I Love the Internet Without Shame — and the Physicists Who Created It

In the early 1990s, I worked at the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory outside of Dallas.  The theoretical particle physicists there were pretty sure they were going to change the world as we know it with their new ponderings and explorations into physics.

There really are only a hand full of theorists at this level in the world — and they’re spread out across the continents.  So they took their computers and connected them via existing technology (telephone lines) — so they could stay informed about each others work, questions, ideas, and the projects they worked on.

The giant Hadron collider at CERN may change everything we know about the world.  But the internet has changed everything about the world we may know.

Don’t forget that when you flinch at new capabilities and changes to the gooey interface (Facebook, Twitter, IM, mail,  etc.)  This is all uncharted territory — and experimentation is part of the package.


The High Price of Moral Growth: Prohibition, Civil Rights, and the 99%

The High Price of Moral Growth: Prohibition, Civil Rights, and the 99%

by Lynn Whitlark on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 2:15am

Before we were the United States, we were a colony of the British Empire.  We drank tea, because the British had fallen in love with the Chinoise of the tea found in some of their other ports — tea was the drink of the day.


That ended with the Boston Tea Party, in part because our access to tea was through the Empire, in part because coffee was closer and due south, and in part because we wanted to forever blow a big raspberry at the Empire, and not drinking tea was a good way to do it.


Enter the United States of America — a colony no more — with it’s expanding and enveloping philosophies.  Suddenly we had farmland, and thus grapes, corn, barley, rye, hops, and wheat –and all those good things that let the brew-masters and vintners immigrating from all over the world could use to make wine, beer, and all manner of alcoholic beverages.


So coffee was moved to the back burner — and beer, rotgut, sour mash, and bathtub gin were in every glass and on every table.


Yes, there were “tea-totalers” but for the most part, we were a pretty hefty drinking nation.  The stats from the early 1800s through the early 1900s tell us that the average consumption of hard liquor was upwards of 40 quart bottles per year.  That’s more that 2/3 of a quart (about 20-25oz) per person-per week.


Let me put it another way.  That’s an AVERAGE of 3 shots of hard liquor every day of every year for every man, woman, and child.  And we’re pretty sure the kids weren’t drinking their share, so it must have been their parents.  And times being what they were, that would be mostly the men.  So we’re talking about 6-8 shots of liquor a day.


And that’s a lot of booze.


Then — along comes prohibition.


It’s a little hard to imagine what would cause an entire nation to go along with Prohibition, unless you think about what a world would be like with half or a third of all the people consuming 8-12 oz of whiskey a day.  Is it any wonder there was so much wife and child abuse?  Is it any wonder there were so many industrial accidents in the early part of the century?  Is there any question about how so many people “died of drink” in those days?


But Prohibition cost the US a lot.  Before it was done, our politicians and police were corrupted by pay-offs.  Organized crime was so organized that it had permeated every major city in the country.  Our economy was based on police who turned a blind eye, and bootleggers who made their fortunes on a tax-free money stream.  If it’s not legal — it can’t be taxed.


When the folly of Prohibition finally became too obvious to suppress, the society that emerged was very different that it had been only a few years earlier.  There was, in fact, a single — lonely — but clear change in our attitude toward over-consumption of alcohol.  Before Prohibition — constant drinking from morning until night was the norm.  After Prohibition, it became a sickness.


A sickness.  A disease.  Alcoholism.  We didn’t clearly understand the mechanism of addiction — but we’d figured out that constantly altering our physical chemistry was not only altering our morals, our consciences, and our inhibitions — it was also deadly.  Drunks — with their continually altered state — were having unbridled emotional experiences; loss of physical and emotional control; loss of consciousness; and complete alienation from the world around them.  They could not hope to have an honest emotional relationship.  They could not hope to enter the world daily and be safe — or without being a danger to others.  They could not see themselves or their own actions as they were seen by others.


Before Prohibition — this state of being was everywhere, common, and part of the “normal” world.  After Prohibition, this state of being was a sickness, and something to be seen as a medical and physical abnormality.  Drink was a sin and a weakness as we entered Prohibition, but afterwards, it was a treatable and cure-able illness.  It was no longer “normal” and accepted to be addicted to drink.




Back up now to the 1800s.


After slavery ended, the US changed.  Well…. In some ways it changed — in many other ways, it never did.  The deep south adopted the KKK as it’s cover story for anger, racism, and hatred.  Segregation was everywhere — and in some ways was as heavy a chain as slavery had ever been.


Then we went to war.  We ALL went to war.  In WWII, there were black troops in the same uniform as white troops.  Navajo.  Hispanics.  Immigrants from every corner of the globe fought in US Army and Navy uniforms.  We weren’t exactly sure what Hitler was up to, but it was obvious that he had far-reaching goals — so we entered the war (much later than many countries) and went off to fight in the name of freedom.


It was only after the war was over, when Hitler was dead and the war in the South Pacific was drawing to an end, that we marched into the camps across northern Europe and realized that there was more evil to Hitler than anyone had imagined.  Gas ovens.  Mass graves.  Horror stories.  Nightmares.  Tattoos on the arms of thousands of people  we didn’t even know were missing.  Medical experimentation on living subjects. Gulags to rival hell itself.


And those who came out of the death camps were jews with yellow stars of David sewn onto their clothes, and homosexuals with pink triangles sewn onto theirs.  Enemies of the State (of Hitler’s regime.)  Dissidents, misfits, and downtrodden souls of every stripe — all but exterminated by a madman and his jack-booted brown shirts.


And our troops were there.  ALL our troops were there.  And many of them died in Europe, North Africa, and the South Pacific.  Men of every color — and every stripe.


And suddenly it began to be difficult here at home to make those same distinctions that Hitler and the Nazis had made — without feeling a twinge of familiarity.  How could we segregate and label and ostracize and hate people whose only crime was in being NOT LIKE US.  Hitler’s crimes were so abhorrent, that I believe the American (and the global) consciousness shifted — and we changed our moral minds in the 20 years that followed those days at the end of the War in Europe.  I think we, as a nation, could no longer stand the thought that we might be as guilty of something like racism or prejudice — as Hitler had been.


Because his name would forever be linked to murderous bigotry — what had been “normal” here in the States before WWII, was beginning to be seen as a kind of illness.  Prejudice, like addiction, could no longer be accepted.


Before WWII, antisemitism was so widely embraced that children learned it in school.  Jews were the “other” known to be the bottom rung of acceptability.  (Shylock at least had his “Hath not a Jew eyes…” speech in the Merchant of Venice.)  But WWII made it completely unacceptable.  65 years later when the West hears arab nations and people of the Middle East espouse hatred of the Jews and of Israel as a nation, we still cringe, even though their wars and strife have been going on for centuries, and we know their institutionalized hatred is more than a passing tiff.  Still — Auschwitz is the image we carry in our heads.  Smokestacks churning out the greasy stench of death.  Children hiding in latrines.  Pink triangles, yellow stars.  Blue, green, white…symbols of hate and of Hitler’s own self-loathing.


The moral change happened slowly for those living through it because it truly was an internal shift first.   Marches and bus-rides and speeches made on the National Mall came long after the initial change in the morality of our country.  It seemed to take forever, but it was lightning fast in terms of the arc of history.


And even though it was much slower, there has been a difficult and welcomed change in attitude toward people of various sexual orientations, I believe it was the same association with the outright evil, hatred, and ambition of the Nazis in WWII that began to soften the American heart and mind — and throw off the prejudice against these people as well.  It happened (is happening) more slowly — but it is happening just as surely.  The man who shouts “God hates fags” might as well just grow the toothbrush mustache and wear a swastika armband, because he has no more chance of being heard than Hitler would if he were out on the streets today.  He is the moral grandson of a monster.  We have seen that injustice before, and we are growing up to be a people who will not stand for it.


Like Prohibition, the lessons of WWII came at a very high price.  Outrageously high.  Unthinkably high.  Unforgivably high.  Thousands and thousands of lives.  Millions of lives.  Millions of lives paid.  And the world saw and memorized the sounds and images — the results of anger, hatred, fear, and prejudice.



And — I am persuaded that we may be looking at that same moral “growing up” about to happen now.  Right now.


We have lived with people drunk on their own money for a while.  We see people who don’t look twice at a hungry child, or a homeless veteran.  We’ve seen the addiction called GREED, and the amoral behavior it produces.  We’ve seen the pathology of greed, and the hardness of heart, the selfishness, and the inhumanity it leaves like a footprint.


We’ve seen people standing tall and proud in churches and synagogues and mosques — then begrudging children foodstamps and school lunch programs.   We’ve seen the Madoffs and the Enron Corporation stealing the life savings of those about to retire and calling it “high finance” and “natural selection.”


We’ve seen people willing to pollute rivers, the Gulf of Mexico, and even oceans without a second thought — in order to up the bottom line on a quarterly report.   And we’ve seen them evict hard working families from their homes through dirty tricks, and then, out of pure meanness, dress up as the homeless for a Halloween costume party.


And we’ve reached the point where we can no longer call it normal, or acceptable behavior.  Greed, like addiction and prejudice, is an illness.  A sickness.  An excess of something poisonous in the body.  Something that needs to be addressed by professionals who can help the greedy come to terms with what must be done to live in our society.  More profit at any cost is the creed of madmen.


Greed can no longer be seen as a quirk or an overactive and adrenaline-soaked habit.  The Church of MORE has to come down, and the addiction to money has to be seen as a character flaw and a pathology so un-American and so inhuman as to be driven out of society.  This is an obcessive compulsion that cannot be allowed to harm another generation.


Greed, corruption, addiction, and prejudice are the maladies of a society committing slow and narcissistic  suicide.  In the same way that addiction to alcohol will kill you by rotting your body–   In the same way that prejudice and anger and hate will kill you by inches as it destroys your heart, and strangles your mind–  Greed, and the selfishness that it demands, will create a wall too high and too thick to ever have contact with civil society again.


Greed is the moral addiction and prejudice of the 21st Century.   And we know that simply pointing out to the greedy that they no longer fit into civil society will not make them suddenly generous and kind — any more than pointing out to a drunk that he has alienated everyone who ever loved him will turn him sober.  Addicts fight back.  In fact, they can be vicious and more self-destructive than any wild animal caught in a similar trap.


I expect the same will be true with the greedy.


And since money is the object of the dependency — that money can be played as power.  The power to fight back harder and longer and stronger.   The power to destroy those who want to lock the liquor cabinet.  The power to strike out at those who hold the mirror (and the camera) up for all to see.  Drunks may be physically strong and able to put up a hell of a fight — but the greedy are armed to the teeth with media, lawyers, lobbyists, ad agencies, private security firms, and accountants.


The price of moral growth is always high, and doesn’t always take the path we imagine.


But it is inevitable.


There are still drunks — but we call them alcoholics and they are seen universally as the “other.”  We all are able to spot the symptoms and tell-tale signs.  We all know that Amy Winehouse really should have gone to rehab.


There are still those who live everyday with their prejudices and anger and hate.  But their behaviors and beliefs are not those of mainstream America.  They are isolationists.  They retreat to their own little worlds and block out all those that they hate and fear.  They live in dark and curtained worlds.  They are not really part of America.  They live their lives with their fists clenched and their jaws set and their teeth grinding.  Hate is its own punishment.


And in the end so is greed.   I suppose a rich and greedy man could live a long time locked up, far away from the America that grew up and forgot his American Dream.  If you look at the saddle-leather face of Bernie Madoff, he looks for all the world like an alcoholic.  His circulation is slow and his heart barely beats.  His hands are like meat-hammers, and his eyes are only focused inward.  As well manicured and coiffed as Madoff and Ken Ley were — there is no tan, no haircut or dental work, and no plastic surgery that can hide the addiction and the selfishness of greed.


Moral growth — especially on a global scale — has a price.  So be ready for it.  I don’t know what the price will be; but I know as sure as I am breathing that there will be one.  Hopefully it will not cost as many lives as it cost to expose the wickedness and evil of prejudice and bigotry.  Hopefully it will not so corrupt the system it hopes to change as Prohibition did.


Sobriety and equality are good for the world.  Loving our neighbors and being our brother’s keeper will be good for the world, too.  Having a government  that is free of corruption and greed will be good for the world.  Just know as we go into this that it won’t be free.

How “Dungeons and Dragons” Changed My Life — from Salon.com — and BEYOND

How “Dungeons & Dragons” changed my life – Gaming – Salon.com.

Okay, I confess.  Unlike the author of this really cute and self-discovering nostalgia-all-grown-up article over at Salon, I am not a middle-aged man recalling a youth spent with a floor-full of teenage boys beating the snot out of each others’ characters with two-handed swords and magically enchanted bolas.

Koplow Games Assorted Polyhedral Dice

I am a middle-aged woman who started playing Dungeons and Dragons back in the ancient times before it was split into D&D — and AD&D by its creators (Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson who started TSR Games.)  When we first rolled up our original characters — we really rolled them up — with 3 six-sided dice.  And the whole game was played in your head and on paper.  None of this wussy miniatures and grid-map stuff.  That stuff is for people who can’t hold it all between their ears.  No, we played with just dice, pencils, and wild imaginations.  And this was before there were 7 major companies making polyhedral dice, too.  The original dice were cast in cheap baby blue plastic from molds they overused for so long that there was barely an indentation where the numbers were supposed to be.  You were supposed to use a crayon and rub across the numbers so they filled in with colored wax — which didn’t really work if yours came  from an old pressing. So we put stickers with the numbers written on them over the face of the dice.  By 1980 you could find a few polyhedral dice if you could find a comic book shop, or a sports memorabilia place.  Once in a blue moon, a toy store would have an assortment of maybe 30 dice to pick from.

When I closed my toy store last year, we had a shelf with well over 1000 dice on it — which sadly didn’t survive the move.  But there you are.  Things change.

The Nentire Vale, Dungeons and Dragons 4th Ed.

When we played in the 1980s, everybody was just figuring out that a computer could compute — and so most of the guys I knew tried their hand at writing a program to randomly generate character ability numbers.  They worked as okay as anything homegrown by newbie/amateur/casual programmers worked in 1981 — which is to say, we thought it was amazing; but in fact, it was too lame to actually use.

By contrast, this site: Character Generator by Pathguy will not only roll up your character (in D&D 3.5 edition, or D&D 4th edition) — it will let you choose all your character’s skills, feats, powers, weapons, familiars, destinies, — down to the color of your character’s eyes and hair, and what all s/he’s putting in his backpack.  Theoretically, Wizards of the Coast (the new owners of the D&D franchise) have a character generator on their $Pay-to-join website (it really is all about the money, isn’t it?) — but this Pathguy-person is using all the published materials, a javascript engine, — and he seems to be a really good guy.  So yay-him!

I’ve spent the last 2 weeks reading all the new 4th edition materials I could get my hands on.  Unused gift certificates to the local game store, Amazon.com, used book stores in the flesh brick and online, Walmart — I’ve hit every source I can find.

Gary Gygax

In the old days — the first days — the dawn of time — there were 3 books.  A Dungeon Master’s Guide, A Player’s Handbook, and a Monster Manual.  Actually, in the pre-dawn age — there was a little cardboard box with 2 stapled booklets and a set of those funky blue plastic dice with no numbers on them.

Today however — now that we’re in the throws of D&D 4th Edition — I’ve already got a stack of books nearly 1 1/2 feet high. The average cover price per book is in the neighborhood of 29.95.  So — If I was paying full retail for this stack of books, I’d have paid somewhere in the neighborhood of 600.00 for the stack sitting by my chair.  (! ! !)  As it is, I paid about 115.00.  Which is still pretty steep for a game I’ve been playing for over 35 years.

Add into that the stuff a lot of people buy — little miniature figurines that represent both the player characters, the characters in the story of the game, and the monsters/villians; 3-D set pieces (like furniture for a miniature tavern….) and props; vinyl play mats (both illustrated and not) maps, and map tiles; markers, page protectors, printer paper, graphing paper, index cards; and — Official Dungeons and Dragons Pre-made Adventure Modules ($cha-ching$!) In short — Wizards of the Coast [WotC] (who started this life as the originators and publishers of the dungeon and dragons-like card game, Magic the Gathering) is making a bloody fortune selling a game that theoretically only exists (if you do it right) between your ears!

And most of the books are under 170 pages — which means the 3 (current) volumes of the Monster Manual should probably have been published as 1 book — for about 40% of the cost of the 3 together.  Likewise with the 3 volumes of the Player’s Handbook.  And the 4 (or is it 5?) power books.  And the 2 Adventurer’s Vault books.  And the 2 Draconomicon books.  And the 2-books-each published on each of the realms players often play in (that would be, The Forgotten Realms; Nentir Vale, Dark Sun; Eberron; the Shadowfell; the Feywild; Neverwinter; and the half-dozen or so other realms or regions they haven’t gotten to yet.

As for all the miniatures, models, and maps; costumes; renaissance faires; semi-prescious stone dice; jewelry; bardic instruments; and hand-crafted knick-knacks, scrolls, potion bottles and treasure chests — a lot of that stuff is hand-made — or available from artisans and crafts people who cater to the gaming crowd (and are part of the gaming crowd.)

While I was in business as a toy store online — I carried dice, but none of the other D&D paraphenalia.  Since D&D first showed up, hundreds of other RPGs (Role Playing Games) have come and gone and come back again.  Some lived in a world of werewolves and vampires (sound familiar, Twilight shippers?); some live deep in the world of H. P. Lovecraft; add in the odd pirate adventure, zombie apocalypse, dystopian society, — and regional/historical settings like ancient Greece, Egypt, China or Rome — and the list scrolls down forever.  You can play in the world of space cowboys, Dr. Who, Indiana Jones, or Tarzan.  You can role-play your favorite comic books /graphic novels.  You can rewrite history or Shakespeare.

Brass 20-sided (d20)

And you can do it all with polyhedral dice and some graph paper.  Which is why I carried dice in the toy store — we got orders from ships at sea, wanting 8 identical sets of polyhedrals for the sailors who wanted to RPG together.  We got orders from hospital wards, college dorms and frat houses, high school English classes, history classes, and math classes; schools for the learning disabled (dyslexia anyone?); prisons (yes– that’s what I said) and soap opera sets and offices who wanted to play through lunch.  We sent dice everywhere.  Conservative dice.  Excentric dice.  Solid silver dice.  Amethyst dice.  All so people like me, and like the guy at Salon.com can let our imaginations fly.

The First Edition DM Guide

I know there are 13-year-old boys who are sitting around hacking at Beholders and Bugbears with their +2 short swords and Daggers of Stealthy Whacking.

But the game is in the story-telling.  And — at least so far — the story telling at WotC is a little thin on skill.  We need adventure modules written by Stephen King and Neil Gaiman.  We need somebody who understands plotting and narrative structure to create these things so that they are more about role-playing and STORY, than they are about some pre-ordained 30-levels-in 1 1/2 to 2 years marketing scheme built by the Greed Wizards at the Coast.  (see How a Story is Shaped on this blog for the skinny on narrative structure….)  As it stands, the 4th Edition has all the earmarks of a pyramid scheme.

But here’s the crux of it:

1st Edition Players Handbook

It’s all about the story, boys and girls.  Just like with the movies.  Just like television.  Regardless of how much money you throw at a movie, if it’s all special effects, CGI, 3-D, expensive actors, and marketing campaigns — it will still be crap if the story isn’t there.  And regardless of little bits of deficiency in budget, the inexperience of the director, or the Target costumes — if the story is solid, then the movie will be solid.

And so will the Dungeons and Dragons game.

Okay, it’s all about the story and the math (YES!) — so you get your Reading class, your Math class, and your Language Skills class all in one convenient between-the-ears package!

So read the books.  Roll-up your player-characters.  Try a few of their pre-generated encounter ideas  (in the new 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide) — and then create your own realm and your own story, with its own cast of players, and your own plot twists and crises.

It’s all about the story, and about each individual limitless imagination.

You can be whatever kind of hero you want to be.

Here are some of the books to look for
(buy them used — cheap — it’s still fun!)

  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide 2
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Players Handbook
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Players Handbook 2
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Players Handbook 3
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Monster Manual
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Monster Manual 2
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Monster Manual 3
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Adventurer’s Vault
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Adventurer’s Vault 2
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Draconomicon – Chromatic Dragons
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Draconomicon – Metalic Dragons
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Demonomicon
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Open Grave (Monster Manual for Undead Creatures)
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Primal Powers
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Arcane Powers
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Divine Powers
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Martial Powers
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Martial Powers 2
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Psionic Powers
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Players Strategy Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Rules Compendium
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Heroes of the Fallen Lands
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Heroes of the Forgotten Kingdoms
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Monster Vault
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Monster Vault, Threats to Nentir Vale
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Player’s Option: Heroes of the Feywild
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Player’s Option: Heroes of Shadow
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Players Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition  Eberron Players Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Eberron Campaign Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Dark Sun Campaign Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Dark Sun Players Guide
  • Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Neverwinter Campaign Setting
  • and it goes on a bit from there….
  • I also recommend Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition for Dummies

If you just want to get started, go for the 3 core rule books: DMGuide, Players Handbook, Monster Manual.  That’s enough to keep you reading for a while….  I still haven’t found a cheap Monster Manual 3 — but I don’t think anybody is going to miss it any time soon.

I think the guy from Salon.com has it right about why people love this game.  Not only do you get to temporarily live in a completely different time and place — you get to be somebody you aren’t.  Or somebody you aren’t, yet.

In the 4th Edition of D&D, they’ve removed a lot of the choices on alignment.  For the uninitiated, alignment refers to whether the character you are playing is good or evil; chaotic or lawful; or more none-of-the-above (used to be called neutral, but now is called unaligned.)  Unaligned sounds a little uncommitted — whereas neutral sounds like Switzerland.  Back in the day 😀 there were 9 alignments:  Here’s the grid from the 80’s and 90’s:

Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition -- Alignment Chart

Here’s the grid from the 70s:

More like the original D and D Alignment Grid

Here’s what happened to the grid after the Internet:

Here’s a link to more of these user-generated visual guides to alignment from Geekosystem: 10 Best Alignment Charts.

I spent my youth gleefully playing Chaotic Neutral and Chaotic Good characters.  Chaotic Neutral was easy to define — the old hippie culture is easy to pick out in a crowd — not evil or mean OR worried about right and wrong; not concerned about silly little laws written by silly laced-up people, and more focused on self than on others — and willing to stir things up just for the fun of it..  No rules for me / no rules for anybody else.  And Chaotic Good wasn’t far behind — almost all the same — but with a healthy dose of looking out for the home team, the family, and the community.

Well — neither of those 2 alignments exist any more.

Wizzers of the Coast yanked everything but Good, Lawful Good, Neutral, Evil, and Chaotic Evil.  Which reeks of dumbing-down.  It’s true — Neutral Good and Neutral Evil were hard to pin down.  Thinking of evil without thinking of it as either lawful or chaotic is difficult.  All those photo-grids above and in the link are better at picking those alignments out of a crowd than I ever was — but it is possible. Lawful Evil is a little easier because of IRS agents, and neutral evil is easier thought of as mercenaries.

And since the Dungeon Master of any game is omnipotent in the game world — any D and D games I DM are going to use the original grid.  Whizzers or no whizzers — we’re going to allow all 9 alignments, because playing your chosen alignment is part of the role-playing in an RPG.  Character development is important.  Choice is important.  Options are important.  And —

If it ain’t broke — don’t fix it.

Which is pretty good advice for the Wizards of the Coast people in general.  They really have made a tight, playable game in the 4th Edition.  Sometimes a little too tight and binding.

I realize that the 12-year-olds see the world in something closer to black and white than most of the adult players — so the 5-alignment grid is probably easier for them to play.  And that’s fine.  Nuance does not belong in adolescence.  But it’s not the D and D Gary Gygax rolled up.  And nuance is perfectly acceptable to grown-up geeks and dragonslayers.

Behold, the Immortal Beholder

Dungeons and Dragons is about making choices.  From the moment you choose whether to roll dice or use a computer program to generate a character, to choosing which spell to cast or what weapon to use to defend yourself — it’s about choices.

You are wandering through a dark and spooky forest and it starts to rain.  You and your friends are just talking to one another about whatever, and suddenly 3 bear-looking things with fangs and wings appear in the road in front of you — about 15 feet from where you stop.  One of them licks his lips and takes a step toward you and starts saying something you don’t understand.  What do you do?

Well?  Do you ask your friends if any of them understands what he’s saying?  Do you turn around and run?  Do you draw the dagger out of your boot?  Do you tell him you don’t understand what he’s saying?  Do you stand really still and listen carefully and try to understand him?  Do you pull your winged-bear dictionary out of your backpack?

Options, choices — puzzles.


And depending on what you and your adventuring buddies say — what happens next is yet to be determined.

The story framework is there.  The structure of the plot is there.  The characters (the players’ characters and the characters that exist in the story world) are there.  It’s the details that everyone (players and Dungeon Master) chooses — and they choose according to their race, class, alignment, abilities, and past experiences.

A lot like life.

If I sound like I’m hammering on Wizards of the Coast — you’re probably right.  I am hammering a little.  I’m glad they rescued (bought for pennies) Dungeons and Dragons from the pit it fell into in the ’90s.  It, like disco, was passe, bordering on ancient history.  WotC became keepers of the flame — and they kept it from going out.  With 4th Edition, they’ve even managed to rekindle it to the point of open warfare between those who support 4th Edition, those who want to keep playing 3.5 or 3.0 (also published by WotC) and those who long for the simpler good-old-days of AD&D, or the earlier OD&D (the original set).  That’s right.  Almost nobody misses the 2nd Edition/child of Gygax’s divorce.

The truth is, D&D seems to be more popular than ever.  Many of the years’ RPGs have gone the way of the Dodo — extinct because of stupidity.  Or just thin story.  D&D owes its life to J. R. R. Tolkein and the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings books — the source material for Gygax and Arneson.  Narrative pedigree doesn’t get much better than that.

Mmmm. Owlbear for dinner....

And D&D will survive the business model of Wizards of the Coast.  There are some real game lovers there, and they take a lot of flak from players who get attached to various aspects of the Dungeons and Dragons game.  (Like me and alignment.)  But they are the keepers of the flame.  I don’t begrudge them making enough money to keep everything alive.  I do begrudge them the over-the-top profiteering.  This game, along with their Magic the Gathering and a few of their other excellent products — if kept fresh and playable — will keep them in the tall grass of the Nentir Vale for a very long time.

If they try to milk the cash cow until it drops dead — not so much.  Arbitrarily topping off characters at level 30, arbitrarily limiting alignment, and arbitrarily limiting the shelf-life of the latest edition just so you can bring out a NEW set of 45 books at 39.95 each is taking capitalism more seriously than you are taking your fans/customers/players.  This is a tight economy.  Customer support means a lot more than answering the phone or replacing defective merchandise — it means supporting your customer base so that it grows and becomes loyal.

Like me and the author from Salon.  If you play fair — we’ll all be with you for a very long time.


Okay -- I had to add this one that Nate linked to from http://protoncharging.com/gb/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/gb_alignment_chart1.png .... It's just too funny.

The Placebo Effect? It’s Not All In Your Head

My son posted this link to a video on youtube that reminded me of what I love about the way our minds work:

A placebo is basically a therapeutic hypnotic suggestion in physical form.  As the video said — the better the physical form of the placebo, the greater its effect.  So, the more powerful the suggestion that a little pill of nothing is really a little pill of something — the better it should work.

Hypnotic suggestion is not a difficult thing — there are definite skills involved, and it takes practice; but therapeutic hypnosis is an absolute and learnable skill-set.  I suspect that if the prescribing doctor were skilled at hypnotic suggestion (as opposed to just skilled at acting or lying,) a placebo would work even better.  It would be like getting a double dose, so to speak.

Let me be clear — I’m not talking about swinging watches and stage hypnosis that makes people cluck like chickens or wind their watch whenever the hypnotist says “Elvis.”  I’m talking about the hypnosis that helps children who have seen their parents shot to death both survive the trauma and help identify the shooter.  These are two kinds of hypnosis, practiced by two kinds of people and for two altogether different reasons.  These kinds of hypnosis are related — like sister skill-sets — but they are not identical twins.  Intention is all important.  It’s more like the relationship between ballroom dancing and tap.  They are both forms of dance — and they might occasionally have some crossover points — but they are not the same.

It would be an interesting study to take a control group of freshly ordained medical students who knew nothing about hypnosis — and another group who had been skillfully trained in the techniques of Milton Erickson or other noteworthy therapeutic hypnotists — and give both groups of physicians a month-long schedule of appointments with similar patients whose complaints might benefit equally from placebos and the placebo effect — and see which group of physicians was most successful.

Of course, it would mean that the physicians would all have to be non-skeptics about the benefits of placebos, and that the group trained in hypnosis would need to be non-skeptics about the benefits of therapeutic hypnotic suggestions.  Why?  Because measuring the comparative effects of placebos/hypnotic suggestions when the physicians believe vs when the physicians do not believe is another question, and should be studied separately.  To make this comparison legitimate,  all the physicians would have to be equally convinced and therefore equally congruent about their prescriptions.

If you seriously think a patient can’t tell when the doctor doesn’t believe what s/he is prescribing will work — you need to rethink your preconceptions about the doctor/patient relationship.  Some people will believe anything their physician tells them — just because of the social assumptions of authority and education.  Likewise, some people will challenge anything their physician tells them — just because of the social assumptions about bureaucracy and human error.

There’s a lot of difference between “Here — try this.  It’s worked for all my patients with this condition…’ and “Here — try this.  It doesn’t do much, but maybe it will help a little….”

A good actor or liar might be able to get a positive placebo effect — but what we want to know is if a doctor who knows the potential of placebos and/or therapeutic hypnosis, who gives the placebo along with a subtle and powerful suggestion about its effects can make the effect stronger or better.

It might work to have third and forth groups of new doctors who are absolute skeptics and non-believers in placebos and hypnotic suggestions.  — But that starts to get a little sticky.  The chances of a placebo or a placebo+suggestion working their magic on pain, or insomnia, mild depression, stomach ache, or irritability are in question — and so would involve leaving patients in the lurch of being totally unmedicated (whether by real drugs or sugar pills) and therefore caused actual harm by the study.

If they thought their problem was bad enough to go to a doctor in the first place — we wouldn’t want them to suffer needlessly.  At least I wouldn’t.

That’s a medical study I’d like to see.

There’s so much that doctors know about how the body works — especially when compared to what they knew 50 or 150 years ago.  It has only been in that time period that the idea of germs and a sterile field have been recognized as part of true medical study.  The pool of knowledge expands daily.

It’s only been in this last few decades that the play between the mind and the body has begun to be studied — so assuming our medicine has done anything more than open a crack in the door is arrogance.  The placebo effect has been at work since shamans, witch-doctors, and medicine-men made their appearance in the tribe — we’re just now beginning to figure out the scope and potential of their practice.

The internet doesn’t help — since anyone can go online and read the full data sheet on any medication out there, as well as see a picture and a description of the pill.  This is good in some ways — we can all check to make sure our pharmacist didn’t make one of those human errors we all hear about.  But it also opens up a chasm in what doctors (and medicine-men) can accomplish.

If that gaping hole gets filled by psychiatrists, psychologists, and counselors; chiropractors; aroma therapists; fortune tellers and tarot card readers; massage therapists; herbalists; acupuncturists; gurus; wise-men/women; therapeutic hypnotists; story-tellers; dietitians; priests, monks, preachers, mullahs and rabbis; and others who can mix in a little magic with their common sense, experience, and wisdom — so be it.  Faith and belief are not the disease — they’re part of the cure.  Any and all of the categories listed above — and dozens more — are possible tools in the toolbox that potentially makes us healthier, gives us hope, and provides a sense of well-being that is essential to life.  Making the unbearable — bearable is as powerful a medicine as any anti-biotic.

Let me be clear — I want great doctors from great medical schools, with steady hands, creative minds, and deep memories tending to and working on me and my family.  No questions and no doubts about that.  But I also want open-minded doctors who leave room for the truths they don’t yet know, tools they haven’t considered, and evidence they haven’t yet seen.  I don’t want to trade Shamanistic Studies or ancient healing methods for a good solid internship program, but at least a basic knowledge of herbal pharmaceuticals, NLP, basic psychology, massage therapy, and nutritional medicine might be useful.

The human body/human mind/human spirit are all part of a single self-amending system (see nomics on this blog for more discussion about self-amending systems, including the body) — with an interplay that is continuous and holographic, and comprises a complexity we only begin to understand.

If the placebo effect is “all in the mind” — then let’s just bow to the mind and treat it with the respect and care it deserves.  Good medicine treats the whole person with any and all methods available — at least we hope it does.

Review: Pirate Fluxx Makes Us Say Arrr! (In A Good Way!) » MTV Geek Review

Review: Pirate Fluxx Makes Us Say Arrr! (In A Good Way!) » MTV Geek.

Yes!!!! The best and most nomic game of all has set sail for Tortuga!  Arrrrrrggghh!

Headed for Mad Hatter’s shop to see if he has it yet — Can’t wait!!!!  I hear there is also a Martian Fluxx, too — so this is a big day for my favorite game.

Okay, one of my favorite games.








–>We got a chance to play both Pirate Fluxx and Martian Fluxx back-to-back this past weekend.  Martian Fluxx seems to have a small balance issue, but it should be easy to fix with a couple of cards added to the deck from other decks.  As is, Martian is too easy to win because of the Creepers.

Pirate Fluxx is just as good as it sounds.  The parrot and the monkey are especially cute…. If anything, the hands we played were slightly tougher than the regular Fluxx game– so be prepared.  There are some logic loops that take some time to figure out.  Only complaint — not enough arrrrgh-pirate goals and keepers!

“Imprisoned” Barely Nomic Painting w/ 7 Images

This is the starting image of the cover, still closed and covered.

Imprisoned Closed Cover, Copyright 2010 Lynn Whitlark; 22" x 30". 400lb Arches cotton rag paper, and treated canvas mesh.

Okay.  So this is a project for the graduate level painting/art class I’m taking.  I don’t have the undergrad degree in art or BFA that these guys have (many of them are 1 or 2 semesters away from an MFA) — so I don’t know what undergrads do compared to what grad students do.

I have no idea (still) how to put my stuff in the room with their stuff — they all do different kinds of things for different kinds of reasons.

But the prof. asks me to do art that represents the way the inside of my head works.

I’d told him about nomics.  Graves.  Particle physics.  Matching and mismatching.  Timeline therapy.  Hypnosis.  You know.  Some of the stuff that rattles around in my head.

So this is the first attempt to do that.  It’s a little bit nomic.  Mostly it’s about opening boxes — which I haven’t ever mentioned to the prof. (so far)  And it also works as the visual test for the meta-program: matching/mismatching sort.

For the curious, the inscription on the last image (which I photographed poorly) says:

Just the thought
of opening the box
is enough
to break the seal

This collection of images opens like a book — or a pop-up book.  Closed, it measures 22″ x 30″.  Fully opened, the book part is 30″ x 42″, with a drop down piece that is 22″ x 14″, and a separate, stand-alone piece that is 18″ x 24″.  Pigments used include Indanthrone Blue; Carbon soot; ground Amathyst;, Unbleached Titanium, Prussian Blue; Green Earth; Lapis Lazuli; Pyramidazolone Yellow, Phthalo Green (B); and ground Vivianite.

At any give stage in the opening, between 2 and 4 images are visible (out of a total of 7.)