In Which I tell Real Simple Magazine about zombies

Real Simple magazine ran a piece on Zombies in this year’s October magazine, and guess who’s quoted in the article?  Thanks to Kate Booth for sending me the pictures.

Real Simple Oct 2015
Real Simple Oct 2015

Real Simple history of zombies
Real Simple history of zombies (click for full size)
Real Simple story closeup
Real Simple story close up

I inadvertently took June off from blogging

It’s been a busy month around here, working on writing projects and creative projects and, well, work.  In all that time, I’ve just fallen off the blogging train.  Sorry about that!

Quick updates:

Not much reading this month.  I read Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.  It was good.

Plenty of gaming.  It was my birthday this month, which became a gameapalooza, and should keep me sated for a while.  Here are the games I got, along with my impressions of them:

  • Gates of Arkham expansion for Elder Sign.  Wicked hard, but fun so far.
  • Titanic the board game.  Haven’t played it yet.  Looks like it will likely be fun as a novelty more than as a game to play a lot.
  • Ladies and Gentlemen.  Funny game that will be great in a big group.
  • A Netrunner expansion.  Haven’t had a chance to dig into that yet.
  • Galaxy Trucker.  Really fun so far — looking forward to more plays of this.
  • Agricola.  I can’t wait to try this one.
  • Cthulhu’s Vault, a kickstarter that showed up right around my birthday.  A storytelling game that looks cool.

Wow.  Lots of great gaming ahead.  I’ll try to get back to blogging more regularly.

Shake us and we rattle…

Some friends and I have been working at some board games, recently, and we’re very near to putting our first print-n-play game up for people to see, try, download, and so on.  As part of the project, I’m starting to tweet and blog over on that website occasionally, so that there’s content there, and stuff.  Please head over and check it out:

Rattlebox Games
Rattlebox Games

Anyway, when I post on the blog over there, I’ll do a little snippet here to let y’all know.  Here’s the first one…

attempt to move to a new tile

…The crux of the problem is a single word, part of that rule.  It says “a mouse can attempt to move to a new tile.”  The other half of the problem for me was that at other places in the game, when you ‘attempt’ something, you have to roll a die, trying to get an asterisk.  Since the rule said “attempt,” I presumed this was something you could fail.  And we spent much of the first game playing with my made-up ‘attempt’ roll in place.  Since Mice and Mystics also punishes you for going too slowly on an empty board, we encountered way more monsters than we should have, and the game took a lot longer than it was supposed to.  All from one word…. (link)

I hope to see you there!

On Baltimore

Thinking about Baltimore this morning, I recall this Martin Luther King Jr quote I read a few years ago:

It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. (link)

To be clear, Dr. King isn’t advocating violence.  In fact, his commitment to nonviolent protest got stronger in the face of the 1960s riots.  But to condemn violent protest or violent action as a simple matter is, I think, a kind of intellectual dishonesty.

My thoughts are with Baltimore today.

One more week

La Horde

The busiest time of the year, for me, is early January.  It’s crunch time over at the PCA, where we’re solidifying our schedule, finishing registration, and getting ready for the conference.  We’re preparing for a new semester at Columbia College Chicago, so there are syllabi to finalize and other administrative work to do.  And I’m teaching my zombie class, which is five-six hours of class and screening each day.

So please forgive the pre-written posts.  I’ll get back to more timely stuff after next week.

In which I pontificate for the Southern Hemisphere

Zombie on a bench shrugs at bemused bystander
Photo: Lee Besford, Sydney Morning Herald

I did an interview with Kenji Sato of Sydney, Australia’s 2ser 107.3, on the nature of zombie stories.  Take a listen.

In which I say zombies represent the “downfall of civilization”

All About zombies (Delaware Online)

I was interviewed by Delaware Online for an article about zombies.  Check it out:

It’s a scary, uncertain world: Ebola, ISIS, road rage and home invasions. No wonder we find comfort in zombies, ghosts and creatures of the night.

Zombies represent “the downfall of civilization,” said Brendan Riley, an associate professor of English at Columbia College of Chicago, who teaches an intensive, three-week winter session course that covers the evolution of zombies in film. “We see society falling apart … I find that pretty chilling.”

Yet zombie fear is fleeting. We know – or are pretty sure – the nondead aren’t real. The same isn’t true for ghosts. (link)

I notice the reporter (who was very nice) had to paraphrase me a lot.  I need to remember to speak in short, pithy phrases.

The Death Star Contractor problem and Agents of SHIELD

Watching episode 203 of Agents of SHIELD (the one with the ice guy), I couldn’t help but remember this scene from Clerks:

Because this is one of the first episodes where we see very much inside Hydra, it’s the first where we realize just how much Hydra matches SHIELD.  Like SHIELD, Hydra has secret facilities and awesome technology; like SHIELD, Hydra has world-class scientists and files on everything; and like SHIELD, Hydra has amazing brand management.  It’s always struck me just how much care the SHIELD graphics and art design departments take to brand everything SHIELD.  But this makes sense, in some ways.  The FBI has all sorts of FBI-branded stuff, doesn’t it?

But check this out:

Hydra Jacket

Here we see a Hydra agent being scoped out by a SHIELD sniper.  Right there on her back is a Hydra logo.  We also saw the Hydra logo any number of times in the facility we got to see this episode.  The attention to bureaucratic detail is amazing.  Of course, it’s easy to paint a logo on a wall.  But getting an embroidered jacket?  I love the idea that Hydra not only tasked someone with getting standard jackets for their military operations, but also that they had to get those jackets embroidered. Without uniform jackets, it’s hard to tell who’s a henchman and who isn’t.  Additionally, consider that for most of Hydra’s existence, its nature was so secret that these jackets would have been a dangerous liability. That means these were made since the events of Captain America: Winter Soldier, roughly six months ago. It just seems like a funny thing to have to spend their time on.

Of course, this is the reality of any massive human organization — a certain amount of energy will need to be spent on the overhead of keeping it running smoothly.  Which is where Agents of SHIELD makes an interesting link back to real life.  Here’s an piece from NPR:

The Internet is abuzz with the news of a scathing employee performance review given to an associate of al-Qaida’s North African branch. The employee in question, a man by the name of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, is criticized for neglecting his expense reports, blowing off meetings and wasting his employer’s money, among other complaints.

The juxtaposition is both absurd and macabre: murderous terrorist network as Office Space. It just seems so unlikely that individuals who claim responsibility for taking hundreds of lives also engage in the sort of passive-aggressive bureaucratic sniping we associate with innocuous office jobs.

“Who knew that being an international terrorist was less like James Bond and more like Dilbert?” asked a commenter on Reddit. (link)

We see similar reports now about ISIS and its effective propaganda wing, which is run with a net savvy that you know some Fortune 500 companies are studying.  So the idea of a bureaucracy building up around a massive undertaking seems inevitable.  And thus, it’s not only conceivable that Hydra would have embroidered jackets, it’s almost inevitable.  I do wish they’d used the last sequence to show the man who led this mission sitting in front of his computer, filling out a form to explain the agents and equipment lost on the mission, grumbling about his TPS reports.

3 anecdotes that shape my thoughts on #GamerGate – Boy Scouts, a Cat in the Trash, and a Clockwork Orange

If you don’t know what #GamerGate is, you should be glad.  It’s awful.  Here’s a summary if you don’t know.

Here’s my TL;DR for you:

1. Over the last couple years, a few feminists have been pointing out that many video games perpetuate sexist stereotypes about women, and make little room for women in their stories and gameplay.  The locus of this conversation has been Anita Sarkeesian and her Feminist Frequency video channel.  When Sarkeesian decided to make a series of videos about women in games a couple years ago, some members of the “gamer” community lost its mind, and many members of it began harassing her relentlessly, triggering the Streisand effect and getting Sarkeesian far more money than she would have gotten originally (full disclosure, I pitched in $10 specifically because of this harassment).  The abuse and harassment has not stopped for Sarkeesian in the time since her project began.

2. Sometime recently, the ex-boyfriend of a game developer named Zoe Quinn posted a long rant about what an awful person he thought she was, and she suddenly became the object of all sorts of viciousness and abuse from the net’s most visible denizen of ne’er-do-wells, 4chan’s /b/ forum.  As part of this vitriol, accusations were made that Quinn used sex to advance her games and/or get favorable reviews from game journalists.

3. Hence, #GamerGate, a scandal about games journalism and corruption in game reviewing.  Supposedly.  Except that the hate, vitriol, harassment, abuse, and threats against women are inextricably linked with the people mad about how game reviews are written.  And the loci from which the discussions of the scandal spring are the same, so there’s no way an outsider could understand or see how the individuals inside those groups imagine them to be different.

My intent in writing this piece is not to argue the merits of game journalism corruption, nor to condemn the harassment of women in the gaming industry (which I do hereby condemn) but rather to think about the way the denizens of #GamerGate have handled the accusations that it’s a front for women-harassing assholes.  I have three anecdotes and a thought to share.

1. I was a Boy Scout as a kid, and I have a lot of fond memories of the organization.  But in the last twenty years, a conservative arm of the group has taken over leadership of it and made a number of terrible policies excluding gay leaders and scouts.  I find these decisions appalling, and not in keeping with either the spirit of inclusiveness that is supposed to be at the heart of scouts, nor with the non-demoninational morality the group claims to have.  Hence, because I disagree with these prominent choices associated with the group, I’ve withdrawn my support of it, and won’t be involved with it.

2. In 2010, when a lady was caught on video throwing a cat in a trash can, 4chan found and published her identifying information in less than 24 hours.  Apparently they sent threats and other horrible things her way while they were at it, but my point here is that when they’re angry, this roving group of nuclear id can bring powerful pain down on people they don’t like.  If they really cared about the individuals harassing women in the name of #GamerGate, they would self-police.  Send a threatening tweet? Feel the fury of 4chan.  They have shown themselves to be resourceful, active detectives of the digital sphere.  Failure to act against bad actors in their midst speaks volumes.

3. Anthony Burgess’ novel A Clockwork Orange features a third act (or fifth?  I can never tell which is which) that Stanley Kubrick left out of the film.  The narrator serves his time in prison and tries to return to his old ways, only to find that he’s outgrown them.  He finds that uncivilized behavior, while appealing to youth, creates a false present-hedonism that hampered his ability to be a human being as he grew.  It’s a moment of growth that’s missing from the film.  We learn that groups of young men are particularly good at getting one another to do awful things, but in the long run, those awful things undermine society and the very humanity of the people committing them.

But then I saw this comic (via @granitetide), and it sums up much of what the casual observer will think about #GamerGate.


A final thought:

As Ken White at Popehat has often written, the answer to speech we don’t like is more speech.  Individuals who use their power to try to stop other people from speaking should be opposed with all the strength we can muster, as hampering free and open dialogue cuts to the core of what makes America great.  But the constitutional right to say whatever you like does not mean such statements are ethical or moral. Words have meaning, and have an effect on the people at whom they’re directed.  To associate with people who are acting unconscionably is to endorse that behavior.  The #GamerGate label has been poisoned from the beginning.  It was always-already infused with women-hating harassment, and any attempt to claim a higher ethical purpose cannot be extricated from these roots.If you don’t like how games journalism works, write about games journalism.  If you don’t like the tale that Sarkeesian is telling about how games work, critique that tale.  But to threaten her and her supporters, to harass and frighten opposition across the web, and to demand that people join your worldview or face terror is to forego freedom for tyranny.

In which I am cited as yet another bad example

The Journal Courier is a central Illinois newspaper that thinks college classes about popular culture are all about attracting students.  A prime example of this “trendy” move? You guessed it:

A few years ago, universities realized they had to show they were more than just stuffy places with ivory towers and doctors with bow-ties. College-age society was changing and institutions of higher learning had to adapt.

Without that epiphany, we would never have classes like “The Textual Appeal of Tupac Shakur” (Washington University), “Zombies in Popular Media” (Columbia of Chicago) or “Street Fighting Mathematics” (MIT). (don’t bother reading the article)

They could at least get our college’s name right.

Archbishop John Nienstedt should be ashamed of himself.

"Hands together" by Danny Hammontree
“Hands Together” by Danny Hammontree
(cc licensed)

Archbishop John Nienstedt asked Jaime Moore, the longtime music director for St. Victoria parish in Victoria, MN, to resign after Moore married his longtime same-sex partner.  Nienstedt should be ashamed of himself.

We’ve long understood that the Bible is a hot mess of contradictions.  Aside from confusions introduced by its translation into other languages, there are clear contradictions between the new and old testament, or in which things we’ve decided are or are not still important to God. (See The Year of Living Biblically for a good discussion of this.)

But over time, as the secular, enlightenment understanding of humanity has evolved, we’ve come to see that the ancient view of “sin” was grounded in the specifics of the time those books were written, and that in order to properly understand why something is or isn’t wrong, we need to continually re-asses and explore that issue.  For a good example of how we’ve come to reinterpret, from a modern perspective, old “sins,” consider slavery.  (The Iron Chariots wiki is a good place to start.)  Miscegenation (the ‘mixing’ of the ‘races’) is another example, something whose position was first defended, then refuted by the religious faith people had.  See The Oatmeal for a scathing and hilarious comic rendering of this idea.

Which brings us to the modern moment.  Gay rights in the U.S. have reached a tipping point where, as John Oliver suggested, it’s not about which state will legalize gay marriage next, but rather which will be the last to do so.  And so even the Catholic church has begun to wake from its slumber, like Smaug hearing Bilbo stumbling around in the gold pile. Last spring, Pope Francis said:

“Rather than quickly condemn them, let’s just ask the questions as to why that has appealed to certain people.” and “We shouldn’t marginalise people for this. They must be integrated into society.”  (The Telegraph)

This seems to me the moment for leaders of the Catholic church to join the rest of us in the 21st century (hell, the last two decades of the 20th century).  They ought to take a deep look at the past issues of human rights (particularly race relations and slavery in the U.S.) and ask themselves how this issue is different.  Even if they still understand homosexual acts to be sinful (but gleefully eat lobster), the supposedly inclusive message of Jesus and the recent comments by the Pope would suggest that this is the opportunity for the church to respond not with shaming or shunning (or marginalizing), but with love.

Instead, Archbishop Nienstedt chose not to stand with right, but to stand with tradition only.  For shame, sir.

Full disclosure — I was raised Catholic but am now Unitarian Universalist. My mother attends St. Victoria parish and our family been lucky enough to count Mr. Moore among our friends for more than a decade.

I’m back, Baby

In early February of 2014, my blogs got hit with an automated hack that took them down, hard.  I was in the middle of preparing for the Popular Culture Association / American Culture Association conference, so I took them offline (along with most of my website) “until I had time to deal with the situation.”  Now we’re six months later and I’m only now getting the ol’ beast running again.  Nonetheless, here we are.

"north sydney lamppost 2" by Jaqi
“north sydney lamppost 2” by Jaqi

I’m going to post-date a couple posts to fill in brief news from February – today, and after that it’s back to blogging.

July 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

July was a fun month.  We took a family trip in the pop up camper to Mackinac Island and the UP before joining friends at a campground in eastern Wisconsin.  Highlights:

  • Playing cards in the camper in the rain (no tents for us!)
  • Watching the kids enjoy a swingset in a downpour.
  • Over-reacting to a swollen bugbite and thus getting to visit the ER in a distant place.
  • The Pictured Rocks.  Pretty sweet.

At the end of the month, Jenny and I went to ComicCon so I could participate in the Zombie Research Society panel there.  UBER fun.  Highlights

  • I acquitted myself admirably on the panel, representing my school well and providing solid answers.  Most satisfying moment — when Max Brooks, author of World War Z, said “YES!” at my suggestion that members of the audience would be well-treated by reading Day of the Triffid.  Also, met some ZRS advisory board members and found they are awesome people.
  • Met Colin Anderson and J. August Richards in person.  Very cool.
  • Saw panels with Adam Baldwin, Felicia Day, Wil Wheaton, Chris Hardwick, Joel McHale (and the Community crowd), and John Barrowman.
  • Hung out with friends Scott Kenemore and Matt Mogk.
  • Met many comic book writers, including Eric Powell, Mike Mignola, and Rick Geary.

Books this month:

  • A Treasury of Victorian Murder by Rick Geary
  • The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary
  • Lexicon by Max Berry
  • Southern Gods by John Horner Jacobs

Last, my class appeared as a clue on Jeopardy!

Zombies on Jeopardy!
Zombies on Jeopardy!

June 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

June was a relatively calm month around the Riley manse.  A few highlights:

  • The PCA conference year is nearly at an end.  Glad to be done with that — on to other work!
  • Enjoying the early summer with the kids.  Lots of board gaming.

Books this month:

  • A Dance with Dragons by George RR Martin
  • Deadpool Vol 1 by Brian Posehn
  • Incognito: The Classified Edition byEd Brubaker
  • Aberystwyth Mon Amour by Malcolm Pryce
  • Hitman, Vol 1 by Garth Ennis
  • Bob Howard: Plumber of the Unknown, Vol 1 by Rapfael Nieves
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

May 2014

My blog was on hiatus from Feb 2 – August 27, 2014.  This post was written post-facto to highlight key events.

The end of the semester arrives and summer begins.  A few highlights:

  • With the end of the semester, I’ve been able to start playing board games with the gaming group again.  Looking forward to doing this more this summer.
  • Wrapped up my classes nicely.  I appreciate their help and work.
  • The school’s choirs sang a cool arrangement of “Happy” by Pharrell at this year’s graduation.  It was great.

Books I read:

  • The Neon Rain by James Burke
  • The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor
  • The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker