Monday, March 31, 2003

Big rib dinner Saturday night from the Rib Crib on Germantown Avenue. While waiting, I read the local shopper newspaper for that neighborhood, which is almost entirely African American. One column was from a seriously undermedicated gentleman ranting about "AmeriKKKa" and the imperialist war yadda yadda. Below it was a new story about a local 20 year old who is fighting in Iraq, and how proud everyone who knew him was. The juxtaposition was very odd.

Our friend who was a Special Forces sniper in Vietnam had several adult beverages and started telling stories. Ed is still bitter about the war--he describes seeing B-52s flying out over Cam Ranh Bay and dumping their ordnance in the water, because daily quotas of bombs had to be "used." But his sniper stories are always vivid and compelling, and then he was talking about Carlos Hathcock for a while. There are lots of people who go around making stuff up about Vietnam, but Ed isn't one of them. One night, in the hooch together, Carlos asked him if he smoked his rounds. Ed was baffled until Carlos explained that he turned his oil lamp up high and sooted up his bullets so that they would be even less reflective. Reflections are death to the sniper.

Sunday was brunch with friends from the BC&S. A wonderful time as always. Ramses, Peter Wiggin, heatherfeather (much more talkative than last time, but just as sweet), Teri77, and XO were there. It took place at the near-Stalinist venue of the White Dog Cafe in the University City section of Philadelphia. But the food is so damn good that I ignore the politics of the place. I had the grits with shrimp--fabulous.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

My top ten film scores of all time...

10. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers by Howard Shore. All the themes from FOTR, plus a new Rohan theme lifted almost directly from James Horner's Braveheart score. Not nearly as emotional and moving as the FOTR music, though, and the vocal performance at the end by Emiliana Torrini does not even remotely compare to Enya's wonderful song in FOTR. But it's still good enough for my all-time top ten.

9. Glory by James Horner. Powerful, martial music with some great choral pieces.

8. The Mission by Ennio Morricone. Sort of atypical Morricone, but nonetheless his best. Gorgeous, magical choruses.

7. The Quick And The Dead by Alan Silvestri. Takes Morricone's "spaghetti western surf guitar" style, famous from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West, to its furthest evolution. A score as shamelessly stylized and heavy-handed as the film itself, which is one of my favorite Westerns of all time

6. Black Hawk Down by Hans Zimmer. Brooding, ominous, alien, and perfect.

5. Fellini's Casanova by Nino Rota. A huge guilty pleasure of mine. Nino Rota--justly famous from his incredibly familiar scores for the Godfather series--was a genius, one of the underrated composers of the entire 20th century, and this is his most ambitious score. Simultaneously a parody and a commentary on music from the period of Mozart and Salieri, and a fascinating cultural tour of Europe.

4. Little Women (1994) by David Newman. This music touches my heart whenever I hear it. It seems to be quite popular, and you hear it often on trailers for upcoming films, most recently in the one for The Majestic. It's unabashedly sentimental without feeling false or cloying

3. Starman (1983) by Jack Nitzsche. I love this music, I always have since the first time I saw this film. It's unfortunately all-electronic in a way that no studio film made today would be, but the music is so powerful that I don't care. I'd love to hear a good symphonic arrangement of this music--the one on Cinema Choral Classics III is pretty weak.

2. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by Howard Shore. Magnificent, emotional music that has one engaging moment after the other. The end theme is heartbreakingly sad and powerful and courageous at the same time.

1. Henry V by Patrick Doyle. Amazing that this one was a first score for Doyle. This score, especially the 14-minute-long Battle of Agincourt sequence, and the vocal Non Nobis Domine is one of my favorite pieces of music ever written.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Another antidote to the mainstream press, which seems to have all gone mad at once:

Theory of war lasting months not credible

In the surest possible sign that they intend to use chemical weapons, the Iraqis have announced their discovery that the Americans intend to use chemical weapons. It would be almost funny if the Stalinists and Jihadists who seem to make up the majority of the world's press (if the CENTCOM press conferences in Qatar are any indication) weren't going to lap it all up and feed it to the public as the truth.

One can almost write the headlines oneself:


The use of the passive voice in the title of any news story is almost always a sign of the most blatant ideological bias at work. When you say "questions are being raised" you are syntactically excused from mentioning who exactly is doing the raising until later in the story. This cute little trick allows the introduction of viewpoints from the most discredited, extremist sources into newspaper, television, and radio headlines.


Another technique to transform a nonstory into a story. Al-Jazeera will run the images of dead children with blood running out of their noses, intercut with footage of Iraqi officials demanding a UN investigation, and we'll be off and running.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Here is a story that would have brought tears to my father's eyes. I would recommend downloading and playing "Scotland the Brave" while reading it for full effect.

On the store front, it finally looks like our competitor The Secret Door has finally given up the ghost. This had been rumored for a long time, but apparently it's finally a reality.

And an email from Italy:
In Italy war is always condemned (and this is understandable), but I
keep on going out with my friends (even the no-global ones) proudly
wearing my T-shirts with the U.S. flag drawning on, and they are at
least managing to bear it. Today, while I was running around Parco
Sempione, I have seen two-three U.S. flags waving from some balconies.
There is hope, after all!

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

An interim grade of the nets' war coverage:

The best:

Fox: Still suffers from the tendency to miss the big story, as all the nets are prone to, but they are overcoming it. Their anchors, expecially the minor-leaguers, can ask really stupid questions. (Rita Cosby asking Henry Kissinger what he thought of the 101st grenade incident. Huh?). Tonight they had a wonderful story on Brit Hume's show about how the "fury" in the "Arab street" has all but disappeared after the first few days of the war, exactly as it did during the Afghan war. Their military analysts are the best, by far. And overall I love that Fox tries its best not to stab our men and women in the back. And for that, they get a B+

The middle:

CBS gets a medium grade, considering their wonderful report on the liberation of Umm Qasr on 60 Minutes 2 tonight, with its tears of genuine joy from the locals, the people who wouldn't appear on camera because there are still Baath agents around, and Marines saying "this is what we are here for." That and Andy Rooney attacking the French the other day. :)

MSNBC. Capable of the most stunning stupidity, as when they said today that the Iraqi armor leaving Basra today was "another setback for the Coalition." I laughed out loud when I heard that, considering how that worked out for the Iraqis. But I really think that most of the time they strive to be fair, and their military analysts aren't bad. C+

The worst:

CNN. So much evil. Their military analysts--Barry McCaffrey and Wesley Clark--have a definite Clintonian, anti-Bush agenda, which colors their remarks on the current conflict. They also feature Wolf Blitzer, who will burn in hell. In other words, the usual CNN crap. D.

NBC: Tom Brokaw seems to love American soldiers when they are 80 years old, but hates them when they are 20. Tonight he could barely contain his glee when interviewing Tom Ricks of the Washington Post, who has dusted off the same "quagmire" stories that the Post was publishing in October 2001, and simply changed the Afghan names to Iraqi ones for his story tomorrow. Katie Couric is looking more bitter and hateful every day, and Brian Williams's contempt for our military is the only thing filling his otherwise empty suit.F.

ABC: Just vile evil monstrous poison, every report, every day. Each Iraqi claim is taken at face value, every American report is sneered at. Peter Jennings drips hatred for America with every word. John McWethy's press conference questions are among the rudest and most cynical. F minus.

Monday, March 24, 2003

The local Giant supermarket suddenly changed the recipe for their hot wings.

They have been around a four. Mind you, a nice, tasty four, just enough to remind you that you're eating something. So imagine my surprise the other day when I tried one, and I tasted, beyond the usual tang of tomato, that ever-so-slight bitterness that lets you know that something fun is coming. Sure enough, after I finish, I start to feel the burning in the back of the throat, slowly advancing until it fills the entire mouth with searing pain, radiating to the other side of the lip, throbbing uniformly and unrelievedly until finally, a few minutes later, the first other tactile experience that I am able to notice is the sensation of tears running gently down the sides of my face.


I am overwhelmed by the war today and can't write anything coherent about it. Thank God there were no new lurid little anecdotes that the media could grotesquely and disproportionately focus on, so they were forced to look at the actual military situation, which overwhelmingly favors the good guys.

I found one of the most vivid descriptions of what the days to come will probably look like in an FR post by
wretchard which I shamelessly reproduce here:

Sunday, March 23, 2003

Stories almost completely unmentioned on TV:

U.S. Forces Building in North Iraq

Iraqi bodies litter plain as U.S. troops advance

The 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade covered roughly 230 miles in 40 hours to take positions about 100 miles from Baghdad

I really, really wish I could write something entirely frivolous, especially on today, International Frivolity Day (better known as Academy Awards Day). But I am feeling anything but frivolous.

I love Fox, and spend most of my time there. There is a basic, assumed pro-Americanism, and I don't think that should be too much to ask for. Nevertheless, there is a disturbing and infuriating tendency among all reporters, even at Fox, to take their eye off the ball and be distracted by the latest shiny new story.

The main story, the only real story, is the twin thrusts toward Baghdad led by the 7th Cavalry and the 3rd Infantry. That's what they should be focusing on. Baghdad will be invested very soon, probably tonight, and that's when everything will be decided. It's not that I don't care about the Americans taken prisoner by the scumbags, or the Patriot friendly-fire incident, but these are things that happen in war, things that we knew would happen.

In the overall scheme of things, the important effect of Iraq's executions of these American prisoners will be taken out on the Republican Guard divisions around Baghdad in the next three days.

The fact that there is still resistance at Basra and Umm Qasr is meaningless. They have been bypassed and sealed, in spite of all the silly carping of ignorant reporters on the subject.

Points to MSNBC for not believing the hype. I give them lots and lots of credit for spending much of the morning talking about the military goals of the campaign and what the future Iraq would look like, rather than transforming itself into al Jazeera West as CNN has essentially done.

Wolf Blitzer will burn in hell, that's all I will ever say about him from now on.

I'm reading a lot of reportage about the war on Free Republic, and the worst, absolutely the worst, is that of the Russians. The defeat in Afghanistan contrasted with our overwhelming success there seems to have infuriated them, and large parts of the Russian media seems to have dedicated itself to manufacturing stories of American defeats. I think they sense that Iraq:Chechnya as American conquest of Afghanistan: Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. They will be bitter about their recent military failures for a long time, but, in the big scheme of things, this hardly matters. Russia, at the moment, is a joke, and they will be a joke for a while.

I will hate Turkey for a long time. It would be one thing if they had declared themselves off limits to U.S. ground troops. Then the 4th Infantry would have simply moved to Kuwait, and we'd have a third force advancing toward Baghdad from the south. But they dithered and delayed for weeks, and now we have the 4th in the middle of the Suez Canal while other Americans are in harm's way. I will have a problem with one nickel of American money being spent on Turkey from now on.

Shortly before noon EST, the Jerusalem Post reported the first capture of a chemical weapons production plant, near An Najaf. Waiting for the nets to discuss this story.

General Bob Scales on Fox is my hero. He is describing what is coming up for the Republican Guard when our armor arrives in the Baghdad area, the appalling slaughter they are setting up for. "And it will happen at night."

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Yes, I've been attached to the TV the last few days. I love the embedded reporters travelling with the 3rd, the 7th Cav, and the 101st Airborne, and even the most bitterly lefty of the nets love them too; even CNN pauses from its celebration of American casualties to say gee-whiz, let's look in on Walter Rodgers with the 7th, and for once CNN is actually watchable.

My brakes seem to have a problem today, so I may not go to the store. I will see how it drives.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

"After ten years in the game industry, I came to appreciate the company of lichens."--Luigi

A wonderful day that started out horribly. I got up at an obscenely early hour and made it to the airport on time, but the Italians weren't there. Apparently someone confused an America West flight with an American Airlines flight, and I went to the wrong terminal. So I just drove up to the store and waited for their call, which came a little after 10 AM. They just took a cab to the Bellevue Stratford in Center City Philly, so I drove downtown to meet them.

Fortunately there were no antiwar protestors blocking the streets around City Hall, which, dear correspondent, saved me from several hours of fantasies of channelling Lizzie Grubman. As it was, I only had to endure the usual horrors of downtown Philadelphia: Bums demanding money, rapacious parking lot attendants ("Che ladri maledetti!" I said out loud to the Italians as I paid $11.00 for my 20-minute stay), streets maintained by union labor, and traffic signs devised by Philadelphia Public School System graduates.

I had dearly missed Luigi and Silvio, and it was great to get caught up. Luigi just got his doctorate, and may go for another one in botany, and may apply for a green card.He is such an Americaphile, and seems to have become even more so after September 11th, when some of his very moving letters (which he shared with me) were pubished in Milan newspapers. He is disgusted with antiwar protesters in his country (Silvio's wife Kelly called during their visit and reported that they had shut down every major street in Milan, and killed sales at Silvio's store today).

Silvio seems to be doing extremely well. His franchising network (16 stores) is larger than Giovanni's largest point, and he's waiting for the opportunity to buy up the old company's remaining assets as soon as the bankruptcy judge permits it.

And there were stories. The one that made me cringe the most was the one about my nutty Bahai friend in Milan who showed up at the warehouse on via Frigia when they were shutting down. She apparently demanded that everyone sign a petition against some overpass or something, and got hysterical when they refused. Sigh. "She was not my girlfriend," I insisted.

And a Stefano story (not his real name). Stefano was a friend of Giovanni's, a rabid Communist from his radical days, a guy who Giovanni enjoyed having around in what I think was a mixture of nostalgia and a need to have an authentic "working man" around among all the snotnosed intellectuals and comic book geeks who populated his company. He was very kind to me, but among the Italians he always displayed a degree of class-consciousness that is almost impossible for Americans to understand. His favorite phrase was always quelli lassu ("the ones upstairs"--in other words, the bosses), always spoken under the breath. (Luigi once asked him who quelli lassu were--God? Angels? and got a dirty look). Luigi would occasionally try to bring him coffee, which Stefano always refused.

Stefano operated the casting machine, which made the entire miniatures production part of the company dependent on him. But he never understood that his skills made him more or less irreplaceable. As time went on he got more and more paranoid, telling everyone around him that Giovanni and Lucrezia were obviously plotting to get rid of him. When the Sri Lankan immigrant who was the company janitor took the same subway car one day, Stefano accused the company of sending the guy to "spy" on him. And at the end, when the lights went out because the electrical bill hadn't been paid, Stefano said it was part of the plot against him.

Such a revealing story about that particular ideological state of mind.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

I have begun the Augean labors of major housecleaning, and I am already encountering the usual serendipity problem. My house is so cluttered with junk that pretty much wherever I go to clean I will encounter something I had forgotten about, and be captivated by it. Today's exhibit is a huge trove of restaurant business cards from my earlier life. Each one is a vivid, and not always welcome, memory.

On the front full-color picture of a typical German hotel with fat and happy Germans Pension zum Rosenbaum 39010 NALS Sudtirol. This was a restaurant I took Penny to in Bolzano when she came to visit me in Italy. Bolzano was a place I had always wanted to visit, and it lived up to my expectations: All the cleanliness and order of Germany, all the charm and warmth (and climate) of northern Italy, in a magnificent vineyarded valley surrounded by the Dolomites. What makes me sad to find it is the other side of the card, which is a calendar of the year 1998.

Kartoffel Haus, Frankenstrasse 423, 4300 Essen. I have Essen memorized, but I was only there three times, once in 1995 with Chessex (where I paid my own way to the show, and worked at the booth), and in 1996 and 97 with Stratelibri. Essen is a small, utterly charmless city in the middle of the Ruhr, and I remember it not for the biggest-in-the-world game fair, but for the people I spent time with there, Holger and Uli and the other Uli, and Fitzroy demanding schwein, which led us to the Kartoffel Haus.

Porcao Churrascaria, via Abaddesse 30, 20124 Milano. Once, Giovanni took me to this glorious Brazilian restaurant for a meeting with A., that rare person, a competitor that Giovanni didn't despise. A. came from money but not from sense, and was forever outbidding everyone in Italy for licenses, but never managing to get any product out. In conversation he would only speak about the other licenses he planned to buy in the future, while Giovanni sat there deadpan, encouraging him to buy even more things. Baiting A. was one of Giovanni's favorite pastimes.

Coppa d'Oro Ristorante-Pizzeria Italo-Cinese, via Monfalcone 1, 20099 Sesto San Giovanni. Sesto San Giovanni was the suburb immediately north of Milan, and I would walk to this place, about a mile and a half away from where I lived. I only got pizza there, though--it always like there was something terribly wrong about ordering Chinese food in Italy. This was the only place in Sesto that I could stand--everyone else in that silly town would glare at me when they found out that I was an American, and made it a point to inform me smugly that their last vacation was in Cuba. Not the friendly Chinese people at the Coppad'Oro, though--they were always happy to take my money.

Tadsch Mahal, Frauentorgraben 39, 8500 Nurnberg. I've been to four Nuremberg Toy Fairs, the last one in 2000, which was the last time I was ever in Europe; every time there I would go to two places: a Konditorei in the middle of the old city which has the greatest desserts I have ever tasted, and the Tadsch Mahal, which is a lovely Indian restaurant. (I don't have the same reluctance to eat nonindigenous food in Germany that I do in Italy, obviously).

L'Orlogio, via Bellotti 4, 20129 Milano. Giovanni's favorite restaurant. He would go there only occasionally, as if he didn't want to get too used to it.

Lakruwana Gourmet Restaurant, 358 West 44th, New York, NY. The only Sri Lankan restaurant I've ever eaten in. I ate there with Giovanni when he came to the New York Toy Fair in February 1997, a trip which was the longest sustained period I've ever spent in Manhattan, and at the time I came to like it far too much. But I don't think Giovanni ever recovered physically from this trip, and that in retrospect makes the memory a bitter one.

Neecha, 2100 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA 94115. A Thai place I went to in February 2001 with Norman and Quan when she and I went out to visit him. As usual, I challenged the chef to make the curry too hot for me to eat.

Monday, March 17, 2003


This gets very political. You have been warned.

"The United States of America has the sovereign authority to use force in assuring its own national security."

That line just gave me chills. The very act of using the terms "United States of America" and "sovereign" in the same sentence is a political statement, a raised middle finger to the U.N.

"That duty falls to me as commander of chief by the oath I have sworn, by the oath I will keep."

It's a very straightforward statement of intent, but the part about oath-keeping, as it will be for every President from now on who talks about honor and fidelity, cannot but amount to, subtextually, a raised middle finger to Clinton. The rumors about Clinton being the next UN Secretary General, by the way, make perfect sense; WJC would be a perfect fit at the temple of sanctimony on the East River.

"The tyrant will soon be gone. The day of your liberation is near."

Simultaneously a prediction and a plain statement of fact.

"...the American people can know that every measure has been taken to avoid war, and every measure will be taken to win it."

A veiled warning to Saddam.

"No act of theirs can alter the course or shake the resolve of this country. We are a peaceful people -- yet we're not a fragile people, and we will not be intimidated by thugs and killers."

Simultaneously a declaration and a challenge.

"Terrorists and terror states do not reveal these threats with fair notice, in formal declarations -- and responding to such enemies only after they have struck first is not self-defense, it is suicide."

The sound you hear is the horrified, collective clucking and tut-tutting of the Kofis and Hanses and Jacqueses of the world, who are sounding more and more like Margaret Dumont in a Marx Brothers movie.

"The security of the world requires disarming Saddam Hussein now."

Another blasphemy. For the UN apparat, security is utterly nonjudgemental.

"And when the dictator has departed, they can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation."

Interesting that this belief now gets ridiculed by members of what was at one point the party of Wilson. Clinton really did change everything for the Democrats.

"That is the future we choose."

The resolve and decisiveness of this little statement are so American, so dismissive of the passivity and complacency which are the hallmark of socialism, I can easily understand why the UN bureaucrats would hate it. All I can say is, long may that middle finger wave.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

First of all, people who produce those full-page pop-up ads that fill your entire screen should go immediately to jail. I mean, regular pop-up ads are one thing, but the ones that you can't click out of and force you to hit Ctrl+Alt+Delete just to get the hell out of them should be subect to criminal liability. I just lost 2000 words I had written here, and I am not happy.

So I will recreate part of it, specifically my list of Top Ten Movies I am looking forward to:

10. Elektra: Assassin. For the shallowest of reasons.

9. Kill Bill More curiosity than anything, but a Quentin Tarantino martial arts movie makes for a whole lot of curiosity.

8. Cold Mountain. Jude Law as Ulysses and Nicole Kidman as Penelope, set in the chaos of the post-Civil War South. I read this book in one afternoon at my brother's house two years ago, and I loved it.

7. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions. Both of them a long time coming, plus they both feature Monica Bellucci. They must be seen.

6. Marlowe. Jude Law as Shakeseare and Johnny Depp as Kit Marlowe. Go ahead, purge the horrible memory of Shakespeare in Love. Please.

5. The Chronicles of Riddick. "An evil Star Wars," says David Touhy of his return to the universe of Pitch Black, and Vin is highly enthusiastic. That is all I need to hear.

4. A Mighty Wind. The latest Christopher Guest faux-documentary with his usual repertory company, this time about washed-up Sixties folksingers. I am there.

3. Gates of Fire. The Battle of Thermopylae, 480 B.C. 300 Spartans and a few thousand other Greeks against a 200,000-man Persian army, with George Clooney as Leonidas. Attention Hollywood: This movie better get made. Brad Pitt as Achilles and Leonardo DiCaprio as Alexander the Great are not acceptable substitutes.

2. The Passion. Mel Gibson directs the Stations of the Cross in Aramaic and Latin with no subtitles. So utterly subversive to the dominant culture, I can't wait. And did I mention Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene?

1. Return of the King. Needless to say.

Friday, March 14, 2003

I wrote this in an email to a friend of mine who was soliciting advice on what to do with her time once all of her kids are in school:

If I were laid off tomorrow, I would immediately start an internet business. I would have done it already, but I really have no time with my fulltime job. Minimal overhead, cost depending on how you want to set it up. As to what to sell, it would be whatever you felt passionate about, whatever junk you like to collect. Or don’t even bother with that and just start an ebay business for no overhead at all, and just sell crap you find at garage sales. It just seems that if you wanted to earn money, this would be a lot more interesting and fulfilling than most quickie jobs you could get.

I tried to start an ebay business with the store, but I quickly found that it was impossible to do in my spare time, especially with the store so far away from where I live. I was doing all the work, paying for postage out of my own pocket, and getting no support from anyone. The end was when we sold this expensive statue on ebay, and just this once I decided to let Bob and Snapp send it out for me. The next Saturday I walk in and there's the package, sitting starkly behind the counter like the monolith in 2001 a Space Odyssey. "Uh...I guess the label came off and it came back," was the story. No one thought to, uh, maybe, re-label it and send it out again? Apparently not. So I had to take it and ship it myself, vowing never to do this again. I would do it again, but only if I didn't have a fulltime job, and could supervise the process myself, and pay for postage out of the store's money.

And, by popular demand....

Thursday, March 13, 2003


Tonight I put together and primered some preview miniatures we got from a manufacturer, and it's made me more ambitious. As some of you know, I have always been the biggest dinosaur geek in the world. It so happens that Reaper Miniatures has a 25mm (roughly 1/48 scale) Tyrannosaurus coming out in April that is just gorgeous, and it must be mine. So I'm thinking of making a 25mm diorama with the Reaper T-Rex facing the Triceratops from Jeff Valent Studios, and with scratch-built Cretaceous-era scenery.

Hey, I told you I was a geek.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Irritated. I have a little library research I can do on the book locally, but Swarthmore (where I do almost all of my incidental research) is on spring break this week. What I really need to do is the main bit of work which can only be done at the Library of Congress in Washington, and for that I'll need to set aside a few days. With Bob away at the Gama Trade Show in Las Vegas next week, I will have to wait at least a week longer.

Also, Silvio Negri and Luigi LoForti, who used to work with me at Stratelibri in Milan, are visiting me next Thursday the 20th. After their trip to GTS they are stopping over in Philly for a day to visit me. Which thrills and delights and, yes, saddens me--because every recollection of Stratelibri saddens me. Even today, their website still floats there in cyberspace, a dead, empty shell existing for no other reason except to torment me. If you click on "News" and then "L'Opinione" you can even see one of my columns for their magazine Excalibur that I wrote in 1998. Don't get me wrong...I loved my time in Italy, and I love the people I met there, and it was absolutely necessary for me to go there. But the way things ended was so tragic. I need to talk about this more sometime, about Giovanni and what his friendship meant to me. When I returned to the USA I managed to compartmentalize the experience to the point where, when Luigi called me up in September 1998 to tell me that Giovanni had died, I hardly mourned at all, not because I was indifferent, but because the experience was so far away in many ways. I am not explaining this well, but I am working on it.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

I bought a scratch-built Games Workshop model for the store from Lance Kandler, sight unseen. It was a former Games Day 1999 centerpiece used for a massive Warhammer Fantasy battle, a huge ruined Undead castle. Lance dropped it off with Bob at Cold Wars and of course I fell in love with it immediately. There is an incredible amount of detail that the builder (Ed Spettigue) put into it--holes in the walls where you can see all these little vignettes of skeletons sitting around a table drinking, arguing with each other, etc. It's hilarious. Bob of course wants to "modify" it so it can be played with in a variety of games, but I look on it as a work of art and don't want it touched. We should have pictures of it on the store website in a few weeks.

Lunch at Lapp's in Lancaster, which is actually on my list of favorite restaurants, a real oddball among a group of places mostly in Milan, Pordenone, Paris, Manhattan, and Philadelphia. It's just my favorite comfort-food place in the world. Today I had a chicken-pot pie, which is something that I almost never eat.

I'm loving, of all things, the new Johnny Cash CD When the Man Comes Around for all the cool covers (JC singing Trent Reznor is amazing), and especially for the title track, which is adapted (you'd love it, peasie) from the Book of Revelations, and is all apocalyptic and all....

The hairs on your arms will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into that potter's ground
When the Man comes around?

Saturday, March 08, 2003

It all comes back to me, every time I do this: I was not meant to be in retail sales. When Bob does these shows, I get stuck behind the counter, trying to remember the programming on the cash register while customers stand there wondering why this idiot is waiting on them, and why can't Bob be around anyway. And things drive me crazy. The rug is the second room here was just filthy, and after a while I couldn't take it anymore and ran the vacuum in the middle of the day--fortunately there were no customers in the shop at that time to receive even more proof of what a maniac I am.

And then we had Shadowrun preview figures from Toy Fair that Bob left in the packaging on the counter, like we're a frickin' museum, which drives me even more crazy. So I kept my sanity by liberating the figs from their clamshells and setting them up on the counter so people could play with them. I mean, we are a game store, aren't we? Right? Right.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Tears of the Sun is almost historic. It may also prove to be something of an anomaly--more on that later--but its existence at all is a little remarkable. I'm referring to the way this movie not only makes its villains Muslims, but also identifies them as Muslims in a way that recent films have declined to do: The Chechen bad guys at the beginning of Proof of Life, for example, are called the Chechen nationalist militia rather than the Jihadists that they are. Other films, like The Siege, dutifully trot out "good" Muslim characters who pat the increasingly somnolent audience on the head while delivering narrative-deadening lectures about how these terrorists aren't "true" Muslims, yadda yadda yadda. Tears of the Sun, on the other hand, has nothing mealy-mouthed about it: The villains are openly identified as Muslim ethnic Fulanis (the same group that brought us the recent Miss World massacres), and their victims Christian ethnic Ibos. To a viewer of current American cinema, the bold simplicity of the statement is, frankly, a little stunning.

Is it any good? Well, yeah, I liked it. It's a solemn, sedate film about a group of Navy Seals rescuing a doctor from ethnic carnage in Nigeria. If I were to include it in the range of recent war films, it's nowhere near as good as Black Hawk Down (a film to which it has some similarities), but infinitely better than Windtalkers. I even liked it more than We Were Soldiers, which shares TotS's sentimentality and heavyhandedness. So what did I like about it?

For all that goodness, I fear the tone of TotS may not be seen again much. What I suspect about this film is that it was written or greenlighted not long after 9/11, and the beliefs we see and hear in the film are strongly influenced by that event. When one of the Seals says to a Fulani gunman over the body of one of his victims, "Look at your work, motherfucker" before he kills him--it feels like a 9/11 vengeance fantasy.

But lately it feels like the spell that produced this film has worn off, and Hollywood is tending back to its normal America-hating, moral-relativizing, Stalinist-propagandizing self. The recent release of the quintessential Americaphobic movie of all time, The Quiet American, points to this. So all in all, Tears of the Sun may simply be, in years to come, an oddball film, a pure ideological anomaly.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

I drove out to Cold Wars tonight using the usual back road and soon realized my foolish tactical mistake when I got to crawl on 20 miles of black ice till I slid into Lancaster. I winced when I saw the Amish horse and buggies making their way on the icy road; for them in this weather with all the cars sliding around, it must be terrifying.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

I had a long conversation today with Ed Wimble , while his African Grey parrot shrieked in the background. Ed is one of my best friends, but I see him rarely more than once a year--when we drive out to Columbus Ohio around Fourth of July weekend for Origins, where I work at the
Clash of Arms booth with him. I've known him since 1975 when we were in college together.

Always a connoisseur of great stories, Ed was telling me about his struggles to get his line of American Revolution games into gift shops at the national parks, and the people he encountered there. There was the guy who had given a massive donation earmarked for the upkeep of the
Fort Mifflin National Historical Site which was, shall we say, re-appropriated by the current Philadelphia city government. There was the black reenactor friend of his who was harangued outside the Germantown Historical Society by Black Muslims who demanded that he
acknowledge "that the Moors were here before Columbus." And my favorite involved, as so often, the French.

This certain game designer--we'll call him Francois--had a Napoleonic game that a friend of Ed's was going to publish an English version of here in the USA. Suddenly, a few weeks ago, came a feverish email from Francois: He would not allow his game to appear in America if there was
a war in Iraq! Ed's friend calmly pointed out that there was a signed contract, one totally devoid of any "Iraq" exclusions. But Francois was hardly deterred--instead, he demanded that his name be taken off the project. (A brief editorial note from your narrator--these kinds of Napoleonic simulation games have print runs of maybe a thousand to two thousand, and sell to an audience so tiny that every single person who could potentially be a buyer for this game already knows exactly who the
designer is, rendering the gesture equal parts symbolic and silly). But the French remain, as always, good for entertainment.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Already it's another busy weekend coming up. Thursday night I have to drive out to Lancaster, PA after work and help Bob set up at Cold Wars, then work *for real* in the store Saturday, then I have to go out Sunday and help him break down. But it's absolutely necessary--the historical shows are the biggest moneymakers we have. I had wanted to fit in both Gods and Generals and Tears of the Sun this weekend, but it seems unlikely.

Just a tired, down day today. I received the expected email from my friend, rubbing in the guilt for last weekend when I didn't go to a party I'd been invited to. I had a legitimate excuse, being crushed up against a deadline for the magazine, but of course I could have scheduled things differently if I'd really wanted to. Mainly what it is is that I just have no patience for larger social events right now.

"The death agony was terrible. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of fear of death . . . Then he suddenly lifted his left hand. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace . . . The next moment, after a final effort, the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh."
--Stalin's death, fifty years ago today, as described by his daughter

Monday, March 03, 2003


It was great to spend some time with my sister, even though she is fully in the throes of EverQuest addiction. You may know the feeling--the nagging sensation that this person would rather be gutting a Ruritanian Chaos Gnoll with a bunch of fifteen-year-olds than talking to you. But I had missed her nonetheless, and while we didn't have our usual multiple-hour conversations, we did talk for a while about that book of endless delights, Paul Johnson's The Intellectuals. And all of her kids were there, and I had missed them terribly.

I have basically finished with Against the Odds # 4, except for the final proofing. But there is the oddly-difficult process of building an article inventory for the forthcoming issues. I met with Steve at the store Saturday and we talked about this--he's commisioned a bunch from our most prolific writer Andy Nunez, and may have to slap pseudonyms on some of them if we don't get more contributions soon (I mentioned the career of the science fiction writer Robert Silverberg in the fifties when he was so prolific that he would write entire issues of Famous Fantastic Mysteries or somesuch by himself under five or six different pseudonyms). But the work is never done. I have to look over an article that was partially published in the final issue of a defunct magazine and see if we want it for ATO with the parts that weren't published.

And Saturday was busy at the store, and with the car problem I didn't get home until 1:30 in the morning. This past weekend was the first time I have ever felt like I'm working 3 jobs. But of course I *am* working three jobs. I'm only starting to notice.

Still playing around.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?