…cause even a street sign sometimes needs a helping hand.
The campaign itself was beyond epic. Twenty-plus years of First Edition AD&D, all played in the same imagined world involving mostly the same group of players had left us with quite a cast of recurrent characters. By now, each of us had some that were old enough to get a driver’s license. My old high school friend, Andy, and I each had characters old enough to buy beer …legally. It was a rich world we had built up over the years. Somewhere in there, we had the idea to round up our biggest and best bad-ass characters and run the campaign to end all campaigns with them.
Each of us chose a bunch of our favorites to add into the small army we would be using and we decided to alternate the job of running the game. Each game would essentially be a one-off with which we would loosely fold into a larger plot ending with some scale of bad-assery we had never gamed before.
The whole thing fizzled of course, as campaigns often do, but not before furnishing us with a few great sessions.
Andy ran this particular session. He set up the scenario as we put together out a take-out order and someone set up the stereo with a couple choice CDs. We began placing our characters in the setting and getting ready for the challenge. Straight to initiative! Andy wasn’t messing around, but just before we began the hack & slash, he announced an odd twist. There would be a single modifier of -5 to +5 on all die rolls that would apply to each of the characters belonging to one player for an indefinite time during the course of the game. Andy would assign the modifier whenever it proved appropriate appropriate. We received no explanation, and that was that.
Okay, sounds like fun!
I think Mike got the first modifier. It was a small bonus of +2 or +3, and it helped him a bit with whatever challenge we had for the day. Soon, the modifier changed and I received a -1. Then my penalty was upped to -3 or so. Later Mike got a penalty, and then I got a bonus of +3, followed by a penalty of -5. (That hurt!)
…and we had no idea where this was coming from.
Generally speaking, Mike was doing better than me. He got mostly benefits. Chuck had few modifiers (mostly small penalties), and this modifier never seemed to apply to Andy’s characters at all. I think we once went an hour or so with no modifier to anyone. I was the only player in the entire game to receive the maximum penalty.
The timing wasn’t consistent. It changed at close to an hour, but not quite, and not always at the same time interval anyway. It fell almost in between rounds, but not quite. On an exceptionally long round (we had lots of characters on the table), it might change half way through, but at least once it had lasted 2 rounds, and we even checked. Andy insisted that it wasn’t time to change the modifier.
We thought about actions taken by different players. Was it a response to certain specific spells? Success or failure in attacks? Something to do with alignment? Could it be the enemy? Was there some object on the table that made the difference? Perhaps movement of characters into different parts of the game surface? There were moments when we thought we might have seen a pattern, but then something always happened to debunk our thoughts on the subject. We played the entire game without figuring it out, and it was a very long game, long enough to get a call from another friend’s wife wondering when he was coming home. Not till it’s over (of course!), but we never did figure out the basis for the modifier. The whole challenge ended without resolving that one troublesome question.
I remember this had been a particularly satisfying game. We were still laughing and smiling as we packed. Andy had run a great scenario, enough that we actually said so. Compliments were a rarity in this crowd (except for the back-handed kind of course). Oh there was the occasional ‘fuck you!’ or ‘asshole!’ delivered right after someone did something exceptionally well. That was what usually counted as praise in our circle. But ‘good game’ and ‘I enjoyed this’ were not phrases that rolled often off of our tongues. Still, Andy got a couple of those remarks at the end of the session.
And then we asked.
“The modifier? What was it?”
“Oh, it was based on the music. I gave bonuses if I liked the disc you put on and penalties if I didn’t.”
(The hour with no modifier to anyone had been the one time Andy put on a disk himself. It was The Reverend Horton Heat, as I recall, is what earned me the full penalty of -5.)
I don’t think I ever stopped laughing about that.
Andy Sneed introduced me to RPGs way back in our freshman year of high school. He asked me if I’d ever payed Tunnels and Trolls before, and after hearing me say ‘no’, Andy promptly informed me that I was playing the game with him and his brother that coming Saturday. ‘Who the Hell is this guy’ I wondered? But I agreed to come try it. To say that I was hooked from the first game session would be putting it mildly. It was the beginning of a lifelong interest and a long-standing friendship.
Andy and I lost touch with each other in recent years, but I had always hoped we would one day end up back in the same room, tossing playful insults back and forth at each other and fighting over what music we’d listen to as we slew another dragon.
…probably in some old folk’s home!
Andy’s funeral was yesterday. His passing has me thinking of this story and countless others like it. I will miss my friend.
Rest in Peace, Andy.
This is Fido (front) and Junkmail (back). They are of course brother and sister and they’ve been together their whole lives. Some cats don’t really seem to care about their siblings, but these two really do.
When they were younger, Fido used to get out of the house a lot. If I left the door open for just a moment, or even a window, Fido would be out in no time. That cat would tear the screens off my windows if he had to. I even got cat proof screens so we could enjoy a breeze without an escape attempt, but Fido just tore the screens out of the frames, at least until I nailed them all in place. Then he found a way out through a hole behind the washing machine, and another in a closet. Fido was always good at getting out of the house.
What did Fido do when he got out? Well, sometimes he liked to climb a tree right beside the house, or another one right in front of the house. He’d get up as far as he could and then start crying. Usually he’d come down after awhile. Once or twice I had to come get him. Other times he’d sneak about the neighborhood as I walked around looking for him. Many times, I turned around to see him shooting across the street behind me. I could practically hear him laughing as he did so.
Sometimes Fido would let me catch him. Other times, he’d let me keep trying until I gave up. After an hour or so, I’d find him outside the door waiting for me to let him back in.
The thing is, it was usually Junkie who told me when Fido was out of the house. She did so by mugging me beyond all tolerance, demanding attention, and getting in my face until I ran out of affection and then ran out of patience. More than once, I mumbled at Junkmail; “what the Hell is wrong with you cat!?!”
Junkie always loved Fido.
Today, Fido got out one last time, so to speak. Junkie is mugging me of course, but her brother won’t be coming back, and I think we both know it. Fido has had a rough time lately, and I reckon he has at last found some peace. He was with me for 17 years, I think, and his time in my life was a great treasure. I’m not sure if I was the best mother a cat could have, but Fido was sure as hell the best of cats an adoptive mother could ask for (along with Junkmail and Auto-Kitty of course).
Fido hasn’t been gone long, but I already miss him terribly, as does Junkie.
So long Fido!
I love you.
It’s a common assumption in religious polemics at least, that you can’t really hate someone you don’t believe in. You see this assumption appearing arguments for and against belief in God. Christian apologists often claim that atheists hate God, and that this hatred is proof positive we really know he exists after all. Atheism is little other than rebellion against God, at least according to this view. For our own part, atheists often respond to the accusation that we hate God by pointing out that we actually don’t believe in him. We can’t possible hate God, so the argument runs. We don’t even believe in him. At least we we have that in common I suppose, believers and unbelievers. We agree that it doesn’t make sense to hate a being you don’t really believe in.
Except I don’t agree with that either.
To those who insist on this assumption, I have two questions:
Do you watch Game of Thrones?
How do you feel about Joffrey?
Admittedly, this gambit loses a little force when the answer to the first question is ‘no’. Still, t think those familiar with the HBO series or the books it’s based upon will get the point pretty quickly. This hateful little brat prince is hardly unique in fiction. Felix Unger and Frank Burns used to get pretty deep under my skin. I didn’t believe in them either. I certainly don’t believe in Lucy from Peanuts, but when she pulls the football out from under Charlie it makes just wanna reach right into the screen and throttle the little two dimensional mini-troll. Can’t stand the Police Chief in most detective shows or the principle in countless school settings. The list of fictional villains, nitwits, jerks, and outright assholes goes on and on. None of these characters are real. But yeah, I hate them!
(Here, I can practically hear my mother saying; “no, you dislike them intently,” but no, I hate them.)
I really don’t think my feelings about these characters are all that unusual. Joffrey, at least, seems to have inspired quite a few haters out there. Hell, I reckon that’s something else believers and unbelievers can generally agree on. The little bastard was awful. Got off with an easy death!
Anyway, the point is that you can have a strong emotional reaction to a being you know very well isn’t real. People ought to keep that in mind when they opt to battle it out over the existence of God.
I should add that this point can flow in both directions or even (I suppose) at a tangent to the usual stakes. I can love Jesus when he’s preaching tolerance and compassion just as I can be outraged at a God who would tell Abraham to kill his own son. The inconsistently might bother me if I actually believed either story to be true. As it stands these are just emotional reactions to a being I don’t really think is real, as described by different narrators with different messages at different times in history. Maybe if I expected a degree of literal truth from these stories, I would feel the need to work out my feelings about the big Guy In the Sky, but I don’t. I can accept that stories about this being will trigger different feelings at different times, and no reaction at all in many instances. Consistency might be a desirable property of arguments and theories, but it a square peg to pound in the round hole of emotions.
What makes the difference between a vision of God that inspires me and one that pisses me off may be an interesting question, but the answer to that question is, for me anyway, essentially a function of story-telling.
I suppose a Christian too could acknowledge some role for the story-tellers in his feelings about God in different parts if scripture. There is a certain flat-footed evangelism that runs contrary to such an approach, but not every believer checks their sense at the church door. I’ve known quite a few who could handle such questions with subtlety and care.
I realize this may not be the most serious theme in debates over the existence of God, but it certainly does seem ubiquitous. I think to some degree this is a reflection of the debate-camp subculture that has developed around people interested in haggling out the issue. I’ve certainly engaged in my share of such matters, but one does not live by polemics alone, and not everything that people think or feel about the topic in question comes prefigured for purposes of argumentation. We can argue the rational merits of any given position, but nobody should really be surprised to find that participants in these arguments also have an emotional reaction to the topic.
We’re allowed to be human.
So are they.
I know I’ve made this argument before. I just wanted to take another crack at it.
There are moments (mostly the innocent ones) in Black Klansman where the movie seems to be telling us something about the 70s. There are other moments (as in references to “America First” or allusions to the Trump administration) when the movie is clearly telling us something about today. Most of the time, however, the movie seems to be telling us about both at the same time. What’s missing from this movie is the period in between, a good three or four decades, depending on how you count them, when many of us might have thought race relations were getting better. Perhaps that thought was never more than naiveté, a mere fantasy, but if so the fantasy was certainly a part of the world erased in this film. I’d like to think Spike Lee is wrong to erase those years in this film, but he isn’t.
That erasure, it seems, is precisely the point.
The hope of those intervening years between the end of segregation in America and the present rise of white nationaism is in fact well well represented in Black Klansman. It’s repreented by Ron Stalworth (played by John David Washington), the central character in Black Klansman, a story inspired by events in the career of a real life police officer. We meet Stalworth as he becomes the first black officer on the Colorado Springs police force. It’s a step forward, some might have said back in the day. “Selling out” might be how others would have put it. Stalworth lives in the tension between these two ways of looking at his career, one which envisions police authority as consistent, at least in theory with the possibility or racial justice, and one which sees it as an explicit tool of white supremacy. For his own part, Stalworth is clearly trying to make the former outlook work, but he’s torn from all sides, both by racism within the police force and by those who see police as an essentially racist institution.
To hear him talk, Stalworth could pass for white, which probably says as much about those in the movie (and those of us watching it) who think he sounds white as it does about the man himself. Whatever the reason, this feature of Stalworth’s character has an obvious utility; it will enable him to pass, at least on the phone. Stalworth is also willing to cut his fro if the Police Chief wants him to, but no, that’s not necessary, The Chief likes it. At the same time, Stalworth fights a never ending battle against the casual racism of his fellow officers. What to do about the overt bigots whose racism is far from casual, he isn’t sure, at least not at the outset of the film. Stalworth is picking his battles. Fair enough! But is the trade-off equitable? One gets the impression no-one is quite happy with the arrangement, least of all Stalworth himself.
It’s this awkward effort to find an acceptable accommodation between social justice and institutions which have historically enforced racism that makes Stalworth a great symbol for the intervening years between the seventies and the modern era. He is a back man trying to make America work. for his own people along with the rest of us. Some might consider that a fools errand, but Stalworth lived in an era when it seemed almost possible.
The Police Chief takes Stalworth’s discomfort up a notch by asking him to go undercover to attend a speech by Stokely Carmichael so he can keep track of the radical students who sponsored the event. There Carmichael is known by his new name of Kwame Ture. Ture speaks of police abuse, even the murder of African-Americans. He also urges his audience to prepare for violent revolution. Stalworth is surprised to find that he likes Ture’s speech, and the fact that he likes the speech is a big problem. It’s a problem because Stalwort is there to spy on the man and the black radicals listening to him. From the snadpoint of the police department, he’s not supposed to like the speech at all. From the standpoint of the student radicals, he isn’t supposed to be there at all, at least not for the reasons he has come.
…and certainly not wearing a mic.
It doesn’t help matters that Stalworth knows people in his own police department guilty of the very racism Ture was talking about. It also doesn’t help that he is falling rapidly in love with Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), President of the Black Student Union. She is arguably the main subject of his investigation, and she herself certainly would not approve of his undercover work. It REALLY doesn’t help that she was pulled over by racist police officers after the speech and sexually assaulted during the stop, confirming everything Ture said in his speech while underscoring Stalworth’s inability to do anything about it.
So, how is he going to explain Ture’s promotion of revolution to the Police Chief? How will he explain his role in the police department to the love interest who sees police as the enemy? It’s a problem.
All of this comes before Stalworth’s infiltration into the Ku Klux Klan.
If there is any ray of hope to found in these initial scenes, it comes in the form of a night spent dancing in the wake of Ture’s presentation. Whatever Ture’s rhetoric, the radicals who brought him were content to spend the evening peacefully enjoying themselves on the dance floor. This gives Stalworth an angle, so to speak. He decides that these radicals are just talking about the violent revolution. They aren’t actually planning to kill anybody. It’s not the easiest message to sell. The Police Chief doesn’t buy it any more than Patrice and her companions buy the notion that police are meant to serve the community.
If there is a way to make police-work consistent with racial justice, Stalworth hasn’t found it when the larger plot kicks off, when Stalworth stumbles upon the opportunity to open up an investigation into the Klan with the help of Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver). If the black radicals he’d been investigating at the start of this film weren’t really violent, the Klansman certainly were, at least enough of them to pose a threat. Of course this investigation is the real focus on the film. It’s also where the film departs most from the actual events of the real events in question. The real investigation led to the transfer of Klansmen within the military away from sensitive security positions; the movie investigation leads to a real crime.
What interests me about the story most is the larger racial politics of the film itself, and of the society it comments upon. One gets the impression Stalworth isn’t in the most tenable position to begin with. He knows very well the laws he is charged with enforcing hurt his own people, and he also knows anyone seeking to change that poses a real threat to the institutions he represents. Stalworth is caught in the middle of many forces he cannot controle; he has set himself up for a life-time of pushing back in all directions. The main plot seems almost to rescue him from the ambivalence of his position at the outset of the film.
…which brings us back to the political history of the film. Its final moments aren’t about the tricky life Stalworth has set up for himself so much as the rise of violent white nationalism with the advent of the Trump administration. Here Spike Lee drops the fictional story-line entirely and shows us real footage of real white nationalists at work today. It’s a fitting shift, of course. Like the Klan in this story, Trump’s America has fallen on the nation like a great big old boot stomp on the many conflicts that used to plague our politics, conflicts that now seem subtle by comparison. Like the Klansmen in this film, the present administration and its supporters aren’t really all that interested in figuring out the details of social justice; they are happy to promote a clear and obvious vision of white supremacy. If the crime Stalworth thwarts in this move is fictional, the threats posed by a political regime wedded to the likes of the Klan is real. If justice eludes us, the present regime certainly ought to inject a degree of clarity into political questions of our own day.
If it isn’t entirely clear how we should handle racism in police practice, the sort of problem Stalworth is dealing with at the beginning of this film, it ought to be very clear that the present President couldn’t care less. Neither could those who support him. If it isn’t entirely clear how the rest of us should live together, it ought to be very clear that a good number of Americans no longer mean to do so at all, and that they have help at the highest levels, help they are using to undermine every means at our disposal for forking out any equitable solutions to the nations problems. The nation as a whole seems ripped away, like Stalworth, from the tricky problems about racial justice. What we have now is a problem much like that he faced in this film; how to stop those consciously working to ensure no such answers will ever be found.
This gallery contains 4 photos.
Autumn pics are usually so panoramic. Neat to see the close-up focus.