Permanent Wows

Momentary break from politics: I was just listening to Rush’s album Permanent Waves in the car, and realizing that record presents Neil Peart at the absolute pinnacle of his lyrical game.


Peart had his definite ups and downs with regards to lyrical prowess. Though a massive improvement over the “hey now baby” lyricism of his bandmates, he could get pompous, obtuse, goofy, and – as in, say, “New World Man” (the band’s worst song, I feel… and that includes the stuff off their first album and Hold Your Fire), downright cringeworthy. It could fairly be said that Peart stumbled so often because he reached so far. Neil never took the easy way out (well, almost never…), and neither did the band as a whole, which is one reason I love them so much despite their occasional missteps and a decidedly acquired-taste style.
This album, though – it’s fucking gold.

I mean, beyond the always-brilliant instrumentation, Permanent Waves features some gorgeous turns of phrase. everything good about Peart’s lyricism is on full display on this record, and the closest thing to a lyrical misstep – “All the busy little creatures/ Living out their destines” – is still light-years above most rock songs, and redeems itself with the following line: “Living in their pools/ they soon forget about the sea… and the hair-raising instrumental transition that follows that line.

Look, I know that Rush is a perennial whipping-boy for rockister-than-thous. And I never fucking cared. Even at their worst, the band has been in a class by itself since their second album, Peart’s debut Fly By Night, and did a pretty decent riff on Zeppelin before then. Every Rush album has its own personality, and you can mark the band’s ambitions by what they decided to try (successfully or otherwise) on the album in question. Many bands have been influenced by them, but no one’s ever managed to sound much like them because the post-Rutsey Rush is the sublime chemistry of three driven, visionary, goofy and occasionally pretentious guys who know damn well that no one else can do what they can do when they set their minds to it. No one else sounds like Rush because no one else could possibly BE Rush. You can cover their songs, but you can’t create the sound they made.
Permanent Waves marked a course-correction after the brilliant but bloated Hemispheres and the finicky A Farewell to Kings (my second-least-favorite Rush album, after Hold Your Fire, and one that’s guilty of almost everything Rush-haters despise about the band). The guys realized they’d pretty much tapped out the epic-length metaphorical SF faerie-tale thing, and they went for a record that manages to blend metaphysical ruminations about thunderstorms and macro /microcosms with some trenchant (and prescient) commentary about the declining state of popular radio, plus an absolutely gorgeous love-song to ever-flawed humanity. Through it all, Peart’s lyrics never miss a trick. Speaking as a writer, I think this record features some of the best popular music lyrics I’ve ever heard, anywhere. It’s easy to drop some “Ooo babies” and get the singer to sell that sentiment. It’s quite another to craft words like these.

Give Permanent Waves a listen, even if you’ve heard it before. I’ve been listening to this album since 1980 (my fourth rock concert was seeing Rush on tour for this album), and even know I’m hearing new things to love about it.

Rush Gram

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Billy Graham’s Reward

Billy Graham played the Good Christian for the cameras, especially when his copycat spawn plundered their followers during the televangelistic reign of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Don’t fall for that act, though – this man was a disgrace to his savior and a stain on modern Christianity. His ranting Trumpski sprog displays the true face of Graham’s legacy, and both of them embody the false prophets Jesus so often warned against.


As detailed in the book One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America, Graham presided over the literally unholy marriage of sociopathic corporatists and the right-wing evangelicals who unseated their more Christ-like progressive brethren. The path from Eisenhower’s White House to Trumpmerikah is paved with Billy Graham’s deeds.

Matthew 25, so often cherry-picked by the “prosperity gospel” hucksters that Graham opened the door for and ushered into their current seats of power, ends with a perfect epitaph for Graham and all his kind:

Then he [Jesus] will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Graham was not righteous, no matter how much he pretended to be. And as the Christ put in in Matthew 6, referring to self-promoting hypocrites like Graham, “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

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Barnes & Noble’s Corporate Malaise

Nicole Brinkley writes: Barnes & Noble’s solution to poor sales isn’t, “Okay, let’s reassess stock and see who’s ordering all these things that nobody wants to buy—and maybe do some better outreach into these communities.”

Barnes & Noble’s solution is, “Hey, let’s throw out those experienced employees instead of looking at how those employees could help achieve both our short-term and our long-term community and sale goals.”

barnes-noble-closing-225x300She’s 100% correct. I knew this from experience. And this is not a new situation, either. I dealt with it personally in 2006, and it led to me leaving that company after nearly six years of top-reviewed service at three different locations around the country. I don’t have time right now to relate the whole story. The short version, however is this:

B&N was close to a dream-employer when I began working for them in late 1999. They paid well by retail standards, had good benefits, and generally treated the staff with respect and incentives because they realized that knowledgeable, loyal employees who could hand-sell goods brought in more money than low-paid floor-monkeys counting the seconds until their shifts were over.

That situation ended when Amazon and other internet venues cut into B&N’s profit margins.

As I later discovered, Barnes & Noble defined “profit” like most other American companies do: Make more this year than you made last year… and if your income drops, then slash your expenses.

In B&N’s case, “expenses” were the benefits and payroll that supported the chain’s staff.

Again, it’s a long story. By 2005, however, pay had been frozen, benefits cut, staff reduced, and workload increased throughout the chain. Meanwhile, many money-wasting policies remained unchanged. B&N had become incredibly inefficient, with an outdated business model; its response, of course, was to punish the people who sell their goods.

In 2006, my friend and co-worker Zack got sick. He couldn’t afford a doctor visit or medication, and by that point we had no health coverage. He tried to “tough it out,” and he died.

B&N Corporate’s response was a shrug.

By that time, I had already grown frustrated with the deteriorating situation with that company. When our district manager – who I knew from a previous store I’d worked at – came by for a visit, I approached her with a plan to streamline the inefficiencies, update the business model, and shift money from wasteful inventory policies back to payroll.

That plan was based on over half-a-decade’s experience with the chain, and over a decade in the publishing industry as a whole. She agreed it was a good plan, and said she’s take it to Corporate the following month. Irony alert: The B&N CEO’s statement from November 17 of last year is essentially what I suggested to them 12 years ago… so of course, they’re now doing the exact opposite thing.

Afterward, the district manager came back to me with the following words: “Corporate likes things the way they are. They don’t plan to change. If you’re unhappy here, I suggest you get another job elsewhere.”

So I did. I did it by the numbers, on good terms, gave plenty of notice, and even trained my replacements (plural). As far as I was aware (and my old co-workers Melissa Ackert and Beth Buell can attest to this), I left on good terms with everyone, and was welcome back in the store anytime.

When a client screwed me for $4000 in late 2007, and I went to a different B&N location for a quick job, I found out otherwise.

Apparently, after I left, Corporate tagged me as a troublemaker, said I had quit without notice, and noted that I was not to be rehired. They also gave me a shitty reference when a different bookstore called to verify my employment there.

I called my former manager, and the management team there swore they’d had nothing to do with that.

Almost six years of loyal, dedicated and knowledgeable service was pissed on and trashed out of sheer, vindictive spite from Barnes & Noble Corporate, apparently because an employee had dared to attempt to update their outdated business model.

I have seldom spent money in a Barnes & Noble since then. And trust me – I spend a LOT of money on books and media.

I have to wonder: How many more stories out there are like mine? How many other book-loving salespeople got dumped on by B&N Corporate and so took their business elsewhere? How much money has this cost the chain in lost business from disgruntled ex-employees alone, much less the losses incurred when a dedicated, well-informed, motivated sales-force is replaced by desperate, resentful wage-slaves who literally die from the company’s neglect?

Twelve years later, the company hasn’t learned a fucking thing.

Why not? Because as long as the folks at the tippie-top get their paychecks and stock dividends – no matter what those things cost the company, its people, even its industry – they have no incentive to learn, and even less of an incentive to care.

That, right there, is a distillation of everything wrong with Corporate America.

And laying off entire staffs of people does nothing to address that problem.


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If “Unskilled” = Worth Less, Then Where’s Your Money Coming From?

Y’know what really hacks me off about this whole “unskilled labor” argument? It’s the fact that without millions of people doing that “worth less” labor, none of the higher-paid employees, executives, owners, or stock holders would have a company to begin with.


Nobody flipping burgers means no burgers to sell.

Nobody stocking shelves means no goods being sold.

Nobody delivering pizzas means fewer pizzas being sold.

Nobody working as a cashier means no money is passing from the customer’s hands to the company’s bank accounts.

The foundation of this nation’s economy – of any society’s economy, really – rests upon the people who do the dirty jobs. Ayn Rand fantasies aside, railroad executives don’t make railroads. Without tracks, without trains, without people running those trains, without people selling tickets and keeping stations open and monitoring rail traffic and plenty of people who have enough money to ride on trains in the first place, the railroad executive has nothing at all.

Dagny Taggart is a parasite. Without millions of “takers” doing her work for her, she’s a selfish leech with big ideas. And so are the many people who consider Atlas Shrugged to be some sort of revelation rather than six handfuls of delusional bullshit.

Goods do not magically appear on store shelves, nor do they magically sell themselves to the customers. Nor do customers who don’t have enough money to spend buy anything they cannot immediately afford. Nor do goods and services materialize from thin air, fully formed and ready to buy. Every single step of an economy (regardless of the name you attach to that economy) is based on turning labor and materials into goods and profits. And without the materials, the services, and the labor, the profits do not exist.

Why is this so hard for folks to understand?

Why is it considered fashionable, even smart, to declare that a person flipping burgers and selling them to customers is the most expendable link in the economic chain when, in fact, that person is its most important element?


You can have the greatest kitchen on earth. (One built, we assume, by people who design and build kitchens, and who provide the materials to build them.) You can fill it with the finest ingredients (all of which have to be grown, harvested, transported, refined, packaged, inspected and provided before you can get them), and design the best menu in human history. Unless, however, you have people to unpack, prepare and sell your food, keep your restaurant clean, and make sure it remains well-stocked and well-serviced, you have NOTHING.  A bunch of ideas, maybe even materials, but no way to turn them into profits.

How dare anyone claim that the people whose labor lets an entire company function are somehow its most disposable “human resources”?

Fuck that.

If the burger flippers ain’t flippin, the executive ain’t earnin’.

There’s your “unskilled labor,” right there – at the foundation of every business in existence.

Folks who want the gold without paying the miners are parasites and nothing more.

Papa Parasite

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“The (White) Purity of the Material”

There’s lots of talk these days about “the purity of the material.” Lots of fanboys pissing in the Wheaties of anyone who dares to gender-bend Thor (even though he was occasionally gender-bent in Norse mythology), or enjoy a team of female Ghostbusters, or make a Star Wars movie with female and non-white leads.

Last Jedi

And that concept – “the purity of the material” – is utter nonsense.

I write this stuff for a living. Have done so since the early 1990s, in a variety of media. Hell, I even wrote part of a book for Star Wars. And despite the seriousness with which people like me take our jobs and try to do the best we can do under the circumstances, it’s a job. That’s it. That’s all. One we love (trust me, we don’t do it for the money!), but still a job.

We creators are professionals making a living on tight deadlines, in media that were until recently considered to be completely disposable, unfit for serious consideration. We rarely own the things we create, and so while we do our best to bring actual creativity and fun to our work, the idea that comics, or movies, or games, or TV shows, or even most books – certainly those in genre categories – are somehow sacred, unchanging writ is complete garbage.

For far too long, our jobs were more-or-less restricted to white guys (in comics, usually Jewish) who mostly knew one another and so hired the people we knew. A handful of women and non-white folks of different genders were hired if and when an editor knew them, and trusted them, and didn’t hold some absurd ideas about who was and was not fit to join the team. Some guys, obviously, did hold such ideas, which restricted the talent pool further. And so, because creators tend to create stuff based on what they know (or think they know), especially when they’re on tight deadlines in disposable media whose rights they don’t even own, the majority of the heroes of such media were white dudes scoring white chicks, with the occasional (often inaccurate and offensive) gender and / or ethnic stereotype dropped in to show how progressive the creators felt they were at that time. And because that was the marketplace norm, even the female creators, and the queer creators, and the non-white creators, stuck to what they were being paid to create: stories for and about white dudes.
Luke Cage
That was then, this is now. Some of us felt that was bullshit even decades ago, and hired people to break the stereotypes. Other folks who weren’t white, het dudes enjoyed those media too, and they grew up to be the next generations of creators – creators who tell their own stories about a world with a greater and broader and far more realistic and frankly more interesting view of the human condition than The Adventures of Whiteboy Pt XIV.
Some white boys hate that.
Fuck ’em.
Anyone who honestly desires a retrograde form of entertainment wherein the scope of characters was limited to a very small slice of human culture and experience has got decades’ worth of that stuff to enjoy. More than you could possible indulge yourself with in one lifetime.Go get it, dudes – it’s all yours.
But to anyone who wants to keep the gates of imaginative media shut against everybody else on earth in the name of “the purity of the material” – there’s the door, assholes. Don’t let it hit y’all on the ass on the way out of it.
“The purity of the material” is as mythical as Superman himself… a dude who was created by a pair of Jewish teenagers to do the things they never could.
Speaking as a creator of such media, a creator who takes his work as a sort of sacred charge, I know that the material is a JOB, not an eternal statement of fundamentalist, exclusive truth.
Our work inspires people, and I love that. I feel humbled and honored that so many people find something real in the fictions I create.

And I feel deeply offended that some folks believe that only they have the right to create and enjoy and perpetrate such media. That with terms and logic straight out of

Mein Kampf and other racist nonsense, they defend the things we create while they wave the banner of “the (white) purity of the material.”
Bullpen 2There’s nothing pure about what we do, kiddies. It’s sweat-work in a rough and often unforgiving field. The fact that we occasionally manage to make characters and tell stories that resonate with people on anything beyond a superficial thrill is a bonus perk of that job.

How dare someone – anyone – feel that resonance belongs only to them?


Motherfuckers, I create this stuff and it doesn’t even belong to us. Once released, it belongs to the audience; our names and visions and sweat helped shape it, but the art that makes such things immortal (or at least enjoyable) comes from the connection between the creators’ vision and the audience’s desires.
It belongs to whomever loves it. To whomever it speaks to.
Do not ever, EVER, try to defend selfish, ignorant bigotries in the name of the creators and their work.
‘Cause I’m one of those creators, and most of my friends are creators, anyone who wants to speak hate with ours names attached can go straight to hell.
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The White American Id

An American president personifies our nation. In the eyes of the world, of history, especially in the eyes of Americans ourselves, the human being in the Oval Office embodies the nation as a whole.

Obama Trump

One of the many reasons so many Americans flipped their collective shit for eight years, accepting with full credence the wildest forms of nonsense about the Black Man in “their” White House, was because President Obama did not reflect “their” America: a land where white folks ruled by virtue and force in a literally God-given land where all of “those people” – y’know, the queers and women and liberals, the Muslims and the Jews and everybody else who did not look and think like them – knew their place. The eloquent, genial, dark-skinned man with an African name and a brain he was not afraid to use in public frightened those people out of their minds because he and his family defied the reality they had been raised to accept. Clearly, then, he was an interloper. A foreigner. An anchor-baby. An Antichrist. In many ways, President Obama was the end of the world as those people knew it because his presence in the White House – in defiance of a rich white businessman, a revered white war hero, and a bizarre human culture-clash between stylish prosperity and white-trash roots –  for the better part of a decade undermined the very order of their lives. Thus, Obama had to be a monster. A lie. A terroristic fabrication sent to destroy American greatness. To accept otherwise was to admit their vision of America was wrong.

In response, these people chose a man who made political hay with the accusation that President Obama was not American. They flocked to him when he declared Mexicans to be criminals. They cheered when he gave his followers permission to rough people up, especially if the people they roughed up were Black. They’re still chanting “BUILD THE WALL!” as a reflex because hate, ignorance and extravagant division are the only answers they have left when confronting a diverse and complicated world.

To such people, America is only great when a big white man is in charge.

Trump Tank

And so we’ve gone from Obamamerica to Trumpmerika – a radical change that strains the seams of our society. In place of a smart, classy, geek with dark skin and boundless patience, Trump’s electorate chose a blustering, crude, willfully ignorant bigot with Germanic blood and a sputtering temper. This man, and his administration (most especially his VP: a pernicious gaslighter who revealed the ultimate tone of Trump’s counter-factual administration when he drove his debate opponent up the wall by calmly denying realities that are part of the public record) are living refutations of the idea that America belongs to anyone but belligerent white folks. Sure, Trump has an ever-dwindling handful of  non-white and/ or non-male functionaries; everybody knows, however, that Big White Daddy is in charge. In Trump they trust.

And so when he talks about selling warplanes that don’t actually exist outside of a video game… well, that must be true.

And when he says he never said what he’s on video saying… well, then, clearly he isn’t lying. Or crazy. The crazy liar must be some stupid Left Coast libotard.

And when he declares whole nations full of human beings to be “shitholes” full of “very bad hombres,” and makes penile metaphors for nuclear genocide, Trump is just “talking tough” and “telling it like it is.”

For a small but vocal percentage of Americans, this is their Great America: a land that takes no shit off anyone, run by a master businessman whose position of power returns the United States to white normalcy, without those creeping fears of a dark-skinned interloper who’s too big for his britches and too smart for his own good.

For the rest of us, however, it’s a disgrace.

Trump is an embarrassing embodiment of the American Id: loud, egotistical, living a gold-leaf illusion of tacky prosperity at everyone else’s expense.

It remains to be seen, I guess, whether the better America – an America built on diversity and vision – will emerge from yet another age of division, or whether the innate contradictions of a freedom-loving nation built on slavery will devour whatever’s left of the American experiment for good.


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Rise of the Bigger, Better South

In many regards, I am a Southerner. Sure, I live in Seattle now, I was born in California, and my parents are both New Yorkers. But aside from two years spent in Hawaii during the mid-1970s, I was raised in the South and lived roughly 35 of my 52 years in Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. I talk a lot of shit about the South, but that’s because it’s been my home for the majority of my life, and I know from personal experience it can be better than its people often choose to be.


Speaking as a long-bred Southerner, I want to see the South rise, all right… the BETTER South. The smart South. The South of wisdom and hospitality, of great food and great people. The South that gave us Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King jr, Aretha Franklin and Johnny Cash. The South of Stax/ Volt Records and the Southern Poverty Law Center… an organization formed and housed in Montgomery, Alabama. The South that’s a center of technology. The South freed from scourge of its addictions and the stain of its misdeeds.

I want to see the rise of the South that gave us Sj Tucker and Ryan Loyd, of Daniel Duncan and Glenda, Gayle and Amy Jordan, Duncan Brennan and Ann Lenore Taylor, the South of Rebekah Spencer and Christopher Sloan, Clarence Parkinson and George P Burdell III, Jackie Cassada and Nicki Rae, Stefani Olsen and Kevin Peck, Jane Palmer and Bill and John Bridges, Carla Hollar and Kristen Leigh Wood and Elizabeth Leggett and Owl Goingback and Coyote Ward and all the other awesome human beings I know from my South who are NOT anti-intellectual, Bible-warping, bigoted bottom-feeding trash.

Trae Crowder is absolutely right: The South is bigger than the white-draped hateheads, and better than the profiteering caricatures of redneck blackface that have become shorthand for the South in today’s socio-political climate. The South can overcome its legacy of slavery and genocide, not by going backward into a feudal fantasyland but by going forward into a future that’s the true definition of American greatness: not a bygone white illusion, but a promise finally fulfilled.

For far too long, a handful of avaricious slave-masters have assumed a caricatured Southern persona… even when, as with a certain Minnesota rich boy with a rebel-flag fetish, they’re not even Southerners at all. For fun, profit and power, these parasites continue to exploit the South’s weaknesses – its anger, its poverty, its history of hate and biblical devotion – all the way to the bank. They lie, they cheat, they ravage and destroy all they claim to hold sacred, and they know damned well what they’re doing but feel they’ll get away with it forever.

We do not have to let them. We should not let them.

Jesus does not smile on domestic carnage and willful ignorance. God did not bless the “peculiar institution.” The Bible does not let greedy bigots off the hook, and the words at the climax of Matthew 25 make plain the Christ’s feelings on such people. (Hint: “I will send y’all to hell.”)

Fellow Southerners, you are being lied to by people who make more money in an hour than you will make in your entire lives, and who do so by making sure you stay in your place and they stay in theirs. These people pit us against one another knowing that a large portion of us can and will be fooled by some colorful flags and mangled Bible passages.

But you are better than that. We are better than that. The South is better than that.

Let’s prove it. Today and every day forward, y’all, let the South stand magnificent in the eyes of the world.


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Bluebeard’s Bride: Nightmarish Game of a Fracturing Self

The sunroom is full of bright green plants and birdcages with colorful songbirds. From an old-fashioned gramophone comes the sound of a woman singing plaintively in an unknown language, and there is a tea cart with a shiny silver tea service… The birds go silent, and you can feel them watching you. You can see the birds reflected in the silver teapot. Only they’re not birds. Broken-looking women are stuffed into those cages, looking at you. They are wearing evening dresses made out of feathers. One of the bird-women whispers to you, “Do you sing as lovely as we did, little Bride…?”


Several weeks ago, just before my life took a decided plunge into Grief Valley, I received my copy of Bluebeard’s Bride, a brand-new roleplaying game I had backed during its Kickstarter campaign last year. Produced by Magpie Games, and written and designed by Whitney “Strix” Beltrán, Marissa Kelly, and Sarah Richardson,  Bluebeard’s Bride is, simply put, a masterpiece of its kind. I expected great things from this project when I first backed it, and I am in no way disappointed with the results.

A gorgeously illustrated psychodrama faerie-tale in which the players take on the roles of aspects within a single woman’s psyche, Bluebeard’s Bride presents a radical take on the now-familiar RPG medium. The situation is simple: You are the new bride of a wealthy yet sinister nobleman. Before he goes away on business, he gives you the set of keys to a monumental estate, warning you that all rooms save one are open to you. As you explore the grounds, the surreal horrors you discover force you toward one of two conclusions: either your husband is a haunted yet innocent man, or you married a monster. Either way, his horrors are now your own. So will you enter that final, forbidden chamber… and if you do, will you do so believing your husband to be innocent or guilty?

Rather than playing individual personas, the players – save one, who becomes the Groundskeeper improvising the rooms and horrors you encounter – assume Jungian archetypes within the Bride’s self. Each archetype, or face, has certain strengths, weaknesses, agendas, and “moves” – that is, things they can do that the others cannot do. The game is a communal, cooperative, improvisational experience in which the various “sisters” (archetypes) explore Bluebeard’s home, shifting from sister to sister as the situation demands.

In place of the conventional “dungeon-crawl” in which the players wander through a pre-planned series of levels, traps and opponents, Bluebeard’s Bride involves all players in each element of the story. The rooms get conjured from the imagination of the group as a whole, inspired by the keys that unlock them. At the door of each room, the Groundskeeper asks the player who’s holding the key what it looks like; based upon that description, and the themes evoked by the players and their personas, the Groundskeeper describes what lies beyond that door. (See the opening paragraph of this review.) A series of questions invites the players to detail the room and the Bride’s reaction to it. Inevitably, some feature of that room adds to the cascade of dread which drives the Bride from room to room. Every game, therefore, is different – a product of the people who play it and the circumstances in their lives at that time.

The horrors deepen as the game progresses. Certain events inflict trauma: mental and emotional wounds that threaten to tear the Bride’s psyche apart. Certain choices can heal or limit trauma, but a degree of fracturing becomes inevitable. As players lose their aspects to the torments of Bluebeard’s home, they become narrators who aid the Groundskeeper in the growing nightmare of the Bride’s journey. That Bride, meanwhile, becomes less able to sustain further harm… and yet, as the saying goes, she persists, wherever such persistence eventually leads.

Bluebeard’s Bride is an unapologetic horror game; regardless of the gender of the players involved, the terrors of the female condition are its primary theme. This isn’t a game where you get to kick Bluebeard’s ass, though. Instead, you’re limited by the role in which society has cast you, and must work with what you have, not with the mighty powers of wish-fulfillment RPGs. Those limitations make Call of Cthulhu, by comparison, look like Candyland. There are no rocket launchers or magical texts to rescue you from the threats you encounter. This is a game of mood and consensual torment, with the only real salvation being the x-card: an opportunity to safeword out of the story’s most upsetting elements if you so choose. For that reason, among others, I consider this to be the best evocation of horror (in the sense of pervasive dread and genuine danger) I’ve found in any RPG. Other games, including those I’ve worked on, invoke the trappings of horror in a context of adventure. In Bluebeard’s Bride, horror is implacable, remorseless, and typically fatal.

That inevitability may be the game’s greatest flaw: even if you survive the house, your role in society negates any form of “winning” in the usual sense of a game. For some players, this dismal prospect would take the fun out of the experience. From a creative standpoint, though – and certainly from an artistic one – the Bride’s powerless situation is essential to the story. The house is a metaphor for the pitfalls of humanity in general and women in particular, and so “heroism” in this situation isn’t based on wiping out the bad guy so much as it’s about how you handle the realization of just how you truly fucked are.


Production-wise, the book is well-written, clear, concise, and visually beautiful. The artwork – by Rebecca Yanovskya, Kring, Juan Ochoa, Miguel Angel Espinoza, Mirco Paganessi, and Tawny Fritz – echoes the ominous sensuality of Decadent art and Victorian faerie-tale collections. Its prose, meanwhile, evokes the condescending manners of Victorian high society, constantly reminding the reader of her lowly state in the grand scheme of things. Every element of Bluebeard’s Bride reinforces the genteel claustrophobia of the social cage trapping our Bride. In the polar opposite of conventional power-fantasies, this game conjures its horrors from disempowerment – the key difference between supernatural action thrillers and tales of genuine unease. As I’ve written elsewhere, horror is, at its core, about facing mortality and realizing we’ll never truly get out alive.

The game’s system is simple and improvisational, suiting the story-telling nature of Bluebeard’s Bride and its genre far better than the mechanics-heavy systems of other horror-themed games… including White Wolf’s own familiar Storyteller system. It demands an imaginative group whose players trust each other and sign on for the experience, and so it’s not remotely a game for all tastes. For all intents and purposes, you’re doomed from the start simply for existing, and although the game can end several different ways, none of them is exactly the proverbial happy ending. This is NOT the feel-good game of the year, and only certain types of players will appreciate what it has to offer.

As should be obvious, this isn’t a game for kids.

As an exploration and expansion of the RPG medium, though, and as a tool for macabre psychodrama fantasy, I consider Bluebeard’s Bride one of the finest roleplaying games I’ve ever seen. If nothing else, it’s a magnificent example of what RPGs can become when they graduate from orc-killing wish-fulfillment, and embrace the psychological potential of persona-based storytelling art.

Congratulations to everyone involved. I can’t wait to see what you folks come up with next.

Rebecca_Yanovskaya_Bluebeards_Bride 2

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Deducting Truths All the Way to the Bank

Among the many, many lies Republicans tell us with regards to taxation in the United States is the old chestnut about the US having the highest (corporate) tax rates in the world.

Tax Rates

First off, that’s a bald-faced lie disproved by a simple Google search or even a cursory glance at actual data. According to the right-wing think-tank (that is, a biased source whose page’s data is slanted in favor of the lower-taxes argument), Chad and the United Arab Emirates still have higher corporate tax rates than we do. (See Other sources peg us even lower than that.

More importantly, though, that argument leaves out an intrinsic element of the US tax codes: deductions. [1]

There’s a monumental difference between the BASE tax rate and the ACTUAL tax rate. The first is what taxpayers (corporate and otherwise) are assumed to owe BEFORE DEDUCTIONS. The second is what they actually pay after deductions.

Who gets deductions? Why, whomever knows how to claim them to their most favorable benefit, of course.

Said claiming generally requires one or more professional accountants. The more money you have, the more you can afford to pay accountants to find those deductions for you.

As a result, working-class taxpayers are paying even more than their fair share in taxes than is immediately apparent. Wealthy taxpayers can afford to cut their actual tax rates; large corporations have whole teams of such accountants, whose jobs depend upon the maximum exploitation of all legal deductions and other loopholes… and often many legally questionable ones as well. Non-wealthy Americans, on the other hand, have to make do with tax services like H&R Block, whose services cost hundreds of dollars per year. (I know, as I often hire them myself.) Can’t afford those few hundred dollars? Sorry, Bunky – guess you’re screwed. Too bad you’re not wealthy, right?

Now, Republicans like Chuck Grassley would have us believe that taxes must be cut in favor of the wealthy because, as Chuckie put it the other day, those people are “investing” their money in the nation’s economy as opposed to spending it. Beyond the obvious fact that spending money is investing it in the economy [2] (Chuck, dear, do you need a remedial economics class? Apparently so…), Chuck and his ilk conveniently “forget” that the entire purpose of U.S. tax deductions – the entire reason they exist to begin with – is to… wait for it… get wealthy taxpayers and corporations to invest that money in the American economy… by spending it. [3]

Chuck Grassley knows this. Rush Limbaugh knows this. Donald Trump knows this better than perhaps anyone else in the US government, because he’s had his accountants doing it for decades.

But they all know that the average taxpayer doesn’t know this.

Tea Party

And so they keep throwing out statements about us paying the highest taxes in the world (which, again, is a lie before deductions even enter into the discussions), so that Joe Six-Pack and Jane Working Mom will get up-in-arms and grab up their teabagged tricorn hats and hit the bricks with signs saying “Taxed Enough Already” on their way to pull the Republican lever on their local voting booths… again.

Meanwhile, the Republicans (and many Democrats, too) continue to literally peddle the fiction of catastrophic tax rates all the way to the bank… a bank at which, friends and neighbors, they get the best breaks, the finest rates, the highest credit, and the most deductions… leaving you, dear working-class Americans, paying way more than your share, and a lot more, proportionately speaking, than they do… while they’re deducting the money they pay to you from their taxes, AND slashing your pay, cutting your benefits (which are, incidentally, part of your contracted compensation for the labor you sell to them… so they’re paying you even less), and yet still paying these reprehensible “representatives” to make them pay even lower taxes while YOU pay even more.

Get informed, folks.

You are being played.

All the way to the bank.

Again. And again. And again…




1. “…Tax deductions can be the result of a variety of events that the taxpayer experiences over the course of the year. Tax deductions are removed from taxable income, also known as the adjusted gross income, and thus lowers the taxpayer’s overall tax liability…”

2. “…I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies…” Chuck Grassley, to the Des Moines Register

3. “…Assume the government has a 35 percent tax rate on business income along with full expensing. When the baker purchases a $1,000 oven, she can deduct the expense from her taxable income, which reduces her taxes by $350. This effectively returns to the baker $350 when she files her taxes…”


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Beggared, Hated, and Damned

When large portions of your nation are flooded, burning, being marched in by literal Nazis, or some combination of the above…

When your neighbors and allies are being pounded by hurricanes, and storms of historical size are headed toward your own shores…

Devil Devil Devil

When your cops and citizens are killing one another at a rate unmatched aside from the Roaring 20s and the 1980s Crack Wars, and are doing so on camera, no less…

When the living representative of our nation is a bumbling boorish thieving rapist clod who brags about his tax-evasion and openly threatens nuclear genocide DURING A FUCKING UNITED NATIONS SPEECH

…and your greatest priority in office involves spending uncounted millions of dollars in order to take away medical care from millions of citizens – in many cases for the duration of their short yet miserable lives – dooming children to poverty and pain, pauperizing large swaths of the citizens you have sworn to protect, and giving ever-rising tax-breaks and ever-higher profits to the richest citizens in our nation (and in some cases, on earth)…

Then you are no conservative.

You are no Christian.

You are most certainly not a patriot.

You do not represent the American people. You represent only your own selfish gain and the howling tide of racist bile that demands overturning every law and sacrificing every life in the nation if doing so means you can erase the legacy of a man who dared to become president while Black.

In such cases, you deserve no wealth nor power nor loyalty nor love.

People with such priorities are fit only to be shunned, beggared, despised, and ultimately damned to whatever passes for a hell.

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