An @InternationalWomensDay In The Life Of My Partner

Its #InternationalWomensDay, so I’m going to talk about what happens when @AdmiralAsthma and I do the same job, since we both direct improvised plays, and we’ve both been an obvious part of the Seattle improv scene for about the same time. This isn’t a “big deal” story, on its own, leading to any big conflict. It’s a very normal, every day sort of story.

When I run an audition, I usually wear the first mostly-unwrinkled Fred Meyer button-up shirt in my closet, yesterday’s jeans, and the same shoes I wear every day. Sometimes I remember to brush my hair, but usually I forget. I don’t really think about it, except to make sure I don’t have any food stains on my shirt.

When @AdmiralAsthma runs an audition, she carefully puts together an outfit, made out of clothes that are all more expensive than mine. The right neckline, some professional pants, and a blazer. She puts on the right amount of make-up. She puts product in her hair with confusing names I don’t always understand, but which make it hard to breath. She looks at herself in the mirror and decides if she’s putting out the right combination of authority, but also fun to work with, but also not too scary so that auditionees aren’t nervous.

Auditionees arrive and they hand me their audition paperwork. Not just for the auditions I run: if I’m sitting in on @AdmiralAsthma’s audition, they’ll often walk up and hand me their paperwork as well. These are all people who probably consider themselves “woke”, and who are well aware of systemic inequality. But patterns are ingrained, and they’re anxious about auditions, and they’re not thinking too hard about it, so I’m maybe the person in charge.

When everyone has arrived, I just start talking, and the auditionees almost always quiet down immediately, especially if they don’t know who I am.

@AdmiralAsthma says the exact same thing, and people sometimes look surprised at who’s talking, and they finish up their conversations, and they start to listen. So she starts again when they’re quiet enough. The ones who know who she is actually quiet down quicker than for me.

I once counted the extra actions that I could perceive @AdmiralAsthma needing to take to subtlely reassert herself one time, and in the five minutes I counted, I hit 50. And those are just the ones that I picked up on.

I said this isn’t a “big deal” story, but that really just means its a normalized story, and one that’s composed of a hundred-small paper-cuts rather than a big obvious thing. It’s that one out-of-place thing that you don’t notice until someone tells you about it, and then you can’t stop seeing it.

@AdmiralAsthma doesn’t complain about much of this, because she’s used to it, except when clothing manufacturers fail to take the fact that she actually -does- things in her clothes into account, or when a particularly oblivious improviser won’t stop arguing against a note. But I’d complain up a storm if a tenth of it of it happened to me, because I’m used to what being born white and male and American came with for free.

Why I’m Voting for Hillary Clinton

I’m sure anyone who hasn’t blocked me knows I’m voting for Hillary. This post is really for my own benefit, as I needed to spell out exactly why, if only for myself.

I was once a registered Republican. I still believe in fiscal responsibility and the power of healthy institutions: once hallmarks of the Republican Platform, now reduced to mere platitudes. Today’s GOP is in shambles: it is a federally protected, out-of-control propaganda machine that was easily subverted by a man who knows almost nothing about the world that props him up, beyond how to use the appearance of success to bluster his way into almost anything. The Republican Party, despite the best efforts of the few honorable men and women who still hold office with an R next to their name, has been infected by a destructive cynicism so great that it has no plan beyond a plan to undo anything its opposition attempts. It no longer even pretends to try to govern a majority of Americans. The unwillingness to hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, hardly a partisan pick, should be a clear enough sign to anyone who isn’t 100% Republican, no matter what that means.

And then, Hillary and the Democrats. It’d be dishonest for me to call myself anything but a capitol D Obama Democrat these days. That doesn’t mean I reject a lot of criticism. The Democrats have some of the same problems as the GOP. They’ve lost the ability to connect with the other side: especially rural voters. They “solve” problems for rural regions without including them. I can blame the GOP for this all I want, but at the end of the day, the Democrats still have to make their case to a majority of Americans, or they deserve no majority vote. Even when the Democratic Party supports policies that are friendly to rural, poor America, they do a poor job of reaching out to that group and giving them a more productive voice. They’re backed into a corner over the Affordable Care Act, and haven’t yet acknowledged enough of the problems that still need to be fixed. They too often play victim to the propaganda of the right, rather than working to counter it at the grass roots level. And the Democratic leadership takes advantage of the people who ARE working at the grass roots level. The loss of many Bernie Sanders voters to third parties has to be placed at the feet of the Party Leadership, who made a lot of poor campaign choices. They’re too quick to blame honest criticism of their policies on bigotry or ignorance, effectively invalidating the feelings of millions of rural Americans: they very thing they accuse their opposition of doing.

And then Hillary. The opposition has had years to make their case against her, and boy have they. She’s effective and ambitious, and she really wants the job. She already has power, she already has money, so at the end of the day, I have to believe she wants it because she believes she’s right for the job. She could certainly do a lot of other things that would mean going through a lot less hell.

There are a lot of criticisms of her. Some of them are spot on: her international hawkishness is extremely concerning (though still less concerning than Trump’s hawkishness-without-the-benefit-of-knowledge). Her willingness to cut legal corners in pursuit of her goals, and her willingness to compromise on parts of her platform to secure others. Some of them are incredibly sexist. Some of them are subtlety sexist: as narrow as the road we demand our female politicians walk is today, it was a lot more narrow in the 80s and 90s, which Hillary was politically active. We have evolved since then and SHE has evolved since then. As election day nears, all stops are being pulled out. FBI agents acting out of individual interest are intentionally timing leaks to hurt her chances. Even so, if those leaks were substantial, I’d be happy to consider them. So far, they’re not, by any neutral reading of them. They all hint at things the reinforce whatever you already believe. After years of the most powerful men and women of this country working to take Hillary down, -nothing- has stuck. Either she’s the most incredibly effective mastermind this country has ever seen, or most of the accusations are exactly what Benghazi turned out to be: hyperbole or bunk.

I don’t have an answer to the person who truly thinks she’s evil. You presumably think I’m either too lost, too misguided, too naive, too stupid, or too corrupt to have read this far. But even if you believe many of the claims against her: almost every one is doubly true about the man who will take office if she loses. If Hillary loses, Trump wins. If you’re like the Green Party’s climate agenda: You’re screwed. If you like the Libertarian Party’s social agenda: you’re screwed. If you like anything Obama has supported, you’re definitely screwed. If you’re white and straight and middle class, you’ll probably do alright in the short term. Economic decline and a lack of interest in repairing social problems will take longer to affect you than most others. A large part of the economic and social progress of the last eight years will be undone: not fixed, not extended to more people, not balanced with pragmatism: just undone. But you’ll be okay, for a bit.

2008 isn’t a place I want to go back to. I don’t want to go back at all. I want to go forward. Hillary’s my best shot at that. Trump is everyone’s worst shot for almost anything.

Too Long; Didn’t Read: Shadowrun Racism, CORPSins, and Good Reason To Roleplay

“What’s most important to me is that it’s about the present. It’s not really about an imagined future. It’s a way of trying to come to terms with the awe and terror inspired in me by the world in which we live.”
— William Gibson

“I don’t try to describe the future. I try to prevent it.”
— Ray Bradbury

“What’s wrong with the modern times is that the future isn’t what it used to be.”
— Paul Valery

I love Shadowrun for a lot of reasons. There’s room for pink-mohawked ork razorgirls, gritty noir anti-heroes, crazy spirits who don’t understand our world, and giant Bladerunner-esque corporations.  We play with a lot of this for entertainment on Shadowrun: Corporate SINs, our Wednesday 6pm show on HyperRPG.

In the middle of all that craziness, though, there’s also a lot of room for one of the best things Sci-Fi has to offer: the ability to look at the present without getting mired in the complexities and politics that don’t let us see our present-day forest for the trees.

I hope that #CorpSINs succeeds primarily as entertainment, but that there’s enough to satisfy fans of both parts. I play Cromwell, who’s definitely in the Pink Mohawk category a lot of the time: A Troll who pretends to be British, styles himself as a Butler, and uses magic to augment his street brawling abilities. Cromwell has good instinct but low logic: he isn’t the brightest runner the 6th World has offered up, but he does take himself, his world, and his friends seriously. I try to see things from his perspective, even when that point-of-view leads him into big trouble. As with all our characters, I hope the comedy normally comes not out of trying too hard to be funny, but out of Cromwell trying his hardest with what the Great Bear gave him.

For those viewers who are curious, here’s a bit more about the particular time and place that MMFEC inhabits in Seattle, and why a lot of internal conflict within the group reflects the greater conflict that surrounds them.

The Seattle Metroplex is a giant city-state that’s nominally part of what remains of the United States and Canada, but is an island surrounded by the Native American Nations. At the top level, it’s an giant success: an international hub, with representatives from all the major corporations. At the bottom level, it’s a giant failure: it’s poorest and most disenfranchised citizens are barely holding it together after years of war, riots, (un)natural disasters, AI villains, drug wars, and the loss of individual rights to the rights of corporations.

Characters such as Cromwell and Mordecai, who spend most their time on the street, or Fang, who’s SIN marks her as a criminal, exist primarily at that lowest level. If there is a street war targeting metahumans or magic users, it’s very hard to escape it. If characters at this level can rely on their government to protect them, they can probably get by. When they can’t, they must hide, fend/fight for themselves, or band together into gangs or other organizations. Characters such as Elsie or Ma1nfram3 (assuming they are who they appear to be), who exist at a slightly higher economic level and can pass for human can depend a little more on the community infrastructure around them, and can be a bit more selective in choosing which battles to fight.

The bigotry of the 6th world has moved on from things as “simple” as skin color, gender, and sexual orientation because the introduction of magic provided all new sources for human anxiety, fear and hate to latch onto. Troll and Orks look like monsters out of 5th world children’s stories and fables, while technology and magic are difficult to regulate and give seemingly random individuals unbelievable sources of power. And all too like our world, those who seek political power have found plenty of ways to latch their star to the never-to-be-underestimated capacity of humans to fear and hate that which is different.

Specifically, Kenneth Brackhaven, current governor of Seattle, has made a political career by tapping into those forces of fear in people: fears that children in public schools will have gigantic troll classmates who tower over them, that the orks of the underground will take all the jobs while filling the streets with drugs and crime, that elves are secretly manipulating everyone and infiltrating the upper levels of governments and corporations. He publicly proclaims tolerance, but at the same time, fired his entire police force (Lonestar) and brought in a new police force (Knight Errant, a division of Ares Corporation) who now owes him big time for the contract. Not surprisingly, the new police force routinely turns a blind eye to violence against metahumans, while protecting the interests of human voters at the bottom and powerful organizations who fund him a the top.

Enter into this characters such as Cromwell, who has good instincts but not much logic. He knows humans see him as a bull in a china shop where ever he goes, and he knows that most people are going to take the side of the china. He knows that he can’t rely on the police, who are as likely to assume he’s the criminal as, say, a young human troll killer. And his years on Yomi Island taught him how much he can trust society’s judgement. He can’t hide: he’s a troll who lives on the street, and he has bad experiences we haven’t yet gotten into with gangs and organized crime. So in the end of the day, Cromwell doesn’t believe he has any choice but to fight as hard as he can to protect the things he cares about until he is invariably killed in a war that he can’t escape from. He is going to invariably come into conflict with characters who believe in trying to work with the system (Fang) or avoid the fight altogether (Ma1nfram3 and Mordecai, potentially: we don’t yet know what lies behind these character’s motivations). He’s going to be frustrated that they can’t see that he doesn’t have the choices they do to avoid the fight, and they’re going to be frustrated that Cromwell can’t see that there might be a better way if he had more faith or patience. Not to mention that he’s threatening their own places in the system & sometimes playing into the hands of his enemies. And then there’s Elsie, who Cromwell cares deeply about, who forces Cromwell not to rush to his own death in that war: not because he’s afraid of dying, but because she reminds him that it’s about more than just his own life: he needs to stay alive long enough know that she’s safe from [REDACTED].

I (Tony) am not much like Cromwell at all. I’m not an idealist, but I do believe in patience, diplomacy. I believe, perhaps out of privilege, that the system contains corruption and systemic unfairness, but not that the whole system is fundamentally corrupt. But playing Cromwell helps me see the situations that would make me feel differently, and if there is a better reason to role play than that, I don’t know what they are.

Performances: 2/25-2/28

Lots of performances this weekend!
Thursday, 8:30pm: Performing in Improv Anonymous’s Blank Slate, where the audience creates an entire play: Tickets and Info
Friday: 6:00pm – Late (and other pop-ins this weekend): Online with HyperRPG’s 48-hour Charity Drive: Check out the Twitch Channel
Saturday, 10:30pm: Playing on a new team in Unexpected Productions’ Seattle Theatresports:Theatresports Tickets and Info
Sunday, 8:30pm: Playing a small, informal open improv show at Unexpected Productions: Tickets at the door at the Market Theater (1428 Post Alley, behind the gumwall)

The Force Awakens Filmography (No Major Spoilers)

There is a lot to talk about, regarding The Force Awakens, but without giving away any more plot than the trailer, I can discuss how much better the filmographic focus and restraint are than in the Prequels.

I watched both Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith immediately after The Force Awakens. RotJ stands up, but RotS is pretty awful in comparison, simply at a visual level.

It’s clear, in the Prequels, that Lucas and Company wanted to show us a “newer” universe, in which the Galactic Republic was at its height. Everything is clean and polished (which, unfortunately, translates to “without texture”). Along with that, Lucas shows us EVERYTHING. Everything is in focus. Every shot is full of a million “cool” things. There are so many cool things that it’s impossible to focus on any one thing: and so everything becomes mundane.

Screen Captures from the trailer for The Force Awakens

Screen Captures from the trailer for The Force Awakens (Click to Enlarge)

In the originals, and in The Force Awakens, focus is incredible narrow. Both physical focus and narrative focus. Backgrounds are blurry and recede, with just enough detail to show me that SOMETHING is there, but not so much detail that I can make much of it out. Which lets me fill in all that great detail with my imagination.

Screen Captures from the trailer for Revenge of the Sith

Screen Captures from the trailer for Revenge of the Sith (Click to Enlarge)

In contrast, either the foreground or some isolated area of the screen is almost always full of textured detail. The most “prequel” looking texture is probably a distinctive chrome uniform worn by one of the characters, and even that is kept dark enough and sometimes smudged enough so that it feels more “real”. My eyes always know where to land. I can track action and I’m not distracted by background characters, but I still know that they’re present.

I am attached two sets of screen captures, all from the trailers for either The Force Awakens or Revenge of the Sith. I didn’t have to be too selective: its very obvious.

Blurring your focus leaves a lot to the imagination.  The monster in the dark that you never quite see is far more frightening.  The hinted-at backstory is far more interesting than the full history.  What works visually, also works for the narrative.  Rather than talking about this new movie’s plot, we can use Tolkien as an example: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings’s Middle Earth feels like an old world, with hidden stories around every corner, precisely because Tolkien tells his stories from a very narrative point-of-view: we get hints of legends and characters with rich backstories we never do more than touch on.

Great Star Wars stories do the same: they give us just enough.  Think of Mon Mothma’s line in RotJ: “Many Bothans died to bring us this information. (long, sad pause)”.  I love that line!  Who were the Bothans?  What happened?  Don’t tell me, just let me ask the question!  Boba Fett was a lot cooler when we didn’t know who the hell he was, or where he got that sweet Mandalorian armor.

All this is to say: I loved The Force Awakens.  I will probably avoid all of Disney’s attempts to fill in that interesting, blurry background with comics, novels, and merchandise, because the vague ideas in my head are a lot more epic before they’re narrowed down on film.