New D&D Character Classes: The Scientist and the Antiscientist

Way back in 1977, Issue #2 of White Dwarf Magazine presented a new D&D character class: The Scientist and its counterpart the Antiscientist. These were the days of “humorous character classes” that were intended for amusement rather than actual play, though I did actually once use a satirical class (the Hopeless character class from Dragon #96) as an NPC. Here are the levels and titles for the Scientist and its opposite.

This is very amusing (“Administrator” as an Antiscientist rank is hilarious), but I would submit that we can do better and revise this a bit for the 2st century. For the Scientist I propose:

1. Amateur
2. Graduate
3. Computer Programmer
4. Bioinformatics Researcher
5. Geneticist
6. Biochemist
7. Mathematician
8. Virologist
9. Molecular Biologist
10. Nuclear Physicist
11+. Polymath

The Antiscientist needs a complete overhaul. As this individual gains levels, he or she becomes increasingly and outrageously anti-scientific, until becoming a full-fledged Vondaniken.

1. Illiterate
2. Luddite
3. Astrologer
4. Crop Circle Guru
5. Climate Change Denier
6. Quantum Healer
7. Scientologist
8. Anti-Vaxxer
9. Flat-Earth Creationist
10. Woke Queer Theorist
11+. Vondaniken

Pastor Anderson: The Illegal Immigrant as a Role Model

Pastor Steven Anderson is a curiosity to say the least. He’s a true fundamentalist — the only one I’ve ever encountered — who takes every part of the Bible at its word, impartially, regardless of what tribe that aligns him with. So he’s a right-wing LGBT-hater (since the Bible says the sodomites deserve to die, in both the Old and New Testaments) but a left-wing immigrant lover (since the Bible says to welcome to the resident alien among you). He’s a right-wing climate change denier (because the book of Revelation spells out the world’s fate much differently) but a left-wing granola when it comes to respecting the earth (not littering or polluting, not driving the car to work, and eating organic and health foods). He’s an anti-vaxxer but aggressively pro-mask (per Lev 13:45), and throughout the year of 2020 railed from the pulpit against Covidiots who refused to wear masks or distance socially. He condemns Zionism with as much fervor as Islamic jihadism. He thinks Democrats are wicked, but Republicans in some ways more so, and that Donald Trump in particular is the “most degenerate man to ever sit the Oval Office”. He even preached (in Oct 2016 and Oct 2020) that it might just be well if Hillary and Biden, wicked as they are, won the elections. You can say this for him: Anderson follows the Word no matter where it takes him, and he has lost church members because of it.

Perhaps no sermon illustrates Anderson’s ability to surprise more than his defense of the illegal alien. Here are the bullet points:

  • (1) Don’t oppress the foreigner. According to the Bible, “You shall neither vex a stranger or oppress him, for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). You should, in other words, know what it’s like to be a foreigner, because you were foreigners who came from Egypt.
  • (2) One law for everyone — alien and citizen alike. “You should have one manner of law: for the foreigner as well as for one of your own country.” (Leviticus 24:22; Exodus 12:49). Many Christians today say that foreigners shouldn’t have the same rights as American citizens. But that’s not what the Bible teaches. If cruel and unusual punishment should not be inflicted on the citizen, then it shouldn’t be inflicted on the non-citizen; if the native has the right to not be searched without a warrant, then the stranger has the same right; if the citizen has freedom of religion, then so does the foreigner; if one has the right to a speedy jury trial, so does the other. These are Biblical principles that we should institute in the United States.
  • (3) These rights come from the Creator and have nothing to do with citizenship. Even the Declaration of Independence says that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”. Man-made laws should simply reinforce what the Creator intended.
  • (4) The illegal alien should be our role model. The illegal aliens crossed an imaginary line. Get over it. They’re not mostly violent criminals. You say, “But it’s not fair, they don’t pay taxes, and they’re not documented!” Look, we should all strive to be undocumented. Let the illegal alien be our model. It’s almost like this mentality of “since I’m a slave, everyone else should be one too”, or “if I have to have a social security number and pay all these taxes, then everyone else should suffer with me”. It’s ridiculous logic. We should all be undocumented and not be carrying around so much paper and ID.
  • (5) Illegal aliens pay taxes anyway. They may not pay federal income tax, but they pay almost every other kind of tax. They pay sales taxes; if they rent they pay property taxes indirectly; if they drive a car they pay gas tax. When they use a phone, they pay taxes on their phone bills.
  • (6) Illegal aliens are being scapegoated, when in fact they help the economy. What’s really happening is that the government is stealing our money and giving it to the bankers and the military industrial complex. Those are the real thieves. Illegal immigrants are the scapegoat as to why the economy is messed up. In reality illegal aliens help the economy. They come here and spend money, and use businesses and use services.
  • (7) The problem of welfare. There’s only thing that’s sort of a problem with the illegal immigrants is that they get some free stuff. But even that’s misleading, because no one should be getting free stuff. When you hear these Republican politicians say, “There should be a lifetime ban on illegal immigrants getting welfare,” no, here’s what we really need: a lifetime ban on anyone getting any welfare. These Republicans are just changing the issue. The problem has nothing to do with immigrants. It’s welfare, for anyone.
  • (8) Bring them all in. Now look, I do believe that those who come here should learn to speak English and assimilate to this culture, just as I would have to learn Spanish if I moved to Mexico. You don’t just demand that everyone know your language. But let me tell you something: I’m all for as many people as possible immigrating to this country. Bring them all in, I say. Jump the border, so what?
  • (9) Immigrants are not bad people, and in some ways better than Americans. You say, “But they’re bad people!” No, in some ways they’re actually better people than Americans. Do they have their own problems? Sure, but so do we. Let me tell you, whenever I went on the Spanish TV channel, and I was ripping on the homos, at least more of their viewers were actually on my side than when I went on the English-speaking TV channel. Are there criminals amongst them? Of course, but there are criminal American citizens too.
  • (10) Don’t get brainwashed, by either the left or the right. Now you say, “Pastor Anderson, you’re a flaming liberal Democrat”. Look, you need to get past the false left-right paradigm. You have to be careful that you don’t get brainwashed by either the left-wing politicians or the right-wing ones, and that you read the Bible to figure out what you believe. And on the subject of the foreigner, the stranger, the Bible is clear: God says they should be treated the same.
  • (11) Who would respect the imaginary line anyway? If you were the one living down in Mexico, and struggling to survive, what would you do? Are you really not going to cross that imaginary line? Or would you just cross it, if that’s what’s going to be the best thing for your family?

So there you have it. An argument that illegal immigrants should have the same rights as U.S. citizens — straight from the lips of that preacher who is banned from 34 countries because of his hard-core preaching against sodomites. I can’t help but love the irony of someone who is so welcoming of illegal aliens, but is not welcomed abroad in turn.

The 50th Anniversary of the Nashua Public Library

This year the Nashua Public Library will celebrate its 50th anniversary during the months of November and December. The celebration will include an exhibit of library artifacts and a slideshow of photographs in the gallery, a banner and a special anniversary edition library card, and also special displays of material from the collection that were released in 1971 — books, films, music, TV series, and events. The library’s actual anniversary is September 26 (when the dedication ceremony took place), so technically the celebration should already be under way. So I’m doing my own personal homage to the library and the year 1971. Here’s looking back at what was happening that year: books that would leave their mark, like The Exorcist; rock ‘n roll masterpieces like Zeppelin IV; the debut of All in the Family and unprecedented political incorrectness. It turns out that 1971 was a critical year in many ways — it started the ’70s in the way 1983 started the ’80s — an important year (though I wasn’t old enough to appreciate most of it) and suitable moment to open a town library. There were shifts in the cultural milieu that would have lasting impact, and here are some of the highlights.

1. The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty. It started with the book in ’71, even if the film pushed it into infamy two years later. Not great literature by any means (unlike the film, which was a cinematic masterpiece), but Blatty presented demonic possession like no one has done since, and never scarier.

2. All in the Family, by Normal Lear. The best TV sitcom of all time hit its peak in ’73-’74 (the excellent third and fourth seasons), but it began on that fateful January in 1971 (you can watch the full premiere here), when Archie and Mike screamed at each other about racism over a Sunday brunch. The show would keep going to the tail end of the ’70s.

3. The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss. The 50th anniversary for this one has already been widely celebrated. It was a book ahead of its time, making its urgent plea for preservation and a clean environment, showing how species disappear when food runs out or pollution is left unchecked.

4. Led Zeppelin IV, by Led Zeppelin. Yeah, this one. The opening “Black Dog”, the medieval “Battle of Evermore” (my favorite), the epic “Stairway to Heaven”,  the ballad “Going to California”, and everything else… hard to believe this masterpiece has 50 years under its belt.

5. Harold and Maude, by Hal Ashby. A morbid love affair between a suicidal teen and a 79-year old woman was widely panned at the time of its release, but today it’s much more appreciated it deserves. One of the darkest comedies ever made, and a fitting start to the ’70s era of creative cinema.

6. The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula Le Guin. In the middle of writing the Earthsea Trilogy, Le Guin released this sci-fic tale of a world racked by violence and environmental catastrophe. One man’s dreams controls the fate of humanity, and a psychiatrist manipulates those dreams for his own purposes. I’m reading this now and lamenting that we don’t have writers like this anymore.

7. Hell House, by Richard Matheson. Stephen King calls it the best haunted house story of all time. Perhaps. It’s about two previous expeditions to the awful house that ended up with the investigators killed or going insane, and now a new investigation is under way.

8. The Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Stone. It may sound strange, but this book terrified me as a kid. My mother got for me about three years after publication. Hysterical images like these petrified the shit out of me and kept me awake at night. I dreaded the monster at the end, even knowing it was just Grover. The things that scare little kids.

9. The French Connection, by William Friedkin. Known for the infamous car chase that could have gotten people killed (it was shot illegally without Friedkin getting anyone’s permission, or without even closing off the streets), the film was a landmark shot in the “induced documentary” style that put Friedkin on the map.

10. Nursery Cryme, by Genesis. Prog rock excellence from Genesis in their glory days. In the epic “Musical Box” a girl knocks her boy cousin’s head off with a croquet mallet, and his spirit returns to lust for her and assault her. In “The Fountain of Salmacis” Hermaphroditus is seduced by the nymph Salmacis and becomes fused with her. Great imagination on display here.

11. The Electric Company, by Paul Dooley. Sesame Street (launched in ’69) had pride of place when I was growing up, but The Electric Company (’71-’77) was my favorite and the reason I became a fan of Spider-Man. Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader was pretty cool too. This is his first appearance on the show.

12. Dragonquest, by Anne McCaffrey. Arguably the best of The Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, the second book involves complex storylines. In the first book Lessa traveled back in time centuries in order to bring an army forward. In this one F’nor takes on an even more suicidal flight to the Red Star to wipe out the source of Thread forever.

13. The Day of the Jackal, by Frederick Forsyth. Like The Exorcist, the book would be made into a successful 1973 film. It was also awarded on its strength as a novel, receiving the Best Novel Edgar Award from Mystery Writers of America. it’s about the assassination attempt of Charles De Gaulle, and it holds up well today.

14. A Clockwork Orange, by Stanley Kubrick. Kubric went for the jugular in adapting the 1962 novel, depicting a miserable journey through a world of decaying cities, psycho adolescents, and nightmare technologies of rehabilitative punishment. Viewers were stunned. Welcome to the ’70s.

15. The Complete Guide to Middle-Earth, by Robert Foster. Before the age of the internet and Tolkien webpages, this was my go-to book for Tolkien lore (which I acquired, I think, in either ’79 or ’80). It was as complete as I could imagine a resource for Tolkien’s world. How little I knew back then.

16. Who’s Next, by The Who. A song like “Baba O’Riley” comes along once in a blue moon, and an album like Who’s Next? even more infrequently. I’ve never been a Who fan, but I do love this album, and I could play “Baba O’Riley” any day of the week.

 

As for events, in 1971…

17. The digital age began. We don’t tend to associate the early ’70s with that, but January 1971 is when the microprocessor was invented.

18. The voting age was lowered to 18. The 2th Amendment was finally ratified, after the drafting age had been lowered to 18 during World War II. The drinking age, of course, still needs to be lowered to 18 (if not abolished altogether).

19. Charles Manson was executed. He and three of his darlings got the death penalty.

20. Disney World opened. I’ve still never been and probably will never make it.

All was not rosy, however, in 1971. Probably the worst thing that happened was…

21. The gold standard was abandoned. Nixon announced that the United States would no longer convert dollars to gold at a fixed value, thus completely abandoning the gold standard. From 1971 onwards productivity increased as wages flatlined; Gross Domestic Product surged but the shares going to workers plummeted; house prices skyrocketed; hyperinflation increased; currencies crashed. The personal savings rate went down the toilet; incarceration rates went up by a factor of five; divorce rates shot up too, and the number of people in their late 20s living with their parents increased; the number of lawyers quadrupled.

Graphically, this is what happened in 1971, thanks to Nixon’s abandoning the gold standard (click to enlarge). The graphs come from the WTF Happened in 1971? website.

No denying that 1971 is a year to pay homage to, in more ways than one. Happy anniversary, Nashua Public Library!

The Anti-Vax Subplot of You, Season 3

You is a fair to middling series about a serial killer who sees himself as noble, tries to be a better person, and whose internal monologues are reminiscent of Dexter. In season 3 he’s married to someone who relishes killing more than he does, and at the end of the third episode comes a gratifying twist that’s hard to see as a coincidence, despite what the show writers say: she makes one of her victims an anti-vaxxer.

This happens when Joe and Love’s baby gets measles and is hospitalized for it, thanks to a couple of parents in town who refused to vaccinate their two girls. When the father, Gil, justifies himself to Love with the anti-vax rhetoric that’s become too familiar in our real world, she becomes enraged and bludgeons him with a rolling pin. Then she drags him unconscious into the “safe space” (read: torture cage) that she and Joe have prepared for their victims. When Gil comes around in the fourth episode, Joe is waiting for him inside the cage. Because Joe doesn’t want to kill anyone, except as a last resort, he tries to feel a way toward freeing Gil on the condition Gil won’t say a word about being assaulted and dumped in a rather ominous looking cage. The conclusion is foreordained (of course), and it doesn’t help that Gil holds fast to his anti-vax dogma, stupidly telling Joe how good it was for his baby boy that he got the measles from his unvaccinated girls.

Joe: Love and I are very embarrassed. Is there any chance we could keep this between us? Of course we will not tell a soul how you recklessly endangered our son —

Gil: I don’t know that I would put it like that.

Joe: No? How?

Gil: Well, it’s just — I mean, no judgment, but to dose an infant with chemicals we know nothing about? I mean, I call that reckless.

Joe: Hmm.

Gil: You know, actually your son has naturally gained immunity. So, I’d go so far as to say it was beneficial.

Joe: [knuckles cracking, staring at Gil]

Needless to say, Joe keeps him in the cage. Gil doesn’t leave it alive.

This is all a rather gratuitous way of making us cheer for anti-heroes Joe and Love, though the writers claim that the anti-vax plot-point was developed in February 2020, weeks before the Covid shutdowns. Timely and gratifying either way. While I would not cheer on a real-world serial killer, if I had to make an exception, I could conceivably carve out some open-mindedness on the subject when it comes to anti-vaxxers. Giving in to my baser instincts.

 

Squid Game: A Review in Pictures

Squid Game lives up to the hype. It’s as if Hwang Dong-hyuk watched The Hunger Games (awful) and Battle Royale (good but overpraised) and decided to really get this sort of thing right. In his survivalist drama set in South Korea, 456 players, all drowning in debt for various reasons, compete in children’s games for the prize of ₩45.6 billion (the equivalent of $38 million). If the players win, they advance to the next game. If they lose, they die: gunned down on the spot (in the case of games 1, 2, 4, and 6) or falling hundreds of feet to their death (games 3 and 5). The six games are as follows:

Game 1: Red Light, Green Light. Players stand at the end of a field behind a starting line while a female Terminator-like robot looms at the opposite end. The players must cross to the opposite side of the field, moving only when the Terminator-bitch calls out “Green Light” and stopping when she says “Red Light”. Anyone spotted moving after “Red Light” is gunned down by machine-gun fire. By the end of this game, only 201 players are still alive. That’s 255 players slaughtered — over half the players wiped out in the first game.

Game 2: Honeycomb Candy: Each player is given a tin containing a honeycomb stamped with one of four shapes he or she chose randomly at the start of the game: a circle, a triangle, a star, or an umbrella. In order to survive, each player must remove the shape — completely intact, with no breakage — from the honeycomb tin within ten minutes. Any player who fails is shot in the yard. Those who choose a circle or a triangle have an easier task than those who choose a star or (especially) an umbrella.

Game 3: Tug of War: Players are divided into teams of ten, and they face off against each other by pulling on a large braided rope. Whichever team can drag the other team across the dividing line wins, and the losers die by falling to their immediate death, as the dividing line is a chasm several hundred feet deep. For my money, this was the most intense game to watch, as the lightweight team used shrewd (and very believable) strategies to knock the stronger team off balance and send them to their graves.

Game 4: Marbles. Players are divided into “teams” of two, but it turns out they must play against each other, not together against other teams as they did in Tug of War. This is unexpected, and people are suddenly confronted with having to save their skin by deliberating beating (and thus killing) a person they have become friends with over the course of the previous games. Marbles is an open-ended game: the pair of players can agree to roll marbles into a hole, or to play “guess how many I have in my hand”, etc. This game was less thrilling and scary to watch, but it was plenty more heartbreaking. By the end of the game, only 16 players are left.

Game 5: Glass Bridge. This one is nasty — a game of blind luck with little skill. At the start, the players stands at the opposite end of a gigantic room suspended several hundred feet above the ground. Between the entrance and the exit of the room are two bridges of side-by-side glass panels, each with 18 panels across. The players must cross the bridge to the other side of the room within 16 minutes. Each of the panels between the two bridges is made of one of two types of glass: tempered glass that can withstand plenty of weight, and regular glass that will shatter when stepped on and send the player falling to their death. By the end of this game only three players are left: Seong Gi-hun (the deadbeat main protagonist), Kang Sae-byeok (the North Korean defector who needs money to rescue her family members still across the border), and Cho Sang-woo (the brilliant university student wanted by the police for stealing from his clients).

Game 6: Squid Game. The final game is played on a field separating players into opposing teams of attackers and defenders. The attackers’ goal is to cross the center on one foot and then reach the home square at the other end; the defenders’ goal is to stop them. Since there are only two players remaining by this point (Cho Sang-woo has murdered Kang Sae-byeok), it’s a one-on-one show between Seong Gi-hun and Cho Sang-woo — a knife fight and brawl that’s very intense.

Here’s a review in pictures (the film is wonderfully shot) spotlighting the six games. Across nine episodes, Red Light Green Light is from the 1st, Honeycomb Candy from the 3rd, Tug of War from the 4th, Marbles from the 6th, Glass Bridge from the 7th, and Squid Game from the 9th.

Hands Across the Ocean: A Song Remade

When a band radically remakes its own song, it’s like stepping into a parallel world to hear it. I’m not talking about different mixes, which are common enough. I’m talking about an entire reconstruction, that takes the kernel idea and goes in a very different direction.

“Hands Across the Ocean” is the lead track on The Mission U.K.’s Grains of Sand album. It was a popular hit that climbed the charts back in 1990. Listen here:

🎶

Every time I think of you it’s like the last beat of my heart
The memory of leaving you is tearing me apart
No waves, no tears, no backward glance
But I’ll always hold you dear
Never regret but I’ll never forget
‘Cause there’s not enough heaven here

Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water
Hands, across the ocean
Ocean

And every time I’m missing you I just can’t let it show
And every time I want to cry I just can’t let it go
Wine and song and masquerade and refuge holds me dear
Ribbons and lace and daisy chains
But there’s not enough heaven here

Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water, reaching out for you
Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water
Hands, across the ocean

Bangles, beads and lipstick games
And comfort holds me dear
Velvet and lace and perfumed sheets
But there’s not enough heaven
Not enough heaven here

Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water, reaching out for you
Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water
Hands, across the ocean

Ocean
Ocean
Ocean

Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water
Hands, across the ocean

You’ve probably heard that plenty if you grew up in the ’80s or ’90s. But years later a remade version of the song (sometimes called the Tim Palmer version) emerged and was put on the band’s 2006 Anthology compilation. Few people know of this version. It’s not just a remix shaking things up a bit differently; it’s a whole different thing that sounds almost nothing like the original. The chorus shares the same lyrics but that’s it. The melodies and tones are new. I wonder if the band members weren’t satisfied with the original (it is kind of a cheesy top-40 piece) and decided to “un-popularize” it, by starting over from scratch, it seems. Whatever made them do it, it is a much better song. Listen here:

🎶

Hope, hope springs eternal
I am a beggar and I need all the wisdom love endows
And I, I believe
In destiny, and all that will be will come to be

Some will score, come what may
Knock if they will, and some may say
I am a dreamer, and I got my head in the clouds
Cause I, I believe
In the sanctity of the love between you and me

Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water
Hands, across the ocean

Love is giving, knowing and forgiving
Love is you, and love is me
Love is all we ever wanted to be
Embrace this brave affection sweeping through your heart and soul
Lay your temples bare, and heed the sound of this calling call

Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water, calling out for you
Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water
Hands, across the ocean

There is no need for fighting
There is no worth in hate
There is no call for the dogs of war
And Armageddon must wait

There’s hope in the hearts of you and me
And sins in angels and holy men
That the deaf will hear, the blind will see
And the sky will be gathered together again

Hands across the ocean
Hands across the ocean

Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water, calling out for you
Hands across the ocean, reaching out for you
Across the waves, across the water
Hands, across the ocean

Code 21 Conference: Sam Harris Interview

Sam Harris was invited to speak at the 2021 Code Conference and you can watch the full lecture here. I reproduce some of it below. Harris said a lot of what I’ve been saying for a while now: that while the far right and far left are both dangerous, in many ways the left poses the greater threat in terms of cultural influence. Wokeism is becoming mainstreamed in a way that the sins of the far right are not, and the wokes are our future leaders, law makers, and justices.

“There’s derangement on both sides [of the right-left divide], but an asymmetry that’s very real. The far right is still the fringe, even with Trump. In terms of cultural influence, the Nazis don’t have real cultural influence; the white supremacists don’t have real cultural influence. The people on the far left, who are bending our conversation — who if you just did a keyword search for place in what they say, everything they say sounds like a Ku Klux Klan pamphlet. They have immense cultural influence. Every school in the country — certainly every private school, and many public schools — everything is being filtered through this woke outrage machine. It’s not that there’s no truth in it, it’s not that there’s nothing to worry about with respect to racism… But now we have new forms of segregation; we have areas of schools where whites shouldn’t enter… or you’re guilty of multicultural desecration. The proper goal of a society is to get to a point where we care less about the superficial differences between people (like race), not more. People who are living in a post-racial society — people who never cared about the color of anyone’s skin, or for that matter anyone’s sexual preference or gender identity — these people were living ethical lives, having broken out of what was truly a toxic past with respect to those forms of bigotry. But they’re now being told by the woke corner that it’s too soon (and that it will always be too soon) to say that you’re post-racial or truly blind with respect to these differences among people. Chelsea Handler just said it from this chair: ‘You as a white person have no standing, to say anything about race’. That’s madness; absolute madness. And the goal has to be where we arrive at a time where we simply don’t care about these things, anymore than we care about the color of someone’s hair…

We see people getting cancelled for using a term, even just to talk about the term. Not as a slur, but in an intellectual context, for example in English class to talk about Huck Finn. Or using it in a context where the only purpose of using it is to say, ‘This is how this word has to be avoided.’ These words are being treated as being magically destructive. Literally, like the term Voldemort. It’s a word that automatically demands punishment, even though everyone knows that you are not a racist. There are examples of people who have had their careers destroyed where everyone who was calling for their cancellation knew that they were being used as a scapegoat, to show allegiance to this doctrine. It’s a very childish relationship to language, among the many other sins intellectually that we might cite here. It’s a relationship to language that’s just not adult. We have to find the adults in the room, somehow, and get them to guide the conversation. And the problem is that our institutions have been so captured that they’re just not showing a willingness to do that.”

From the Q&A:

[Questioner #1] “I’m one of those women who was born without a uterus. So I’m curious. Help me understand why it is that in order to deal with these massive issues — climate change, the virus, etc. — why do we simultaneously have to dehumanize and de-legitimize transgender and non-binary folks who are speaking their truth about their identity. I don’t understand why those two things are in conflict.”

[Sam] “I would disagree with the premise of the question. I don’t think there’s anything dehumanizing about using terms like ‘woman’ and ‘man’ to make a specific point. They’re not intrinsically dehumanizing. It’s certainly not denying the reality of transgenderism or the ethical commitment to the total political equality of those people. Wokeism is policing the language in a highly unrealistic way and making scapegoats of people who are actually on your side — people who actually want total political equality for people regardless of gender identity. And I’m not saying that language never evolves. We do learn to use new terms –”

[Questioner #1] “But it has real-world consequences. In many states trans-youth are not getting access to health care, they’re not being able to use the restroom, because of the actions and the words. These laws are coming out of the actions and words of the people you’re defending.”

[Sam] “Some of it is coming from a backlash, and we’ve got two extremes amplifying hysteria on both sides. And there’s this violent pendulum swing, even in the course of any given day, between the two. And what we need is a reasonable middle that is committed to political equality and has compassion as its moral ballast. Perversely, as you go farther to the left, you get really stark examples of moral confusion. There are people who would castigate me for what I just said to you, but are actually kind of agnostic about the treatment of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban. Like, ‘Who am I to say that putting women in cloth bags is bad? That’s another culture, they’ve just decided that on their own. It would be my own colonialism and bigotry to judge that.’ No, you can’t have it both ways. There’s a lot of moral confusion proximate to your side of this debate, and that has to be sorted out. What I’m really arguing for is that the moral emergency parameter that we’ve put over it has to be relaxed. What we have now is a trigger warning standing in front of our entire civilization, from the point of view of the left. And I’ll grant you that you’re getting a reaction from the right that is of valid concern — it’s hostile, and it’s overreaching, and it’s amplified by real authoritarianism, and in some cases theocracy.”

[Questioner #1] “But that starts with you saying that I’m not a woman.”

[Sam] “No. You’re situation only makes sense by first acknowledging the reality of biology. The only way to discover that you are trans is to discover that you don’t feel compatible with the biology that was on your birth certificate. But now we have people who are literally saying that you shouldn’t put ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ on a birth certificate, because it’s so toxic for society to have made that decision. But again, what I’m arguing for is a conversation in which the temperature is turned down. Unless you’re someone like J.K. Rowling, your career can be destroyed for saying the things that I’ve just said about the term ‘woman’.”

[Questioner #2] “You talked about the left having a lot of cultural power and influence. But how does that connect when you compare it with the right, when they have more power in terms of the way the government operates?”

[Sam] “Well, I don’t think the right has the power in the U.S. at the moment. Look who’s president; look at Congress. It arguably did have the power under Trump, but the truth is that Trumpism is its own phenomenon. When you look at the level of policy commitment, it’s not even far right in most respect. Trump himself is a moral lunatic, don’t get me wrong. He and his personality cult pose an existential threat to our democracy. I think he’s the most dangerous cult leader on earth at the moment. But he’s not synonymous with the far right, and white supremacy, and all of that, even though he’s probably himself a racist of some sort, and he gratified the far right; but it’s not the same phenomenon. If you’re going to talk about the real far right, it simply has not captured our culture and doesn’t have the levers of power. But I’ll grant you it’s potentially scary and capable of violence, and it’s something we should be paying attention to.”

R.I.P. Terry K. Amthor

Iron Crown Enterprises has announced the death of Terry K. Amthor, one of the original founders of the company, and who authored some of the greatest Middle-Earth modules:

To all in the ICE family

It is with the greatest sadness that we must inform you that the incomparable Terry Amthor has died. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his sister Tamara, his family and his friends.

The cause and circumstances of his death are still under investigation, so we cannot provide any details on this and will defer to his family on what they choose to disclose in due course.

Terry was a founder member of the original ICE and a cocreator of Rolemaster and Spacemaster, writing and contributing to many of its most iconic products, and to some of the most exceptional 1st edition Middle-earth modules. Most of all, he has shaped our imaginations with his masterful Shadow World epic fantasy setting. He continued to develop Kulthea through his own Eidolon Studio company, before joining forces with Guild Companion Publications to create new sourcebooks and adventures bringing ever more of Shadow World to life, and working as our layout guru for most of our other products.

Author, designer, world builder, and friend, Terry’s genius has enriched our lives for decades. His creations will continue to inspire us all for years to come.

Rest in peace, Terry.

Nicholas, Colin, John and Thom

Back in the day, Amthor was one of my favorite designers of the Middle-Earth modules, especially for elven domains: the valley of Rivendell; the forest of Lorien; and the evil Court of Ardor in Southern Middle-Earth, where renegade elves plotted to destroy the sun and moon. Amthor stirred my imagination in playing Tolkien’s world, probably more than any other ICE author. R.I.P.

 

How Experts Overlooked Authoritarians on the Left

The Atlantic reports on a new study that measures anti-democratic attitudes on the left, which academics have been slow to identify. Here are the article’s highlights:

1. New approach. The new study is by Thomas Costello and five colleagues, and it finds common traits between left-wing and right-wing authoritarians, including a “preference for social uniformity, prejudice towards different others, willingness to wield group authority to coerce behavior, cognitive rigidity, aggression and punitiveness towards perceived enemies, outsized concern for hierarchy, and moral absolutism.”

2. Academic blinders. A major reason why left-wing authoritarianism has barely shown up in social-psychology research is that most academic experts in the field are based at institutions where prevailing attitudes are far to the left of society as a whole. Scholars who personally support the left’s social vision may simply be slow to identify authoritarianism among people with similar goals.

3. Obsolete models. Another problem is that the traditional (Altemeyer) scale for measuring authoritarian, while intended to smoke out all kinds of authoritarianism, in effect tends to only identify the right-wing variety. Altemeyer erroneously assumed that left-wing authoritarianism would be identical to the right-wing variety, and that’s why his scale barely identified any subjects. He had either misgauged the threshold or was measuring the wrong attitudes.

4. Left-wing litmus. Costello and his colleagues started afresh, developing what eventually became a list of 39 statements capturing sentiments such as:

(a) “We need to replace the established order by any means necessary.” (Critical Race Theory and other Postmodern agendas)

(b) “I should have the right not to be exposed to offensive views.” (as 58% of college undergrads polled in 2017 maintained)

(c) “If I could remake society, I would put people who currently have the most privilege at the bottom.”

(d) “Getting rid of inequality is more important than protecting the so-called ‘right’ to free speech” (thus advocating top-down censorship)

(e) “I cannot imagine myself becoming friends with a political conservative.”

etc.

5. The results. The authoritarian mentality — whether on the left or right — exerts “powerful pressures to maintain discipline among members, advocate aggressive and censorious means of stifling opposition, and believe in top-down absolutist leadership.”

The Costello team’s preliminary work shows the ratio of right-wing to left-wing authoritarians is about the same if you average it across the globe, but in the U.S., currently, the right-wing authoritarians outnumber left-wing ones by roughly 3:1.

Hopefully Costello’s study will help redress the imbalance of authoritarian studies in academia.

 

“Scientific” American? (Why JEDI isn’t a good acronym for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion)

I can’t believe this piece was published in Scientific American: Why the Term ‘JEDI’ Is Problematic for Describing Programs That Promote Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. Here’s a taste:

“The Jedi are inappropriate symbols for justice work. They are a religious order of intergalactic police-monks, prone to (white) saviorism and toxically masculine approaches to conflict resolution (violent duels with phallic lightsabers, gaslighting by means of “Jedi mind tricks,” etc.). The Jedi are also an exclusionary cult, membership to which is partly predicated on the possession of heightened psychic and physical abilities… Force-wielding talents are narratively explained in Star Wars not merely in spiritual terms but also in ableist and eugenic ones: these supernatural powers are naturalized as biological, hereditary attributes. The heroic Jedi are thus emblems for a host of dangerously reactionary values and assumptions.”

Shame on those gaslighting Jedi! And no, this isn’t satire. It’s a serious opinion piece. Silly and sad, but even if it were an intelligent opinion, what the hell is it doing in a science magazine?

Here’s more, and now the satire — if it were only that — goes completely over the top:

“The space opera franchise has been critiqued for trafficking in injustices such as sexism, racism and ableism. Think, for example, of the so-called ‘Slave Leia’ costume, infamous for stripping down and chaining up the movie series’ first leading woman as part of an Orientalist subplot. Star Wars arguably conflates ‘alienness’ with ‘nonwhiteness,’ often seeming to rely on racist stereotypes when depicting nonhuman species. The series regularly defaults onto ableist tropes, memorably in its portrayal of Darth Vader, which links the villain’s physical disability with machinic inhumanity and moral deviance, presenting his technology-assisted breathing as a sinister auditory marker of danger and doom.”

Leia’s trashy slave costume (and captivity under Jabba) was actually one of the better parts of Return of the Jedi, and as for old Darth, only the wokes could turn his trademark breathing and respiratory issues into something dirty. It’s a common observation today (among the sane and sensible) that left-wingers are the new puritans, and like the right-wing fundies of the ’80s seem to thrive on manufacturing offense. But they never cease to amaze me to what extremes they can take this idiocy.

And then this:

“The abbreviation JEDI can distract from justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. When you think about the word JEDI, what comes to mind? Chances are good that for many, the immediate answer isn’t the concept ‘justice’ (or its comrades ‘equity,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’). Instead this acronym likely conjures a pageant of spaceships, lightsabers and blaster-wielding stormtroopers. Even if we set aside the four cautions above, the acronym JEDI still evokes imagery that diverts attention away from the meanings of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Such distraction exacerbates existing problems and challenges endemic to institutional justice work. For instance, it is already the case that in institutional contexts, terms like ‘justice,’ ‘equity,’ ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are routinely underdefined or conflated, robbed of their specificities and differences. These terms and related abbreviations like DEI can thus come to be treated as institutional buzzwords that are more slogan than substance, signaling commitments that institutions fail to meaningfully honor. We must be more attentive to the meanings and particularities of our words, not less. JEDI does not help us with this. Now is not the time to confuse social justice with science fiction.”

Well, that probably cuts both ways. I’m sure that many Star Wars fans would rejoice to see the JEDI Collaborative rebrand itself with a new acronym. Undoubtedly they’ve no more wish to have Luke and Obi-Wan (mis)associated with the JEDI Collaborative anymore than this author wants the JEDI Collaborative (mis)associated with Jedi knights.

And finally, this challenge at the end:

“If you are, like some of the authors of this piece, a longtime fan of Star Wars (or Disney) and have found yourself defensively bristling while reading the paragraphs above, take a moment to consider that response. We suggest that such a reaction reveals how easily Star Wars and JEDI can introduce distractions and confuse conversations. How ready are we to prioritize the cultural dreamscape of the Jedi over the real-world project of social justice? Investing in the term JEDI positions us to apologize for, or explain away, the stereotypes and politics associated with Star Wars and Disney. How eager are we to fight Star Wars‘ battles, when that time and energy could be better spent fighting for social justice?”

I’ve never been a Star Wars fan (the only two films in the franchise I genuinely admire are Empire Strikes Back and Rogue One), but I wouldn’t get defensive even if I were. Opinions like the ones expressed in this article are simply impossible to take seriously. If there’s anyone confusing social justice (and poorly understood at that) with science fiction, it’s the authors of this article, who are making such a bloody issue out of it.

If you had shown me this article without telling me its source, I would have insisted it was satire. It’s just too over the top, even by woke standards. But then what am I saying, over the top is precisely the nature of the beast. It’s the way of the 21st century, and that beast has now come to science outlets.

UPDATE: Some are (understandably) claiming that this article is a Sokal-like hoax. I repeat: it is not a hoax, not satire. The five contributing authors — four of whom are from the University of Michigan — have impeccable flaming woke credentials. See Carson Byrd‘s profile, for example.