed. In other words, it is time to do something serious about Gun Control. Unfortunately, they begin by hitting points 2 and 3 of my syllogism.

“America’s elected leaders offer prayers for gun victims and then, callously and without fear of consequence, reject the most basic restrictions on weapons of mass killing, as they did on Thursday.”

In short, they impute evil and arrogance: “callously and without fear of consequence.”

For their parts, supporters of gun rights are seldom more considering in their language, accusing gun control advocates of conspiring to deprive them of their constitutional rights, etc.

I am not going to take this space to debate the righteousness of either position. But I will note that the NY Times editors have a point: “It is not necessary to debate the peculiar wording of the Second Amendment. No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.”

They are correct; the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is not an unlimited right; nobody argues that the 2nd Amendment gives someone the right to purchase and carry a machine gun in all public spaces. There are limits to what governments must allow, one predicated on both common sense and public order. The purchase and carrying of fully automatic is already significantly restricted, and expanding restrictions to certain classes of firearm that are easily alterable to deliver fully automatic fire is not an insane proposition.

There is, however, something that gun control advocates are clearly missing; it is apparent in nearly every piece of rhetoric they use; gun rights defenders aren’t “gun nuts.” For the most part, they don’t fetishize guns and gun-ownership. Broadly, gun rights defenders fall into two groups with significant but not necessary overlap. They are either civil liberties defenders or personal defense advocates.

Public Liberties Defense

The writers of the US Constitution were suspicious, even cynical, of  political power and human nature. They had a right to be; all of them remembered fighting a desperate war of independence against a great and arbitrary power, the British Parliament backed by its armies. So when they wrote the Constitution, the last thing they wanted to do was hand the sovereign powers of the states and citizenry over to another potentially tyrannical power. The Second Amendment was an answer to that; the federal government needed to be allowed to regulate the state militias (to ensure that they would be sufficient to maintain the freedom of the states from foreign invasion), but not to be able to use regulation to abolish the state militias (the fear was that by raising a national army and weakening or abolishing the militias, the federal government could subjugate the states and people to its will).

To defend against that possibility, the writers of the Constitution  re-tasked a deeply venerated right, one of the core rights under English Common Law: the right of the free citizen to keep and bear arms. For sport, for hunting, but most of all for defense of one’s person, one’s family, and one’s community. On that individual right, the framers rested the right of the states to maintain their militias.

Knowing that history and intent, today’s gun rights defenders take to heart the warning of Patrick Henry:

“Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel. Unfortunately, nothing will preserve it but downright force. Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”

In that context, many public liberties defenders look at any widening of gun ownership restrictions with deep suspicion, as a potential wedge that can be used as future leverage to deepen restrictions. Threats against gun ownership are both considered a bellwether of potential threats against other civil rights (such as freedom of speech, conscience, and association), and the final guarantor of rights against an over-reaching and tyrannical state should it come to that extremity. Guns are both badges and tools of liberty, and the state that wants to take away your arms wants to take away your liberty.

Personal Defense

Personal defense advocates are less historically aware and ideologically motivated; they take the commonsense approach that since restrictions on gun ownership and increased penalties on gun-use in crimes have not measurably lowered gun crimes, private citizens without criminal records should have the ability to defend themselves. They look at urban environments with both restrictive gun laws and high gun crime and point out the obvious fallacies behind arguments for preventing law abiding citizens from purchasing and keeping guns, even in their own homes.

There are strong statistical facts on their side; probably the strongest is historical statistical analysis that shows that increased gun restrictions in response to rises in gun-crime did not bring about subsequent declines in gun-crimes. It is not the prevalence of legally owned guns that raises gun-crime. As common sense would argue, since gun ownership laws are really only observed by the law abiding,  increased restrictions don’t significantly influence criminal gun use.

On the other hand, personal defense advocates are usually much more open to arguments for for things like widened background check requirements. They don’t always see such restrictions as “an opening wedge.” Most Americans today are in favor of personal defense gun ownership and are not too interested in the public liberties defense issues.

In short, they are the gun control moderates. They are also the majority of gun rights advocates. The National Rifle Association does not represent this majority, except by virtue of inclusion in its wider defense of public gun ownership liberty. By keeping their eye on the line drawn by Public Liberty Advocates, they also defend personal defense gun ownership.

The National Rifle Association stands on a principle, one not shared by progressives who are not concerned by government encroachment on public liberties; or more specifically, are not concerned by that form of government encroachment.

The editors at the New York Times look at conservative’s refusal to back commonsense restrictions on magazine capacity and their refusal to consider restrictions on gun purchases by those on the Terrorist Watch List (more than a million Americans are on it, most arbitrarily, and with no effective appeal), and see only an irrational and paranoid bunch who refuse to allow common sense restrictions on their not-unlimited rights to keep and bear arms “for the good of their fellow citizens.”

Conservatives look at arguments for what are admittedly common sense restrictions, as the opening wedge that leads to the effective negation of their rights to keep and bear arms.

What is the solution?

I don’t know, but I do know some of the necessary steps.

1.) Gun control advocates need to turn off the hateful rhetoric. The great majority of gun rights defenders are not ignorant, stupid, or evil. Since they know they aren’t ignorant, stupid, or evil, calling them ignorant, stupid, or evil only convinces them that your motives for slandering them are either ignorant, stupid, or evil. It’s a vicious circle, and one that both progressives and conservatives recognize in other contexts like the War on Terrorism.

2.) Both sides need to find the common ground. And there is a lot of it; everyone pretty much agrees that the mental health system has gone so far in the direction of patient’s rights that dangerously mentally ill persons are allowed to remain free and untreated. Yes, we once went too far in the other direction, but now a significant percentage of our homeless are mentally ill persons who should at minimum be wards of their families or the state with supervision of their meds and treatment.

The great majority agrees that individuals should be able to possess the means of their own defense. There is increased nationwide support for “shall issue” and concealed carry laws, and decreasing support for public-property gun free zones (like colleges and universities). At the same time, there is strong support for reasonable gun safety laws. For example, stronger background check requirements and gun-owner certification laws that require you to take a class and pass a written and practical test before carrying publicly (open or concealed).

But such laws must be written and administered in good faith; not like Chicago’s dodge of requiring firing-range time for certification, and then zoning against all gun ranges inside city limits!

3.) Both sides need to recognize that America’s gun violence tragedies are a symptom of serious ills in our civil society.

JacksonWith deference to Mr. Jackson, it’s a bit more complicated than that but he is aiming in the right direction. And this is where calls for specific bans that will have no effect on the vast majority of gun-crimes is part of the problem; while progressives see it as “at least trying to do something,” they both exhaust their own political capital and give ammunition to their gun rights opponents, losing the opportunity to swing moderates to their side.

Regulation and restriction (ie. “infringement”) are not synonymous except when advocates make it so, and this is one issue where moderation would be an effective political tool if used by either side. Be firm in your moderation, and firm in your continued appeals for the other side’s moderation. Understand them and try and build bridges rather than denouncing them and vilifying their arguments and motives. Give reassurances and find every possible foot of common ground you can.

You may not win them. You probably won’t. But if you continue to display moderation in the face of your opponent’s refusal, you will win the moderate majority and shift the ground in your favor, one vote and election at a time.

Ballots, not bullets. It’s the American Way.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

November Update

Cover Flight

Hello, everyone! I hope that all of you are looking forward to this holiday season—I certainly am! And that’s despite being too busy for words. Needless to say, I have news.

First up, Ronin Games has done amazingly well. It is the highest-rated of all my titles on Amazon.com (last I checked, 4.7 Stars). I am grateful for all your positive reviews received and reviews to come; reviewing readers are in large part the source of my title’s visibility on Amazon, which means that showing your appreciation there—even a single line and a rating—puts my books in front of more readers and spreads the love. Thank you.

Second, some fans have expressed worry since I have not yet committed to a 2016 WtC novel. I have every intention of releasing Wearing the Cape, Book 6 in 2016; however, at this time I have only a general idea of what a couple of the subplots will be, and a good idea of the source of the main conflict. Serious plot development has taken a back seat to Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game.

However! In between rules editing in preparation for the renewed playtesting of the game, I have been keeping my writing muscles strong by working on an anthology of WtC short stories! It is tentatively titled Wearing the Cape: Crossovers. WtC:C will be a somewhat shared anthology, since while I am writing most of the stories I have talked one fellow superhero-fiction writer into co-writing one of the stories with me, and another as-yet-unpublished writer into submitting her own for the anthology. I have also received approval from a well-known sci-fi/fantasy author, Seanan McGuire, to do an Astra/Velveteen crossover (with the caveat that it may not be canon in the Velveteen universe).

Since the Velveteen Vs. stories are some of my favorite superhero fiction, this ranks as the Best Christmas Present Ever. Well, maybe not that high, but it’s close.

I may yet get one or two more authors interested in crossover. Meanwhile, when I set up the newsletter I promised the occasional piece of short-story fiction; this seems the perfect place to introduce what will be the first story in WtC:C, Dating Games! I had a lot of fun with it, and if you would like to read it you can get it through the newsletter (sign up, then check out the latest one).

A final note for those wondering about progress on Wearing the Cape: the Roleplaying Game.

The first 6 chapters of rules are about to go into playtesting.

Work on the art proceeds apace—that’s the new gamebook cover up top.

We are still looking at a January Kickstart to pay the production costs and print the nifty hardcover editions!

So a lot is happening, and more is going to happen. Meanwhile, everybody be well and be safe this holiday season.

M.G.Harmon.

Posted in Uncategorized, Wearing the Cape | Tagged , , , , | 17 Comments