Stewart Wieck: Awakening Our World

The finest thing a person can do in this life, I believe, is to leave this world a better place thanks to your presence in it. Stewart Wieck, who left this life yesterday at age 49, succeeded magnificently in that regard.

Stewart

Somewhere between 1985 and ’86, a pair of geekily industrious teenager brothers founded what has since become an institution of sorts: White Wolf magazine. Named for Elric, the White Wolf of Melnibone, landmark antihero of Michel Moorcock’s psychotropic fantasy series, the magazine originated as a home-made fanzine for gaming culture. Stewart and his brother Steve, however, had a lot more on their minds. While most (though not, in fairness, all) gaming magazines of that era focused on mathematical trivia in imaginary worlds, White Wolf magazine dared to approach real-life topics like racism, gender, addiction and politics, not merely in the games but in the culture that embraced them. Ferociously intelligent and possessed of a formidable work-ethic, Stew and Steve turned their high-school fanzine into a major periodical within that industry… and then into something far more.
White Wolf Mag
Combining their magazine with a gaming company called Lion Rampant, the Wieck brothers joined forces with a visionary malcontent named Mark Rein-Hagen. By that time, both sides of that partnership had gathered a driven team of hungry young creators: Richard Thomas, Nicole Lindroos, Joshua Gabriel Timbrook, and more. Founded in 1990, White Wolf Game Studio took the roleplaying game medium from a controversial niche pastime to a major (if often uncredited) influence on popular media.

More importantly, however, Stewart, Steve and Mark helped the hobby grow up.

White Wolf has been criticized as pretentious. That accusation’s not always wrong, but it misses an important point: a truly pretentious party doesn’t have the goods. White Wolf – in large part thanks to Stewart – often did. For better and worse, the company and its people addressed taboo topics with sardonic clarity and relentless intellect. History, politics, gender, bigotry, pollution, addiction, morality, metaphysics, conspiracy… the creators of this World of Darkness tossed big ideas at their audience the way they sometimes tossed rubber balls and Nerf arrows at one another in the office. In the 1990s, most staff offices in the White Wolf building had three things in common: a sound system, an impressive library, and some young workaholic or two pounding away at their computers.

Stewart’s library didn’t fit in his office; it took up several shelves in the hallway, too. I know, because I was one of those people pounding on computers back then.

Which brings me to my point:
Mage 1st
Mage: The Ascension.

One of the many brilliant ideas Stewart, Mark, Steve and their crew had early on involved creating a shared world built around five monstrous archetypes: the vampire, the werewolf, the magus, the ghost, and the faerie. Each archetype would become a metaphor for real-life issues, and the games and rules for each archetype would emphasize thematic elements far richer than “I waste him with my crossbow.” RPGs had addressed serious topics before, notably in games like Paranoia, RuneQuest, Dark Champions, and Nephilim. But the idea of playing the monster, as opposed to killing it, and doing so in a sarcastic parody of the world (as seen by American college kids in the early 1990s, anyway) – that was new. Other RPGs had occasionally strayed into monster-character territory (notably the vampiric game Nightlife), but lacked the thematic heft and sheer attitude brought to the World of Darkness. When the partners divided up the archetypes, deciding who would helm which project, Stewart said, “I want the mages.”

Up until then, mages in RPGs (and, to be honest, in most modern fantasy media) were dotty fireball-slingers in Gandolfian drag. Stewart had bigger plans for them.

Inspired primarily by philosopher Robert M. Pirsig (who himself died earlier this year), Stew envisioned the magus as an embodiment of change. Some mages moved the world forward, others tried to lock it into place, and still others tried to drag it to oblivion. Instead of spells based on calculations of size and damage, Stew’s vision of magic… or, as he preferred, the Crowleyian magick… became an extension of an enlightened individual as that person literally reworks reality itself. At the core of that metaphor, Stewart Wieck told Mage players, “You can and will change the world.” And that, especially for kids growing up on fantasy media in the 1990s, was huge.

On some levels, the concept was too big. Mage became like Stewart’s Great White Whale, and suffered some growing pains before the game finally appeared at GenCon 1993. Even then – and even now, almost 25 years, four editions, four different incarnations, and over a hundred books later – Mage remains an infuriating puzzle for most gamers, and a life-changing discovery for the folks who understand it.

That’s where Stewart’s legacy truly shines.

Stew created many things: the magazine, the company, the World of Darkness and a rather visionary (if ultimately unprofitable) fiction division for White Wolf, and other things besides. The Cain-based mythos behind Vampire: The Masquerade was Stewart’s conception, and Stew brought a new generation of readers to the works of Michael Moorcock, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber, and more. White Wolf transformed a medium, but it has been Mage, more than anything else, which has – as Stewart intended – transformed this world and many people in it.

One of those people was me.

In the spring of 1993, I was broke, suicidal, stuck in a decaying marriage, and trapped by circumstances in a job I loathed. Though I had been writing professionally since 1989, and writing for White Wolf since ’92, my writing income was nowhere close to paying our bills. Desperate, I applied early that summer for the position of Mage line developer. That job literally saved my life, changed my approach to life, and became a sort of sacred calling I still pursue almost a quarter-century on.

I had applied for that job in June, wrote a prospectus for it in July, and worked with the company at DragonCon later that same month. By August, though, I hadn’t heard a word from them. Convinced they’d hired someone else, I crashed into a deep, frightening depression. And then – while at my job in the stock room of “Virginia’s Largest Shoe Store” – I got the call: “Phil, this is Stewart Wieck calling from White Wolf, and we’d like to offer you the job of the Mage line developer if you’re still interested.”

That was one of the greatest days of my life.

Only moments earlier, I had been core-dumping in the stock room to my friend Lynne. Once I’d heard Stew offer me the job, I began bouncing up and down, struggling to keep my voice steady while I did. Lynne mouthed, Did you get it? I nodded, and she hugged me hard. By the time I got off the phone, a mob of co-workers had gathered to congratulate me. I don’t think I ever told Stew that story, but now I really wish I had.

What’s a line developer? Another of Stewart’s best ideas.
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Most gaming and comic-book studios have a group of people – often freelance contractors – writing and drawing the material in question. Although there might be a head editor for a given series, game or character, creative decisions tend to be made by committee, often with a fair (or large) amount of executive “input.” I’m not sure who initiated the idea, but Stewart and Mark decided that each White Wolf game line should have a single creative director whose word was more or less law with regards to that game. The founders of the company, and their teams, would craft each original rulebook; once that book was done, however, another person would be hired to govern the subsequent series… and for the first few of us in that position, they gave us near-limitless creative freedom, so long as we didn’t crash and burn the line. As a result, the World of Darkness games had a degree of personality that few, if any, previous RPGs displayed. They weren’t just “product”; they were labors of love.

Thank you, Stewart, Mark and Steve, for that. I appreciate it more than words can say.

That decision was a brave and crazy thing to do. We line developers are a passionate, outspoken, often-tactless bunch who could be (and often were) breathtakingly territorial about our projects. We pushed the medium, our fans, our collaborators and ourselves as far as we could go back then, and then pushed further for good measure. The results ranged from classic to catastrophic, but that raw energy made White Wolf memorable even at its worst.

White Wolf in those days was not an easy place to be. We worked hard, we played hard, and occasionally we fought hard with one another, too. Tempers ran high, and unfortunate things were said and done. I said and did a few of those unfortunate things, and I have been sorry for them ever since. Even when things got bad, however, I never – NEV-ER – saw Stewart Wieck get nasty, vindictive or crude. Angry at times, more often sad; it’s hard to be a business owner under even the best conditions, and when you’re running a pack of hypercreative misfit toys in an uncertain marketplace during a boom-and-bust period, it’s even harder. Yet always, Stewart displayed graciousness, kindness, dry humor, and a godlike degree of patience. If he ever lost that patience, it was way behind closed doors, which was a damn sight better than the rest of us – myself included – did back then.

I helmed Mage in both its Ascension and Sorcerers Crusade iterations between mid-1993 and late-1999. Burning out, I left the staff at the end of ’98, and freelanced again until around 2000. For a while, I distanced myself from Mage and our World of Darkness. Mage, though, never distanced itself from me.

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Stewart Wieck’s brainchild transforms lives. I know this probably better than anyone else on earth. Since 1993, everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve been meeting people from literally all over the world for whom Mage became a gospel. I’ve met fans with terminal illnesses, health conditions, debilitating diseases and soul-crushing circumstances who tell me, “I am who I am”… sometimes even, “I’m still alive”… “because of Mage.” The Afterwords of Mage: The Ascension 20th Anniversary Edition (for which I returned to Mage in 2012) feature dozens of heartfelt testimonials, including two from Stewart and from me. Many of those people inspired by that theme of empowered transformation are now parents, artists, writers, game designers. Some are cops, activists, reformers, counselors and politicians. I know of one who’s a judge, several who are teachers and medical professionals, at least one who’s an emergency first-responder, and no less than two who have founded movie studios (small ones, but hey – it’s still impressive). A few years back, some fans in Greece flew me and my wife Sandi out to Athens, and became some of our dearest friends.  One of them – who now teaches English in Greece – continues to use World of Darkness games (Mage in particular) as not only entertainment but as a tool for social healing in a country going through hell. I’ll gladly take my share of credit for all that, but without Stewart Wieck, there would have been no Mage, no White Wolf, and very probably no me.

After our return from Greece, I contacted Stewart, Steve, Mark, and most of the core Mage collaboration group. “We did good,” I told them. “Mage made a bigger difference than we ever thought was possible.”

For the foreseeable future, it still will.

That’s a pretty descent legacy for some silly RPG.

Stewart, old friend, you helped to change the world.

For Mage, for White Wolf, for your courage and vision and insight and trust, for the love you gave your projects, and the respect you gave to us, I thank you, Stewart, now and always.

You helped us to Awaken, and never will we forget you.

rcbZmmm

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“First They Came For…”

“First, they came for the Latinos, and I did not speak up because I wasn’t Latino… and besides, those people were illegal immigrants, and Spanish-speaking people are scary even if they’re not here illegally, and I don’t trust ’em, and this is my country, so fuck those people anyway.

dakota-pigwagon

“And then they came for the Indians, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t an Indian… and besides, those crybaby redskins were trespassing, and oil is important, and every story has two sides, and the Indians aren’t perfect either, so fuck those people anyhow.

“And then they came for the Muslims, and I didn’t speak up because I’m not a Muslim… and besides, Islam is false religion built on greed and violence, and all Muslims are terrorists, or maybe some of them are, and I don’t know which ones, so fuck those people anyway.

“And then they came for the trans people, and I didn’t speak up because I’m not trans… and anyway, those queers are gross and my holy book says so, and I don’t want teenage boys scoping out my daughter or wife or girlfriend by pretending to be trans, so fuck those people anyway.

“And then they came for peaceful protesters, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t protesting… and besides, how dare they block the roads like that? And some of those people might be violent, so fuck all those people anyway.

“And then they came for the pot-smokers, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a pot-smoker… and besides, pot is bad for you, and even though it’s legal in a bunch of states, it’s still illegal on a national level, and people who smoke dope are just a bunch of stupid lazy hippies who need to get a job, so fuck those people anyway.

“And I don’t know who they’ll come for next, but it’s only been about a month, so I’m sure they’ll come for somebody else soon.

“As long as they don’t come for ME, I don’t care. Fuck those people anyway. Goddamn libotards! We’re just getting started!

“God bless America! I feel greater already.”
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dakota-trumpmerica

Obviously, the above is intended to be taken with a great deal of bitter, angry sarcasm. The thing is, the “and besides” remarks are all statements I have actually seen and heard people say in order to justify things that should be anathema to every sane American.

Some of them have even been said or written by people I otherwise respect. Maybe by seeing their remarks in this context, those folks might realize what they’re actually saying there.

This situation is fucked, people. When you have massive paramilitary forces rounding people up, they’re not gonna stop at only rounding up “those people.”

Don’t you DARE fucking normalize this. Not for a second.

These are shows of force, meant to quell dissent before it starts.

THIS IS WHAT FASCISM LOOKS LIKE.

WAKE UP.

(With apologies to the memory of Martin Niemöller, and a deep sense of rage and shame for the people of our nation today.)

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High Taxes and American Greatness

The Golden Era of American Greatness occurred in large part thanks to the highest taxes in U.S. history, as shown in the graph below [1]. Those taxes paid for an unprecedented national infrastructure, massive technological innovations, advanced education, a relatively effective government, social programs to stave off another Great Depression, and the most powerful military forces in human history.

tax-rate-eisenhower

Those sky-high taxes were mitigated by a complex system of exemptions. Taxpayers (corporate and otherwise) who invested money back into the country – and who thus sustained the economy and society with methods other than government tax-funds – could lower their taxes by directly investing in American goods and services.

When you hear stuff about America having “the highest tax-rate on earth,” 1) that’s factually incorrect, and 2) that base tax-rate DOES NOT INCLUDE EXCEPTIONS. Once you figure in exceptions – a task for which any CPA worth that name is trained and hired – that base tax-rate can drop to $0 or below.

Sadly, the federal government government kept the exemptions while – ever since Kennedy – continuing to lower the tax-rate upon which they’re based. That’s how so many corporations and wealthy individuals (like President Trump) can pay zero taxes and/ or get millions of dollars back from the government as well. [2]

Meanwhile, those same corporations and individuals continue to utilize – even destroy – the infrastructure and resources that are supposed to be tended with those taxes.

Anyone still wondering why the U.S. infrastructure is falling apart while our government maintains perpetual deficits?

Here’s one of your biggest answers.
tax-rates-1900-2010
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FOOTNOTES

1 – One of the other major reasons for that post-WWII “greatness” involved the aftermath of the War itself. Almost every other industrial power on earth had been bombed to pieces while exhausting its resources and suffering devastating losses to its work-force population.

Meanwhile, the United States, Canada, and other geographically protected combatants like Australia and New Zealand had high-functioning factories and an able-bodied work-force. While most of those other nations – being parts of the British Empire – helped to rebuild the British economy [3] the United States supported only itself.

Diplomatic arm-twisting also “encouraged” other nations to “buy American”… or else. Thus, the post-War American prosperity was unsustainable to begin with. Still, the high tax-rates and heavy investments in American goods and services propelled America’s greatest era. Without them, that era is a fading dream, nothing more.

2 – In fairness, those organizations and individuals still pay state and local taxes. That helps somewhat with regards to sustaining the local infrastructure, but does zero for the elements of social infrastructure and resources that are sustained in part or in whole by the federal government… which are actually quite extensive.

3 – An economy also sustained by Great Britain’s then-colony India, which despite geographic protection from most of the fighting lost roughly two million people to famine and disease during the War because the British Crown demanded ruinous support from the nation… a demand that led to India securing its independence shortly after WWII. 

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The Immigrant’s Song

I am a guinea wop goombah greaseball grape-stomper Guido Mafioso, a garlic-breathed Fonzi with, as fellow Siciliano Quentin Tarantio pointed out in True Romance, n-word blood.

anti-immigration-cartoon-granger

I am part Swedish meatball bork-bork chef, and part Slav – an ethnicity from which the English word slave was drawn because Slavs were so often conquered and enserfed. My grandparents and great-grandparents on all three sides of my family (Dad’s side, and the two halves of Mom’s ancestry) were part of the “great unwashed,” the Ellis Island mob of European immigrants who fled Europe around the time of World War I. My people are the people for whom the Statue of Liberty was a beacon of the future, and they were greeted with hostility, rage, and often violence.

My father and his brothers were born and raised in a ghetto of the Bronx. Their skins are several shades darker than my own, and though my father trained out his heavy accent while in the U.S. Navy, that side of my family is decidedly… shall we say, “ethnic.” This didn’t keep Dad and his brothers from serving in the military and fighting in Vietnam. Dad, in his case, became the youngest commissioned officer in the Navy at that time, commanding two ships and then helping the Pentagon update its computer systems in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s before his retirement. One of my grandfathers built ships for the U.S. during World War II, and the other was a soldier in that war.

dad-2015

My father, retired Commander Philip Brucato, sr.

Thanks to my Swedish grandfather, I am essentially “white.” Dad raised us in middle-class America, and that’s the pass I’ve gotten ever since.

I didn’t grow up in a ghetto. My closest personal contact with racism came by way of mild insults about my Italian/ Sicilian “Godfaddah” heritage and being beaten up throughout my time in Hawaii for being a haole (“without breath,” a slur for non-Polynesians, especially white ones) – both pretty mild experiences in the grand scheme of things. I got the white-privilege pass, and I generally still do.

But my people are that other generation of foreign trash, that wretched refuse that “good, upstanding Americans” tried to block from entrance or ship “back to where you came from” less than a century ago.

As I’ve written in previous essays, I am “those people.”  When you attack them, you’re attacking me and my people too.

anti-italian

Not long ago, we were the terrorists. The scum. The criminals. Hell, we Sicilians still are those things in the eyes of many Americans. Just ask Hollywood, whose nuanced palette of Italian/ Sicilian characters ranges from oversexed, badly dressed crooks to oversexed, badly dressed priests, with a few oversexed, badly dressed cops, boxers, prostitutes and morons thrown in for variety. (It’s funny, too, how many times non-Italians like Christopher Walken and Wallace Shawn get cast as cinematic Sicilians… though, in fairness, most non-Roman Italianates are played by actual paisanos.) Do I personally get called out for that stuff? Not too often anymore, though I’ve certainly heard my share of meatball and Mafia jokes along the way; hell, I’ve made a few of ‘em too. Beat the bastards to it, right? My point, though, is this:

We are America.

We immigrants, we built this country.

Even the ones who are “those people.” Hell, especially the ones who are “those people,” and whose labors have been so often obscured by prejudice, law, and the self-contradictory concept of white superiority.

My father spent half his teenage years in Harlem. Some of my grand-relations spoke little or no English, and all of them had heavy Old Country accents. They worked their asses off despite the hate, despite the ghettos and the stereotypes. They fought and occasionally died to make America great, and we’re still trying to get it to live up to its best ideals.

A handful of my relatives have thrown their lot in with Trump. To them, I say Remember who we are. The history of Muslims and Mexicans in Trump’s America is the history of our people too. To go against them is to shame our ancestors and go against ourselves.

siciliano

Our song is the immigrant’s song, and America is a better place for our voices.

My people built their little corner of America, and they raised me to appreciate it and to continue their work.

I’m not rich. I probably never will be. I’ve gotten a free ride in some respects for my lighter skin and an accent that’s more Southern than Siciliano, but I am a proud embodiment of the immigrant experience in America. My work, my life, my family and our legacy – they’re not huge, but they have made this land a better place to live, and a large part of my passion… and, quite often, my anger… comes from knowing that certain people, especially now, are dedicated to fucking it up.

To every hell imaginable with such bigotry. Fuck anyone who thinks that “my America” belongs only to your kind.

I am an American. We immigrants are America too.

I am the product of my heritage. If you enjoy my work, if my words inspire you, then remember that I am one of “those people” too.

Their fight is my fight, and this fight is personal.

Whose side are you on?

I know mine.

And I ain’t goin’ nowhere, and neither are the rest of us, so just get the fuck used to it.

satryr-gray

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Province of Sorcerers: The Malignant Magick of Our New Millenium

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism.
– Carl Jung, “On the Psychology of the Unconscious”

President Trump and his administration – implacable embodiments of counter-reality – are symptoms of a profound and perhaps extinction-level form of malignant magick in the Crowleyian sense of causing changes in reality in accordance with acts of will. Symbols, rituals, chants, invocations – all the trappings of magickal practices are being employed on a minute-by-minute basis by all sides of the current political divides… divides that are themselves manifestations of an industry created to generate a self-sustaining frenzy of terror and rage.

trump-vold

Beyond the personal history of the man himself, Trump’s presidency is the result of a decades-long infatuation with “X-TREEEEEEEEM!!!” behavior, a mass media dedicated almost solely to generating attention (most often through constant hate and fear), and a populace conditioned to accept bullying as “dominant behavior” and the mark of “social Darwinism” – a concept that itself flies in the face of what Darwin actually said – as well as an internet culture that was literally created in the late ’80s through early 2000s by young, angry, socially marginalized white males who bestowed status to peers who “hacked”/ flamed/ burned” people on general principle.

ann_coulter_demonic_book_coverThe “alternative facts” thing is the endgame of a campaign that began in America during the mid-1950s, within a culture war that pitted American progressives (religious and otherwise) against wealthy industrialists and socially regressive evangelicals who in turn forged an alliance to undo the New Deal and dismantle racial desegregation. (For details, see the book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, by Kevein Kruse.) Newt Gingrich pushed this campaign to new extremes in the 1990s by declaring total war on political opponents, using literally demonizing rhetoric as a weapon to turn public opinion against dissent of any kind. (See Gingrich’s essay “Language: A Key Mechanism of Control.”) Pundits like Ann Coulter [1] – chosen either for their perceived attractiveness (Laura Ingram, Tomi Lahren, Sarah Palin) blustering “tough” personas (Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Ted Nugent), or faux-concern for “values” and “American greatness” (Glenn Beck, Phil Robertson) employ Gingrich’s techniques to make literal fortunes in careers whose sole intention involves a daily stream of invective and hate which “tells it like it is” to and for its intended audience. The left has its media attack-dogs too (cf. Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, Al Sharpton, Bill Maher etc.), and although liberal/ progressive progressive pundits tend to address more genuine abuses than the right-wing ones do, both ideologies love to have someone with a literal bully pulpit express the frustrations we feel behind our social masks, and all sides – regardless of objective assessments of harm – seem to feel equally abused. All of these pundits, in turn, act out shadow-plays in the Jungian sense [2], and direct catastrophic amounts of psychic intensity at whomever their targets happen to be.

This conditioning toward extremity is a literal industry. It generates money and influence by tapping into the shadow-side of cultural divisions, and the only way to keep the profits flowing in is to become ever-more “X-TREEEEEEM!!!!” At this point, empathy is quaint, outmoded, and certainly unfashionable… hell, even culturally treasonous within whichever group you happen to belong to. All forms of compromise are heresy, and “the other” (whomever that “other” happens to be) is quite literally demonized to the point where even considering a dialog makes you “just like them”… or maybe even worse. Internet social media has exacerbated strident disconnection, fanatic tribalism, and hectoring extremity, and the results are literally, perhaps fatally, poisoning our culture, its people, and our world.

We live in an era of global malefica, of destructive spells cast through apparently innocuous means. Things that were once the province of sorcerers are now everyday currency to anyone with a computer, a TV, or an internet connection. Although it’s true that a certain amount of occult influence and technology is being used by certain people in certain subcultures to advance certain agendas, the greater rituals are being enacted without deliberate metaphysical intent. We are, in information-age culture, employing – however innocuously – the most significant tools of classical magick: Symbol. Focus. Intention. Connection. On a daily, even hourly, basis, we invest psychic energy into an ever-growing network of connection, effect, and transformation. The fact that we don’t seem to have the slightest idea what we’re doing with it makes us, like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, too damned powerful yet clueless for our own good. The fact that so many people use such power toward malignant ends should terrify anybody with a pulse.

baphomet-barbieAs easy as it is (and as justified, too) to view President Trump’s ascension as some malign act of sorcery, the fact is, it’s not just Trump and his people who are using malignant magicks; WE ALL ARE. Words and symbols and media have become our weaponized rituals, and we have become so caught up in the fight that almost everyone looks like the enemy. I wish I had a pithy solution to this mess, but to be honest – especially speaking as someone who has written and researched these topics for decades now – the situation scares the hell out of me. And we must be our own saviors here, too; anyone’s who’s counting on some godhead to save us from our own mistakes hasn’t read nearly enough history to see where such situations tend to lead.

We need to step back from the brink, but I’m not certain we even want to do so. After all, we are literally invested in this global evil spell, and its tools have become our favorite toys.

And no, I am not attributing our predicament to some otherworldly force. In this case, as in most such situations, we have only ourselves to blame.
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1. Compare the titles of Coulter’s books with the trigger phrases in Gingrich’s essay. There’s a lot of overlap, and I suspect that’s totally intentional. 

2. The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach. It is certainly a good thing to preach reason and common sense, but what if you have a lunatic asylum for an audience or a crowd in a collective frenzy? There is not much difference between them because the madman and the mob are both moved by impersonal, overwhelming forces.
– Carl Jung, “Psychology and Religion”

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Health Care: A Social Necessity for a Viable Society

Universal health care, as far as I’m concerned, is as essential to a modern industrialized society as roads, power grids, sewage systems, telephone access, reliable energy sources with long-term viability, relatively untainted sources of food and drink, professional police and emergency-response systems, an efficient and mobile standing military force, a postal system, international trade policies, a standardized currency, a reliable and standardized definition of citizenship, and a host of other things – all of which are underwritten and/ or provided by the federal government in collaboration with the states, and none of which are explicitly defined within the U.S. Constitution, in large part because they did not exist in anything near their present form when that Constitution was drafted to begin with.

health-care

“Why,” as someone said recently regarding this topic, “do the working men and women have to pay for it?” [1] Because as history and current events show us, in countless examples from the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 to the more-or-less containment of Ebola over the last several years, IT IS IN A SOCIETY’S COMPELLING BEST INTERESTS TO KEEP ITS PEOPLE HEALTHY. Especially in a world where an illness can leap continents in a period of hours, and where a single diseased person can infect hundreds of people simply by walking down the street – much less by working behind a counter and/ or serving food in a restaurant – IT IS IN A SOCIETY’S COMPELLING BEST INTEREST TO KEEP ITS PEOPLE HEALTHY. A society in which people can and do “tough it out” when they’re sick because they have no choice otherwise is a society that is itself diseased. It is NOT – provably, according to current statistics and historical evidence – a healthy, viable society with a long-term future.
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A person’s illness is not a reflection of their moral character. You cannot wish away cancer, heart disease, chronic pain, mental illness, sensory processing conditions, infections, injuries, etc. etc. etc. by being bold enough and industrious enough to satisfy some nonsense criteria of “being a hard worker.” (Whatever that means.) The “good old days” were not miraculously free from sickness; history shows that alcoholism, crime, plague, starvation, rampant insanity, domestic violence, crushing mass poverty, political upheavals, and other social illnesses were (and still are) often intertwined with untreated physical and mental illnesses. While certain medical conditions are avoidable, the majority are not, and the idea of forcing people to remain sick or injured until they’re industrious enough to “earn” medical treatment is not only cruel, it is literally suicidal to society at large.

Invoking and debating the jots and tittles of an 18th-century document as some sort of divine mandate for the “freedom” to be sick, go broke, and possibly die unless one is rich enough to afford not to [2]… that’s an absurdist argument. Leaving out the horrific costs in human suffering, that argument still ignores the many realities of the modern world… realities that our federal and state governments already address with such efficiency that we don’t even notice the solutions until and unless we need them… and the fact that a society where the people are sick is a society that is sick and dying as a whole.

An overall standard of health among individual citizens is essential to the health of a society at large. A society in which physical, mental and financial viability are provided only to a wealthy elite is a society that is doomed to fail.
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EDIT: In the time since this article was posted yesterday, I have learned that an especially nasty influenza strain is making the rounds this winter. So far, in the 2016-2017 flu season which officially began in November, there have been over 46 lab-confirmed deaths in Washington State alone. That’s one state, with excellent medical programs, under the ACA, within a few weeks. And that figure is ten days old as of this posting. I know this because a friend’s father-in-law is currently dying of that strain of the flu at this time; oh, and she has it now too. Both of them have contracted said flu within the last 48 hours. She’ll probably survive it. I doubt he will.

Yes, illnesses kill – that’s part of what makes them illnesses. The number of people they kill, how easily they kill, and how widespread the killing is, all depend a great deal upon modern medical treatment or a widespread lack thereof. And again I will emphasize this point: The person behind the counter at the next store you visit, or in the kitchen of the next restaurant you buy food from, is as likely to have this flu as my friend and her father-in-law are. More likely, really, because they come in contact with more people in the course of their job. And unlike my friend and her father-in-law, they’re not likely to be able to afford medical treatment and/ or sick days on their own dime, so they could be spreading that illness on to you, your kids, your co-workers, and so forth. Self-righteous selfishness does not render you or your society immune.

pandemics

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1 – As an even more direct answer to that person: a) Because we all pay into the mutual upkeep of our society, or we all lose it; b) Most of the people who need universal health care ARE “working people” whose employers simply choose not to provide health coverage and/ or viable compensation for their employees; and c) Because a random sick person’s illness is a threat to your health, and the health of your loved ones as well.

2 – See the following graphs:

health-insurance-rate-hikes-20120924-001

uninsured_workers
health-insurance-costshealth-care-decline

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In Retrospect – Star Wars: A New Hope

For the first time in quite a while, my wife Sandi and I re-watched Star Wars: A New Hope (aka the REAL “first Star Wars movie”) last night. Certain aspects of it still hold up despite the passage of 40 years (!!!!!!!!!!) as of this coming summer. Other aspects really do not.

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For starters, this is a textbook example of a movie saved in the editing room and post-production process. Remove the iconic soundtrack, sound effects, editing, and visual innovations, and this film would collapse into a clump of silliness. The younger performers are more or less dreadful; Carrie Fisher salvages her role with sheer attitude, but Chloë Grace Moretz [1] she ain’t. Mark Hamill’s the best of the three, but he’s clearly struggling with a badly written role in what had to have felt like a thankless job. Harrison Ford is cringeworthy; it’s hard, rewatching this movie, to believe that this role made him a star. The veteran actors come across far better, especially the Sirs Cushing and Guinness, plus James Earl Jones and – oddly enough – Anthony Daniels and Peter Mayhew, who did a lot with very little material; their professionalism anchors the film, but it’s not hard to see why Sir Alec, in particular, considered this movie an embarrassment. The writing is downright horrible, saved largely by a few strong performances that feature an often sardonic self-awareness of the absurdity of it all, combined with a dedication to make the best of a bad situation. Really, this was a kids’ movie that happened to say the right things at the right time, the right way, to resonate with adults as well.

A New Hope‘s real gems, however, still shine: Its soundtrack remains magnificent, a perfect encapsulation of the epic wonder and spectacle that Lucas wanted to convey. The production design, as familiar as it has become, retains its iconic flavor; a lesser effort would have doomed the film. The sound effects convey their primal shiver, and the fact that the model-work looks far better – even now – than the downright awful CGI inserts that Lucas painted all over his masterpiece in later years [2] attests to the skills of the camera, pyro, and model-making crews.

The biggest virtue this movie has, though, and the one which sets it apart from other SF movies of its era, is its deep-universe weirdness. For despite the pulp-action tropes, the setting of Star Wars exudes an enticing sense of the uncanny. The film is loaded with odd bits that hint at a larger universe: the mouse robots, the half-heard lines, the unexplained references to alien concepts, the weird writing and evocative names, the giant skeleton and the bizarre robots… it all feels like an especially vivid dream, and that sensation grants Star Wars a sophistication that its story lacks. Few genre movies, then or now, capture the illusion of depth as well as the first Star Wars does. Even more than its rousing message of triumph over odds, that is, I think, the element that keeps people coming back for more.

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Frankly, I’m sick and tired of seeing folks grouse about the newest Star Wars movies – Rogue One and The Force Awakens. By every measure of film-making craft, they’re both vastly superior to the first trilogy, and leave the CGI atrocities of the second trilogy bleeding pixels in a corner on the floor. People kvetching about plot-holes and character development in Rogue One and TFA either have not watched ANH, Empire or – gods help us! – fucking Return of the Jedi in a very long time, or else remain so spellbound by the effects those movies had on them as kids that they can’t see past how goddamned BAD those movies (Empire excepted) really are as films. By the standards of the Star Wars series, Rogue One and Force Awakens are among the very best of the lot, worthy additions to an epic series.

I still appreciate the original Star Wars despite it flaws. It changed the art and industry of filmmaking (for better and worse), and retains a mythic power well out of proportion with its weaknesses. I suspect that what many folks are searching for in the newer Star Wars films is a return to wondrous innocence and the vast possibilities that first Star Wars film unveiled. Sadly, that ain’t gonna happen again. It’s not 1977, Star Wars is a cultural touchstone, and although a film like Rogue One can bring us elements of that saga that we’ve never seen before (a potential that I, for one, feel it did admirably), there’s no way to recreate that first blare of trumpets in a realm that, once alien, now seems so familiar.

Which means, of course, that we creators can, and must, create new canvases for our imagination, and approach our possibilities – regardless of our flaws – with that eternal attitude of A New Hope.

star-wars-wtf

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* – Until-recently-teenage actress known for her action-movie roles, who brings an impressive emotional complexity to her characters.

** – Jumping fucktoads, George, what were you THINKING? The Jabba footage is especially rank, giving Harrison Ford ample opportunity to shit all over his star cred while emoting badly at a vanished human who’s been glossed over by a CGI space-slug too fakey for a SYFY original movie. Especially considering that Lucas used ILM to “enhance” his “special editions” years after Jurassic Park, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day revolutionized CGI and brought the technique toward its present form, the additions to ANH are inexplicably bad.

 

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50 Rocks: Telesterion’s Debut Album Released!

This post involves moving somewhat ahead of the story with regards to my 50 Rocks series of articles. Still, it’s a rather sweet milestone for me:

My band Telesterion released our self-titled debut album yesterday, and it’s getting a very nice response.

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Arising from a troupe producing a series of rock operas based upon Aleister Crowley’s Rites of Eleusis, our band has been together for roughly two years this month. We’d recorded the album this past summer, just before taking a four-month hiatus because three of our six members were staging productions of the Rite of Jupiter, which wrapped in October. Now we’re back in the swing of things, working on new material, releasing our album, and gearing up for a January 19th gig at Seattle’s Studio 7, less than two blocks from Khaos Studios, where this album was recorded.

I’ll probably be picking back up on this series soon, bringing the story back around to Telesterion in historical order and a bit more detail. For the moment, though, enjoy a sample of our new record, check out the album as a whole, and maybe help support a ragbag bunch of professional creatives who refuse to age too gracefully.

telesterion-concert

Cheers!

 

 

 

 

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Crucibles, Not Comfort

Magic is imagination’s song. Crafted by skillful hands, inspired by able minds, it leaps the gulf between what CAN’T BE and what IS. Cynics dismiss it. Fate undoes it. But with passion, hard work, and will, the future manifests from nothing. It’s not easy, but then, miracles never are… That tale is ours. We craft it every day we are alive. For every day is magical, even the bad ones. ESPECIALLY the bad ones, for they teach us to be strong.

Why faerie tales? Because such tales inspire us. They remind us to see gold within straw, to recognize the prince within the beast. They may invent, but they do not lie. to speak them is to tell the truth, even in the midst of fantasy.

– Satyros Phil Brucato, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium (2003)

Deliria Small___________________

To put those words in context: At the time I wrote them, I was broke, essentially homeless, freshly divorced from both my then-wife and White Wolf Game Studio, staring down the barrel of over $50,000 in debt, and preparing to leave the city I’d called home for ten years and start off in a virtually unknown new city where the only people I knew were two ex-girlfriends, one of whom had raped me several months before.

I survived that time. I’ve made a lot of magick since, and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna stop now.

For over 20 years, I have crafted defiantly optimistic fantasy. And while the “optimistic” part is gonna be really goddamned hard right now, the “defiant” part has dug in its heels.

As I keep reminding myself today, our faerie tales originated in famines, wars, and persecutions. Our myths were forged around firesides where imagination fed flames against the dark. Those comic-book heroes we revere were created by Jews and “others” on the cusp of the Holocaust or in the burning times of America’s civil-rights war. Motown and Stax rose out of Jim Crow’s segregation, while punk rock and hip-hop blasted out of urban wastelands where its founders’ world was being literally torn down around their heads.

Art thrives in crucibles, not in comfort.

Fuck you, America. I’ve survived Nixon, Reagan, the Cold War, both Bushes, and five years of shitty jobs in one of the worst neighborhoods Richmond had to offer. But I came up in punk rock, in neighborhood brawls and family abuse and a ton of other shit as well.

As my sweetheart Coyote Ward once said, Satyrs don’t break easy. And I am not alone.

So let’s do this, motherfuckers.

It’s on.

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Trumpmerica

Day One in Trumpmerica: Three of my friends have already been attacked this morning. One of them is a veteran who works for the VA… but hey, she’s Black, so yee-fuckin-haw. I’ll bet the boys who assaulted her never carried a gun in the field for the USA, but now that open season has begun, nothing matters but the color of one’s skin.

At least one marriage I know of (not ours) has ended in the last day, and a long-term relationship (again, not ours) died last night. My feed is full of suicide notes, and I’m sure at least one of those people won’t live to see next week. An old lover’s workplace is on lockdown; she’s a veteran too, by the way. A longtime member of our Seattle tribe has chosen to join the enemy, and another is returning to Standing Rock next month, where I fear for his chances at survival.

Congratulations, America, and damn you to hell.

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If you voted for Trump, this is on you. Every drop of blood shed, every body on the ground or in the trees, every scream, every tear, every burning building and broken home, each suicide and hate-crime, every Black or Brown or Asian, Indigenous or queer or female or disabled person or progressive or otherwise “other” human being who suffers and dies from lack of care or naked violence – this is all on you.

I’d shame you, but you have no shame.

There’s plenty of blame to go around: the DNC, the GOP, Big Box Media, even my fellow progressives who would rather score points than come together… but really, Trump voters, ultimately it’s on you.

I’ll skip any appeals to your humanity, because humans often suck. We CAN be better than we so often are, but y’all had that chance this week and instead you chose hatred, fear, bigotry, boastful ego and willful ignorance.

You elected President Grabherbythepussy. Congratulations.

If there are any of you left among my Facebook friends, get out. Family, friend or so-called “fan,” we’re done. What you chose is anathema to everything I have ever been, have ever worked and fought for, have ever created in any venue in any medium. You voted against me and mine, you chose to hurt people simply for existing, and if you knew anything about me, you’d know I don’t forgive that shit. Go burn in the hell you just made.

To my fellow progressives: Congratulations. This is on us too. We got smug and stupid and so wrapped up in our own impenetrable self-righteousness that we refused to see that Yes, it CAN Happen Here. We scored points, but they won the game. The white folks who can pass the new standards of Trumpmerica won’t bear the worst of the coming age, but if you think this will be like the Bush and Reagan years, events have already proved you wrong.

Because so many Trump supporters consider themselves “christians,” I will commend you to Matthew 25: 31-46 and remind you that when Jesus said, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” he was referring to you.

I guess I should feel compassionate about your pain. Right now, I’m sickened and I hope your damnation hurts. Your actions have hurt me and mine, and I don’t forget that kind of shit.

It’s morning in Trumpmerica.

We turned a corner last night, and I’d be lying if I said I saw anything but fire.

trump-kkk

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