Lazy Luddite Log


Melburnian Seasons

I'm all for taking interest in things just around the corner or even at home. However the seemingly endless swathes of suburbia can get samey at times. For someone living in the south-eastern suburbs there are three major destinations one can choose from for an outing. I try to get to each of these every year and they are...

The City: Have lunch in a trendy laneway. Visit the National Gallery of Victoria, the Melbourne Museum or the State Library. Browse a fancy shopping arcade. All these together will make for a full and fun day. And the City offers huge variety with which to mix-and-match this basic format.

The Dandenong Ranges: Journey into the dappled sunlight or clinging mists of the Dandenongs (as distinct from Dandenong). Go for a walk on a well-maintained forest path. Have some Devonshire Tea. There are plenty of villages hosting assorted tourist attractions in these hills to make this an interesting area to visit many times. Consider the Mount Dandenong Lookout, William Rickett's Sanctuary or Emerald Lake.

The Mornington Peninsula: Travel to one of the many beachside towns on this peninsula flanked by both bay and ocean. Wander along a beach. Have some fish and chips. In the past I have stayed here for holidays but it works just as well for a day visit. Inland sites to consider include Peninsula Hot Springs, Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm or the Ashcombe Maze.

These destinations have been playgrounds for Melburnians for all my life and much longer. The City can be accessed easily by public transport but the others may warrant driving. This in turn may necessitate car-pooling and that brings me to the topic of company. As I grow older I am getting a better sense that many things can be fun as solitary activities. However the right friends are also wonderful to share these experiences with.

Expense is another consideration. A lot of the cost however can be adjusted to fit a budget. Bring your own food to share if you cannot afford a fancy lunch. Choose the free access attractions if you cannot afford ones with a cover charge. Fun is an attitude as much as anything.

Some time ago I ran monthly events under the banner of One Fun Thing A Month (OFTAM). Since then I have done a kind of OFTOQ or OFTOS by holding a largish invite-list event each quarter or season. However, that invitation list changes from event to event. I now feel fully free to consider who will enjoy what, who will get along with whom, and who will enhance an event. And my pool of potential invitees has shrunk over time. I think it worth giving friends a chance to come to things but it also feels like nagging to invite someone over-and-over to things they never attend. Sometimes we have to take the hint. But back to the events themselves...

In Winter I try to do something for my birthday. I enjoy hosting house parties but the reality is some share households are better suited than others to such events and so more recently I have defaulted to things like suburban restaurant lunches.

In Summer I organize something water-oriented like a visit to the Brighton Baths which combines the experience of both beach and swimming pool.

Deciding what to allocate to both Autumn and Spring involves a bit more thinking. These 'shoulder seasons' are very similar. I feel that one is for 'a night on the town' playing 8-ball or seeing a live musical performance. The other is for a picnic or barbeque in parkland. But which is best for which?

With age it seems that group events become more difficult to make happen and so I find I do more things one-on-one with individual friends. And as I do so I find that such combinations of me and one other person (sometimes a few) can become friendships that specialize in particular past-times. Some friends are more likely than others to accompany me to public lectures, others to movies, and yet others to exhibitions for retro collectors (this last activity is something I've come to surprisingly late for someone so into old toys).

I like to get out-and-about regularly. These deliberate patterns of expectation (whether based on geography or season) help me to do that and also to maintain friendships over the course of changing life circumstances.



Some Analysis Of Fascism

For several decades the term 'fascist' has been employed as an insult. Speakers use the word to condemn any government they oppose, particularly if that government is confident of its own political program and the power invested in it. As a student of party politics (as part of an honours degree in political history) I noticed that such 'fascists' were frequently anything but. As part of this tendency, the widely circulated Fourteen Defining Characteristics Of Fascism (based on an op-ed by Lawrence Britt and amended by others) panders to many of my own political biases. It pays to be wary of anything that tells you exactly what you want to be told and so, I recently decided to compose my own version of this much-modified Internet meme as a way of critiquing it.

Because of its overuse I now have a tendency to dismiss accusations of fascism. But what if I'm overcompensating and never allow for the possibility of fascism forming right in front of me? Since the time of its publication the work of Britt (et al) has been used in the US to attack past President Bush and even his successor President Obama. In both cases the application seems excessive but what of current US President Trump? Interestingly I think his politics is closer to fascism than that of any other US President (since the time in which fascism was articulated). This seems to be part of a wider trend among populist governments emerging across the world. However these populists move away from some of the characteristics described by Britt (et al) and so if one wants to make the meme relevant one has to edit its content. If such editing also results in a more accurate description of historical fascism then all the better.

Most would accept that fascism is fundamentally illiberal but there is a lot of self-serving argument over whether it is closer to socialism or conservatism. This is rarely more than an exercise in competitive name-calling and overlooks the way in which ideology overlaps. I personally think that fascism makes use of practices derived from socialism yet has more of a kinship with conservatism (while also noting that the affinity of conservatism for business interests is looser than we tend to think today). That description by itself is hardly the most terrifying thing one could imagine and fascism can be far worse. It takes on a distinct form which is intrinsically destructive to our very humanity.

Realistically classifying fascism can be challenging. How many and which past regimes does one study to formulate selection criteria? Britt refers to several disparate regimes but also admits that most of these are 'proto-fascist'. My own tendency is to focus on the more extreme of regimes and this I admit could result in overly strict criteria. I compensate for this however by phrasing my descriptions in terms that are universal. It would be a mistake for instance to look at the Nazi regime of Hitler and then say that fascists must necessarily follow a Nordic brand of racism. Any kind of prejudice will do as long as it is both intrinsic to the fascist ideology and severe in its application.

Texts which help readers to identify fascist trends deserve an even wider and more receptive audience and to do that it is important to clarify that ultimately everyone suffers under fascism. To suggest (for instance) that fascism is merely a more strident form of conservatism will only serve to make semi-educated conservatives think that fascism is okay (while allowing semi-educated progressives to feel arrogantly anti-fascist). It is better to demonstrate that fascism is anathema to values with which almost all of us identify.

Several of the changes I make to the content of Britt (et al) are worth discussing:

* Nationalism tends to have negative connotations these days and we forgot that it once had a positive connection to the development of liberal values. In many cases the liberation of whole nations resulted in the liberty of individuals too. And we can observe this even today in movements that are more 'regionalist' than 'nationalist'. Calls for provincial autonomy or the recognition of original cultures reflect another form that nationalism can take. I therefore felt it was important to stress that what fascism does is to both magnify and distort nationalism for its own ends.

* Religion has widely different relations with fascism depending on circumstance. Many of the most targeted victims of fascism have been religious. Many of its greatest rivals have likewise been religious. It is galling then to suggest an intrinsic connection between fascism and religion. Hence I stress that the relation is a far more opportunist one on the part of fascists (whatever they themselves may believe).

* 'Corporatism' is a confusing term. One could think it refers to the power of profit-seeking business corporations. It is better to think of the familiar 'body corporate' comprising all the residents in a set of apartments. Corporatism is the representation of groups rather than individuals. It usually involves the delegates of distinct and even rival classes. It assumes ones only interests are economic. This differs from parliamentary democracy in which individuals decide how to identify. Some experts consider corporatism to be a key characteristic of fascist regimes but it is worth noting that non-fascist governments experiment with corporatist structures too.

* Enmity for fascists can come from any and all directions. As such they will behave as if they are the enemy of potentially anyone. I have stressed therefore that fascists can attack locals and foreigners, labour and capital, critics and cronies. This makes many of the past targets of the Britt (et al) meme less apt but makes many current populists far more fitting. Consider how Trump opposes both immigration and free trade and how quickly he will attack members of his own party.

* I pepper my text with more of the things that fascists destroy. We should remember what we stand for rather than just focus on everything we oppose. Hence I refer to hard-won values like separation-of-powers, respectful debate, privacy, presumption-of-innocence and compassion.

There are things I omitted from the final form of my text. Many academics refer to how the class most seduced by fascist ideology is the self-employed (as distinct from employers and employees). However, condemning any group as 'fascist' risks helping them identify as such, and part of my intent is to find a more receptive audience, cutting across various divides. One aspect of this topic that stayed in my text was reference to fascist attacks on banks. I recently read some of the works of Hannah Arendt (a Jewish philosopher and political historian) who clarified for me that banks have a similarly tense relationship with the self-employed that bosses have with workers. This is partly why they can be a popular target for theorists of international conspiracy.

It is worth saying that one can and should criticize banks for the detrimental impact they sometimes have on ordinary account holders. Likewise it may be okay to coincidentally advocate some of the things fascists happen to promise - things like capital works projects (I for instance am a big fan of the new Melbourne 'Sky Rail'). And finally one can oppose the actions of governments even if one acknowledges that they are non-fascist.

A problem with any list of potentially fascist characteristics is that some or even many of those can be exhibited by non-fascists. Most governments can look fascist at times of war. Likewise historic governments following the trends of past eras can look closer to fascism than we are accustomed to in the post-war era. Lawrence Britt himself says that his ‘basic characteristics are more prevalent and intense in some regimes than in others’ and that proviso can be extended to non-fascist governments.

However all the characteristics described should ring mental warning bells in those observing them. In preparing for this post I looked at a number of other online critiques of Britt (et al) and most made sense. However a few commentators made disturbed statements like 'everyone has enemies that they should rally to oppose' and if you think that way then you will find it difficult to understand that others feel differently. Hate is a very small part of the emotional composition of well-adjusted humans but fascists keep the company of other fascists and it may well be that hate is the most defining characteristic of a fascist personality.

And just then I added another thing that could be part of a fascism check-list! I prefer the brevity of my description in the Political Objectives Test (and for further discussion click here and scroll down).

However Britt set the format that I decided to mirror and it has been frustrating to do so. The characteristics are repetitious and lacking in flow. I sorted some of that but could only go so far. It was tempting to re-arrange characteristics from most to least defining of fascism. Or possibly to order them from most to least concerning. Or possibly even to distinguish between characteristics of a fascist movement as distinct from those of a fascist regime.

It is important that behaviours associated with fascism are regarded with suspicion and caution even by governments that contemplate some of them to even a small degree. If leaders look on them as last resorts then those leaders can still be negotiated with. It is once they start to admire and celebrate such actions that accusations of fascism become most relevant.

But I think we are missing something in all this talk of potentially fascist regimes or movements. We need to also look at what characteristics of a political environment are conducive to fascist growth. I'm most familiar with the political landscape of the Weimar Republic and one thing that I feel was crucial then was a lack of unity among non-fascists. Parties with an allegiance to parliamentary democracy took it for granted and were overly focused on doctrinal variations and clannish interests.

If the dire circumstances of dictatorship force you to form a 'united front' with one-time political competitors then surely it would be wiser to form such links while you still live in a time of relative freedom. This post may have taken on an alarmist tone but what if depriving fascism of a platform involves all its potential victims recognizing a common ground? I venture that we need to become partisans for non-partisanship but this will be more challenging than simply yelling 'fascist' into the wind.



Fourteen Defining Characteristics Of Fascism… Redefined

Back in 2003 an online op-ed by one Laurence W Britt was published under the title of Fascism Anyone? Pretty soon one or more truncated versions were circulating the Internet. One popular anonymous edit entitled The Fourteen Defining Characteristics Of Fascism (which even promoted Mr Britt to the status of ‘Dr Britt’) has since been further shortened into a successful meme. Now I’m complicating matters further by throwing my own version into the ether. Here it is:

1. Extreme Nationalism - Nationalism is crafted to serve the fascist regime rather than the national interest. Popular customs are recast into a caricature of themselves. Both cultural isolationism and economic protectionism are promoted. Superficial patriotism abounds. National symbols are sometimes replaced with symbols of the ruling party.

2. Human Rights Violations - Human Rights are dismissed as an invention of global elites that hamper the aims of the fascist regime. The populace are conditioned to overlook or even approve of summary executions, assassinations, torture, indefinite imprisonment or the disappearing of dissidents.

3. Obsession With Enemies - Both internal and external enemies are focused on to help unite a popular movement. Anyone from local minority groups to global organizations can be cast in the role of a perceived enemy. Political rivals are vilified. Some vested interests might be tempted into allying with fascists but they too are at risk of eventual vilification.

4. Militarizing Society - Society as a whole becomes regimented, starting with paramilitary youth groups and party security forces. Political leaders often mimic the appearance of military officers. National security risks are exaggerated and governments adopt warlike rhetoric. The armed forces might think they can share power with fascists but often discover that it is the fascists that control them.

5. Demonizing Decadence - Anything deemed ‘decadent’ by fascists is condemned. This results in sexist and homophobic attacks on non-standard gender roles, forms of sexuality, or family structures. Accusations of ‘deviance’ become a convenient way to destroy reputations and lives.

6. Controlling Communications - A free press is restricted by fascist regimes and employed in producing propaganda that supports the ruling party. Correspondence can be monitored and contrary opinions censored. Standards of rational and respectful debate are eroded.

7. A Police State - Fascists are obsessed with order. Police and surveillance personnel are given excessive power to enforce the commands of the regime. Privacy is compromised. Rules are arbitrary and punishment is harsh. The presumption of innocence is abandoned and dissent is criminalized.

8. Subverting Religion - Religious organizations must serve the regime or stay out of politics. Those that resist this face consequences. Both world religions (which offer links to an international faith community) and ethno-religious groups (which are seen as distinct from the rest of society) are deemed threats to the regime. Values like compassion are undermined in any religious practice that survives under fascism.

9. Corporatism - A model of government favoured by many fascists involves incorporating representatives of both capital and labour into the structures of the state. All labour unions are merged into one union that follows ruling party doctrine. Businesses might still be privately owned but are controlled by the regime via government regulation.

10. Mass Manipulation - Those who are poor or feel a loss of economic standing are promised jobs and prosperity by fascists. The regime might impose tariffs on imports, announce grand construction projects, and suppress accurate economic data. Foreign guest workers might be blamed for hardship but so might international banks.

11. Hampering Science And The Arts - Evidence-based scientific thinking is undermined. Technology must serve the aims of the regime. Fascists use pseudo-science and romanticism to help bolster their doctrine. Individual expression in art, literature and music is restricted. Creative sub-cultures are attacked as subversive.

12. Model Citizens - Fascists glorify personal characteristics of loyalty, beauty, health, fitness, aggression and will-power. This can manifest in idealization of sporting heroes and war veterans. It can also take the form of restricting the right to have children, sterilizing the disabled, and forcibly 'euthanizing' the chronically ill.

13. All-Pervasive Fear - Any sense of personal security is fragile and even fascist cronies are forever at risk of falling out of favour with their leaders. Informants operate in every workplace and neighbourhood. The regime might be corrupt but it might instead practice a twisted form of integrity in which government personnel must serve extreme political aims rather than personal desires.

14. Dismantling Democracy – Democratic mechanisms can be used by fascists but will ultimately be abandoned once they have secured power. Election campaigns are contested by means both legal and illegal. Once they take over, fascists erode democratic practices such as separation of powers, an independent civil service, rule of law, freedom of association, assembly and movement. Fascists try to turn society into a ‘family’ in which the leadership takes on a supposedly parental role. However the regime is harmful to its ‘children’ and even to its own long-term survival.

I decided to post this because I feel that other versions have significant flaws and that mine makes some marked improvements. I will go into why I think this in my post next month.



Cat Saves Firefighter

This blog is for my 'long-form' writing while other sites are for shorter posts and comments. However sometimes I do something a bit longer away from here and I figure it is worth replicating that content here (for a potentially larger but practically much smaller audience). I have a 'note' on Facebook called Cat Saves Firefighter - Positive Non-Trivial News. This is what it has to say...

It was common practice on nightly news shows to end with a snippet of good news to compensate viewers for all the wars, murders and car crashes. The joke became that it was always firefighers saving a cat stuck up a tree. But this kind of news is trivial and escapist. It hardly gives you a sense of living in a good world. In fact it gives you a greater sense that everything beyond your own neighbourhood is bad.

The purpose of this note is to turn that concept around (hence the cat is saving the firefighter) by presenting positive news that is significant rather than trivial. But is the world good you ask. It is more accurate to say that the world is complex and understanding it always involves an act of interpretation.

Today we are bombarded with news many times a day on our Facebook feeds. Many friends have posted updates saying they cannot take all the bad news coming at them. My response is that there is good news but we rarely get to see it. There are a few factors that keep it from us.

One is that sensationalism sells newspapers (or gets more clicks for websites). We are instinctively drawn to danger and drama and this will favour negative news (whether significant as in wars or trivial as in celebrity divorces).

Another is that news is by its nature about what has only just happened. Incremental developments are overlooked. Some long-term processes like climate change are negative. But others are positive - consider the number of governments who over our lifetimes have abolished the death penalty or the reduction worldwide of absolute poverty.

Another factor is nostalgia. We get to thinking the past was a simpler and kinder time. Possibly it was for us - youth frequently is. But was it a nice time for the world? Are there more crimes now than then or are you just more aware of them now? Have you checked the statistics or just gone with a vague personal impression? Too many of us fall for the fairy-tale of the good old days.

On the other hand some of us had rotten youths. We are guarded as a result and interpret things accordingly. We may even be drawn to sub-cultures that prize cynicism or fetishize doom-and-gloom. Or alternately we may have such exacting standards of what a world should be that nothing will ever meet our expectations.

How much you accept the links that will be shared here depends on all these factors and more. But they will be offered for your consideration. There will however be some restrictions on what I will post.

I mentioned the removal from more-and-more nations of capital punishment. For me as a human rights campaigner this is good news. But for some law-and-order traditionalists this could be bad news. I cannot help them. Links I share here will conform to what I consider good as a political progressive.

I also mentioned climate change. As described by climate scientists this phenomenon is a scary thing. It would be wonderful if they were mistaken. In that sense the rantings of climate change deniers could be deemed good. But it is a deluded position to take and so will be omitted here. What I share will make some effort to conform to evidence and reason.

And then there is the matter of what you choose to focus on. I referred to a reduction globally in absolute poverty but the focus of many is on relative differences in wealth and for them whether things are better or worse will very much be shaped by a kind of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality. In such cases we may have a debate on our hands.

Finally content here will be of some importance. If you want cats saved by firefighters you will have to move on.

Since posting that I have returned many times and appended comments to it providing links to all manner of good news reports. They have all sorts of sources but one that I find particularly useful is an Australian service called Future Crunch. They focus on technological innovation and I feel they sometimes overlook the two-edged nature of technology. However they include a lot of other news on the environmental and human fronts that is overwhelmingly positive. I try to consume all this as part of a well-constituted understanding of our world today.

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Descriptive Fiction Versus Creative Non-Fiction

Sometimes working as a note-taker for special needs students in tertiary institutions can be educational. I get exposed to all sort of information that I may never have come across otherwise. And sometimes that info puts names to things I am only somewhat aware of.

In one case I was informed of something called 'creative non-fiction'. In creative non-fiction a journalist presents facts-based news utilizing narrative forms. I realized that I had read many such items. They often follow the format of a sort of 'news sandwich in anecdotal bread'. The piece will start and end with describing the experience of a person facing a particular issue. In between these the substantive content describing the issue itself will be given. This is supposed to draw the reader in by making the information more personal. It is something they can better relate to than just arguments and statistics. It allows them to connect with those facing the problems arising from the issue under discussion.

Personally I find this frustrating. I simply want to be given the substantive information right away. I would prefer if the anecdote was presented as a case study in a separate text box. I can apply the information to human experience myself thanks very much.

Becoming aware of creative non-fiction suddenly got me thinking of another mode of writing that reverses its characteristics and that I have long been a fan of. I shall call it 'descriptive fiction'. It presents imaginary persons and scenarios but in an detached and academic way. There are plenty of instances of this and I will enthuse over just two.

One is the Appendices in The Lord Of The Rings (1955) which are a fantastic example of descriptive fiction. One of the appeals of Middle Earth has always been the sense that it is a complete world that exists well beyond the confines of the narrative itself. The appendices bolster this by providing scholarly discussion of the history, culture and language of the setting and its inhabitants. You have to be in the right mood for it but sometimes I am and it can be fascinating. This was influential and definitely affected how I went onto describe my own fantasy setting.

The other is the science fiction art compilations edited by Stewart Cowley (aka Steven Caldwell) that attach the work of several artists to the one setting of the Terran Trade Authority and Galactic Encounters (1978-1980) books. The texts describe the growth of a stellar confederation in our local cluster. They are written as guidebooks and in childhood I found this a persuasive way to present a fantastic future. Mind you even then I could tell that something was amiss. The text would apply the name of a particular alien species to two artworks depicting beings that were only vaguely similar. Like a 'jukebox musical' the editor did his best to make a jigsaw fit with a hammer. These books are worth it however for the pulp art. They present space tech as full of colour and curves. Movies and television at the time focused on grey-scale tones and utilitarian shapes. It took over a decade for innovative shows like Babylon-5 (1994-1997) to bring a more lurid and sensual look into science fiction multi-media.

I have my preferences but both these hybridized forms of writing serve a purpose and connect with different audience temperaments. I'm happy to now have names for both creative non-fiction and descriptive fiction.

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Too Old For Telepathy

The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe (1980) tells how the inhabitants of the planet Kakrafoon were afflicted with the condition of Telepathy and...

Consequently, in order to prevent themselves broadcasting every slightest thought that crossed their minds to anyone within a five mile radius, they had to talk very loudly and continuously about the weather, their little aches and pains, the match this afternoon and what a noisy place Kakrafoon had suddenly become.
- Douglas Adams

As a kid this passage puzzled me because I had always regarded the concept of telepathy as a super power rather than as an affliction. Here it was presented as a punishment rather than a privilege. But I have more recently come to understand this satirical observation. We now have a simulation of telepathy delivered to us by the Internet and sometimes the cacophony of thoughts and feelings projected by hundreds of peers can be maddening.

There is a very British assumption underlying the behaviour described on Kakrafoon, in which one wishes to mask some feelings by drawing attention to others. In reality I think that, given the chance, many of us like to share all manner of things, from the trivial to the profound. Our ability to share has now evolved to a new level thanks to communications technology.

Everyone has opinions on the pros and cons of this development. There is also a tendency to fall into polarized camps. If 'they' attack a medium that ‘we’ feel enriches our lives then we will respond by denying that there can be any problems at all with it. We then try and suggest that it is as fine as any older and more accepted form of media.

Every medium can produce its own problems but also bring with it the solution to those same problems. The ancient invention of writing allegedly limited human memory but, as long as we have written records, this loss of some primeval memory capacity hardly matters. There may be problems during the transition from one form of behaviour to another, however, and maybe those who are most affected are the ones who were best adapted to the older ways.

Television was always part of my life and thus I have been its defender. I scoffed at the wowsers who criticized it for supposedly making us absent-minded or jittery or violent. But maybe TV can have some impact and of a different sort from what critics say. Violent shows may result in us becoming more scared than dangerous. This fits a world in which violence has reduced in recent decades but perceptions of violence seem to have grown. The gritty 'realism' of TV fiction since the 90s may have something to do with this.

However any potential impact of television was once limited by its lack of presence in our everyday lives. In my youth we only ever got to see television if we were at home in the living room (or in our bedrooms for the more consumerist among us). Most TVs were too cumbersome to be used in transit or while at school or work.
But now we have the mobile Internet and, rather than just the latest in a succession of different kinds of media, it is in fact an ever-present collection of all kinds of media rolled into one. You can read a virtual book or watch TV or play games on it. You can do all this at home or on the train or at your desk. Is this a problem? Will the small impacts of the past grow as we are exposed to multi-media more than we ever have been? The only prudent answer to that question is to say it is far too soon to say because this is a very new phenomenon.

The development that concerns me the most now is the very thing I feel is also the best aspect of the Internet – communication. We can stay in contact with friends. We can make new friends from far away. We can tap into forms of community that fit us better than the accidental community of our neighbourhoods. And with all this comes the ‘telepathy’ I refer to. Is it a super power or an affliction? I feel both at times.

I say it is maddening but it is also addictive. I desire my fix of what everyone is saying and many times a day. It can get too much for me however. Every mind is unique and all this overlapping of minds can be hectic for just one mind to digest. Do they truly think or feel that and if so why am I different? Who has the more skewed perspective? The mess of perception becomes so much more messy in the setting of something like Facebook.

But should I then assume this is a problem for all? Or should I factor my age (and my luddite tendency) into this? I only encountered the Internet as a young adult and its more mobile and media-encompassing form as a mature adult. In contrast younger generations (or more tech-savvy persons) will be far more adapted to it. They will surely be in a better position to cope with the problem I describe. And as it shapes them they will also shape it to better fit them.

I’m the one who has issues with an ever-present Internet and so it is my responsibility to find solutions to my personal problem. And I have been working on it. For one thing I never changed over to accessing the Internet on a smartphone. If I want to go online I have to find something larger than pocket-sized. This I can do at home, at public libraries, and at the dwindling number of Internet cafes.

Another thing I do is restrict how much I spend on any one part of the Internet by moving from website to website. And I then try to make each site serve a distinct purpose. I will discuss politics at news opinion pages, comment on music or movies on YouTube, and chat about everything and nothing with friends on Facebook.

But I will also limit what I am exposed to on FB. There is a lot of talk these days of how we are all ensconced in ‘echo chambers’ and I too have limited exposure to diverse opinions. But what I’m more interested in limiting is moods that are too different from mine. I can only tolerate so much of the incessant gloom that seems to define the perceptions of some. And that is a personal form of self-care rather than a judgement of others. We all have to do things to fit our own emotional states.

I suppose the protocols described are my way of making this ‘telepathy’ something that can work for me as I get older. I’m happy it is something I can selectively walk away from. It would be far more difficult to live with fictional telepathy (like the kind described in this novelette of mine).



HeroQuest Homebrew

It has always struck me as odd that my favourite medieval fantasy role-play game is American rather than European. Surely the Europeans would do a genre usually set in an analogue of Europe better than the Yanks. It may just be that Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was in the right place and time for teenaged me to discover it. Mind you, I was reading Fighting Fantasy solo game-books, a UK product, a few years before I encountered D&D, so there may be more to it than that. I somehow never got into the other fantasy role-play games on offer, however, I also changed my version of D&D rules so much that it may as well be another game.

Anyway, this post is about a fantasy boardgame that I’m into called HeroQuest and it is British. You can tell because it has odd monsters in it called Fimir. I think the biggest attraction of HeroQuest is its many lovely plastic figurines and miniature furniture. I had it sitting and gathering dust for ages but then one day decided to use it in my recently retired D&D game as a quick-and-dirty aid to developing and revealing a dungeon to my players. Following that, I decided it would be fun to play a game or two and so did that with some friends.

On that first occasion we used the standard HeroQuest rules except for one small advisory I made to the players. There are four sets of spell cards in the game that loosely correspond to the four classical elements. The rules instruct the Wizard player to choose the first set and the Elf to choose the second set. The final two sets are then allocated to the Wizard. However, my advice was for the Elf to make sure to choose either Water or Earth. Only these two sets have one healing spell each and my advice results in two players, assuming both spell-casters are played, having that spell to cast, which I think is better practice for the whole party.

I feel that this one small protocol also shifts the four original adventurers in the game into the four standard roles in D&D. Naturally the Barbarian is a Warrior and the Wizard is a Mage. The Dwarf has the skill of finding and disarming traps and so arguably works as a Rogue. And as long as they can heal one could imagine the Elf as a priestly character.

On The Equivalence Of Religion And Magic

This is hardly a universal model. The distinction between combat and stealth specialists (warriors and rogues) is one we can see across many forms of fiction and history. However the separation of magical and religious experts in D&D is something of a forced one.

In human history the religious practices of foreigners have often been interpreted as magic. The powers-that-be grant the status of religion to those beliefs they approve of and stigmatize as magic those beliefs they oppose (or in more recent and secular times magic is trivialized as silly and wholly fantastic). But spell-casters and workers-of-miracles belong to the same category.

I should embrace that realization but have somehow been conditioned by D&D to enjoy the distinction between mage and cleric. Patterns absorbed in youth are powerful and, in this case, safely confined to a recreational part of my life. And recently in my playing of HeroQuest I have gone beyond the dichotomy by expanding the concept of magico-religious specialists from two to four.

New Characters And Rules

In subsequent game sessions of HeroQuest I tested some new rules that allow for playing with an additional four characters. For a while I have possessed four pewter miniatures and decided to add these to the original four terra-cotta toned plastic figurines. I rarely use such accessories in D&D but they are nifty and I had deliberately assembled a party of feminine miniatures to contrast with the prevailing notion of adventure as a masculine pursuit.

The new HeroQuest characters I developed for these miniatures were the Guardian, the Whistler, the Templar and the Sorceress. Even just finding names for them was fun. These expanded rules, described here, allow use of the new characters and modify the existing characters to reflect the larger potential adventuring party.

* The Barbarian has the combat skill of Damage Transference. If he slays an opponent with less than the damage he rolled then the excess damage automatically transfers to another opponent standing adjacent (vertically or horizontally) to the opponent just slain. This reflects the action image of a great sword passing through one monster and lodging into another.

* The Dwarf is mechanically adept and thus can disarm traps as in the original rules. And now the Dwarf rolls 1 extra Defence Die in facing Fimir due to his experience in fighting these oversized brutes.

* The Elf gets 'starter spells' of the Water set. The only way the Elf can get more spells than this is if he expends 1 Mind to retain a spell just cast (see Magic Rules). And now the Elf rolls 1 extra Defence die in facing Goblins and Orcs due to long experience of resisting these creatures.

* The Wizard gets the 'starter spells' of the Fire set. Following that the Wizard can draw six random extra spells from the Well of Magic. He can also expend 1 Mind to retain a spell just cast (see Magic Rules).

And here are some new champions.

* The Guardian is described thus…

‘You are the Guardian. Your armour is resilient and the speed of your sword-arm is renowned. You are a brave defender of peace and justice in the realm.’

She has the following statistics:

Attack - 2 dice
Defence - 3 dice
Movement - 2 dice
Mind - 3 Points
Body - 7 Points

The Guardian has the combat skill of Divided Attack. She can nominate to make two attacks of half damage value. If (as is usually the case) she attacks with 2 dice she can now attack twice for 1 dice each. If she has had her attack enhanced by magical item then two attacks can be made with the dice divided as evenly as the number allows.

* The Whistler is described thus…

‘You are the Whistler, a daring and flamboyant swashbuckler who is at home both in city tavern or wilderness ruin. Your music gives you the almost magical ability to interpret echoes but beware what it brings you.’

She has the following statistics:

Attack - 2 dice
Defence - 2 dice
Movement - 2 dice
Mind - 3 Points
Body - 7 Points

The Whistler has the skill of Echoing Melody. She can nominate to play her flute while in a corridor. Her awareness of the echoing of her lilting tune off surfaces allows her to detect monsters or objects around the closest corner she is facing. She can tell how many monsters or objects are there. She can also tell if they are moving (likely a monster) or still (likely some object). She can also tell if they are small (Goblins and Skeletons) or medium (Orcs, Zombies, Evil Mage) or Large (Fimir, Mummies, Chaos Warriors, Gargoyle). There is a draw-back to this ability however in that there is a 1 in 3 chance that each monster thus detected will now move towards the Whistler on hearing her music. Secret traps and doors cannot be detected by this ability.

* The Templar is described thus…

‘You are the Templar, a crusader for all that is sacred. Others see you as a moral guiding light with her feet firmly planted on the ground. You lose all composure, however, in facing the Undead, which you must attack with ferocity.’

She has the following statistics:

Attack - 2 dice
Defence - 2 dice
Movement - 2 dice
Mind - 4 Points
Body - 6 Points

The Templar gets the 'starter spells' of the Earth set. The only way the Templar can get more spells than this is if she expends 1 Mind to retain a spell just cast (see Magic Rules). Also she gets 1 extra damage die in attacking Undead but must attack any she encounters.

* The Sorceress is described thus…

‘You are the Sorceress, naturally-attuned to things beyond mortal ken. You cast a host of spells with flair and grace, but beware the thick of battle, for it may be your undoing.’

She has the following statistics:

Attack - 1 die
Defence - 2 dice
Movement - 2 dice
Mind- 5 Points
Body - 5 Points

The Sorceress gets the 'starter spells' of the Air set. Following that the Sorceress can draw six random extra spells from the Well of Magic. She can also expend 1 Mind to retain a spell just cast (see Magic Rules).

* Magic Rules

Give particular characters starter spells as follows...

- Wizard: Fire
- Sorceress: Air
- Elf: Water
- Templar: Earth

In each quest spells are expended. Once cast they go into the 'Well of Magic' (a common spell card pile). However, a character can nominate to retain a spell they already have at the cost of 1 Mind Point. They nominate to do this on casting the particular spell. Total Mind Points are restored at the start of a new quest.

Only the Wizard and Sorceress can draw a card from the top of the freshly shuffled Well of Magic for subsequent use. They can do this up to 6 times over the course of 6 or more turns (only drawing one card in any one turn). The number that can be drawn is limited by how many cards are currently in the pile.

If fewer that all four spell-casting characters play then any excess spells are automatically put in the Common Spell Pile.

Note that 0 Mind Points results in coma for the rest of current quest unless somehow restored. If they cannot be revived then the comatose character must be left in a safe room or be carried out (rendering another character ineffective for adventuring while carrying).

* Other Rules - Item Use

Various cards make reference to which characters can use particular items. For purposes of an expanded party the new characters correspond to old characters as follows:

- Barbarian > Guardian
- Dwarf > Templar
- Elf > Whistler
- Wizard > Sorceress

* Other Rules - Adjusting Game Difficulty

For every extra character beyond 4 added to a party the board should be given an additional 1 or 2 monsters or traps.

Most monsters have just 1 Body. However level bosses can have 2 or even 3 Body. A 3-Body level 'boss' can also be served by a 2-Body ‘deputy boss’.

These changes are scant compared with what others have done and shared online. There are stacks of new characters and expanded rules on offer and some go so far as to turn HeroQuest into a full-blown role-play game that escapes the confines of the board. I, however, have D&D for that, and so my expansion is relatively small and uses existing game elements as much as it can, such as finding a way of sharing only twelve spells among as many as four characters. Still, I think it is fun and boosts the options of play. All the new and altered characters work well, except possibly the Whistler, whose unique ability is as much comic relief as it is a novelty.

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I made a submission to the Religious Freedom Review of the Federal Government (as foreshadowed in my post here). Only some have so far been published on the Department Of Prime Minister And Cabinet website and I figure it cannot hurt for me to post my own content here...

In this submission I will explore prejudice as a phenomenon that impinges on religious freedom. For me religious freedom includes the freedom to follow a religion, alter the form that religion takes, or reject religion altogether. We should be free to practice or not practice religion as part of our own way-of-life. The freedom to live my own way-of-life limits your ability to interfere with my life and vice-versa.

It is worth noting that interference and mere annoyance are distinct things. Me living my life in a way that is different to yours or even challenging to your moral world-view cannot rightly be construed as interfering in your life. It may be more accurate to say that you need to be a bit more resilient and have more confidence in your own way-of-life.

Prejudice however can interfere with our lives and livelihoods. It has proved useful to define distinct forms of prejudice and so we have terms such as classism, sexism and racism. My purpose here is to say that it would be useful to define 'creedism' as a form of prejudice directed at the practitioners of any and all forms of religion or its lack. In examining this I will discuss the case of Islamophobia.

I definitely think that prejudice towards Muslims exists and that this prejudice is a problem for Australian society. However many of those who use the term Islamophobia (for the purpose of identifying and condemning this prejudice) liken it to a form of racism. This is only accurate if the holder of Islamophobic views mistakenly believes Muslims to be an ethno-religious group. Many do make this mistake but there are also others who acknowledge that Islam is a world religion to which anyone can ascribe. In saying this they can then deny that they are racist. However this is misdirection because they can still be expressing prejudiced views. Such prejudice is distinct from academic criticism because it involves distorting the truth with the intent of vilifying Muslims. The worst lie is of course the belief that all Muslims are terrorists, however there are many other distortions underpinning this, such as...

* Regarding Islam as a unified and monolithic force, without regard to the existence of different branches, schools or denominations, and inventing a caricature of Islam that combines all the more problematic aspects of each of these.

* Selectively quoting Islamic texts without acknowledging the diverse and changing ways in which Muslims interpret and apply those words in the world of everyday experience. Any ancient religious text can be worrying if removed from the context of its present-day practice.

* Citing the negative actions of elites and institutions associated with Islam (such as clerical or monarchical regimes) in the past or present and making all of these the responsibility of every Muslim regardless of personal circumstances.

* Referring to particular cultural practices (now deemed barbaric) as Islamic even if they predate Islam and simply happen to occur in some Muslim-majority areas.

A quick consideration of these and other distortions shows how they can promote fear and thus endanger the Muslim minority in Australia. Furthermore some reflection will show that these sorts of distortions can be applied to any and all religions. As an agnostic I'm in contact with many other agnostics and atheists and at times have come across similar distortions applied to Christians. In this sense Christians may also be subject to what I call 'creedism' and thus we can see that religious prejudice can be a problem for anyone.

Distortions can sometimes be taken to ridiculous degrees and I have had arguments with the odd militant atheist who has declared that 'all religion is bad' or even 'all bad things come from religion'. They will twist the facts greatly to preserve this notion. I have even encountered the claim that 'Stalinism was a religion because it was a cult-of-personality'. Words like 'cult' and 'doctrine' all have religious origins but any realistic person understands that word usage changes over time (my use of the word 'creed' is an old yet still-known variation on an even older theological usage). A 'cult-of-personality' is not necessarily religious any more than a 'marriage' is necessarily that of a monogamous heterosexual couple intent on having children.

Lies are an affront to those who are misrepresented by them as well as to anyone dedicated to truth. However there are degrees of impact which very much depend on who one is and what context one is operating within. A handful of militant atheists seeking to vilify the majority of Australians who identify as religious will have scant impact on them. In contrast, an unholy alliance of ultra-nationalists, fundamentalist Christians, opportunist politicians and their ignorant dupes can do much harm to our small Muslim community. Some are more at risk than others and it is time that a degree of chivalry - the strong defending the weak - was restored to Australian civic life.

In a liberal-democracy like Australia one hopes that the best antidote to speech is better speech. The distortions I refer to should be readily exposed and challenged by average citizens in large numbers and from all walks-of-life. However I am far from confident that this will always be the case. Our civic life seems lacking and because of that legal action sometimes becomes necessary. Religious persons and groups should have access to the law for purposes of defending themselves from religious vilification. This is the case presently and it will be for your Review to determine if any of these legal protections need to be bolstered or made more consistent. There is a distinction I want to make, however, between religion and politics.

Various religions in a secular society are supposed to co-exist. In contrast political organizations in a pluralistic society are supposed to compete for power and influence. Different standards should apply to any political party or lobby group even if it purports to promote religious (or indeed anti-religious) objectives. A political organization formed to represent religious interests has moved from the religious realm of co-existence to the political realm of competition and must expect scrutiny, criticism and a smaller degree of protection than should be given to religious practitioners overall.

I wish there was more leadership coming from our political elites and I refer once more to chivalry. If you have power then it is beholden on you to use that power responsibly and for the benefit of all those in your care. Australia is home to diverse religious perspectives and its holders will at times need protection and guidance to ensure we can all live together safely, whether we are believers or non-believers, and whether we are entrenched in Australian society or are a new and precarious minority. I recommend use of the term 'creedism' as a way of clarifying that religious prejudice is a problem we in Australia must all address.

They say they will be reading all the many submissions made. Those so far published have been presented in like-minded batches. I wonder how this - a pro-religious yet progressive argument - will be classified. I hope my nuances are understood in this age of ideological trench warfare we seem to be digging ourselves into.

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Queen + Adam Lambert

Belinda did something very clever and got us both tickets to see Queen with Adam Lambert. It was a birthday present for me and came into effect several months later (and just a few weeks ago). It is something I would have never contemplated, partly because a habit formed in my impoverished youth makes me overlook all the live gigs I could go to, and partly because on some level I have always felt that it was too late for me to see Queen live. I had followed a cover band for a while (with the name Fat Bottomed Girls) and also seen the jukebox musical based on Queen songs (written by Ben Elton). However I had mentally relegated Queen concerts themselves to a past I was too young to have experienced. And, granted, what we saw recently was different from Queen in its heyday, as was sensitively acknowledged during the gig, but by goodness it was still a fantastic experience.

I started to get a bit excited about the concert a few days beforehand, but only in the sense that I was looking forward to a night out at a big public event at Rod Laver Arena. It was only really as the band members emerged onto the guitar-shaped stage that I was suddenly stuck with the realization that Brian May and Roger Taylor were down there and all set to play the songs they had been playing all my life and most of theirs. It was a moving moment for this long-standing fan and after a few songs it looked like Belinda sensed she was in the presence of musical greatness.

The band comprised Brian May (guitars and vocals), Roger Taylor (drums and vocals), Adam Lambert (vocals and cavorting), Spike Edney (keyboards), Neil Fairclough (bass), Tyler Warren (percussion). Brian and Roger are original members of Queen. Spike has been playing with Queen in live gigs since the 80s and is regarded by fans as 'the fifth Queen'. Original bassist John Deacon has been retired since the 90s but some of the songs he wrote with the band were in the set-list. The presence of Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) was felt both in terms of his absence and also in the sense that footage of him performing was played on a big screen (taken from the massive 1986 Wembley gig). The audience engaged in a vocal call-and-response session. Many of us found it rather emotional. Young pop star Adam Lambert did a fantastic job of singing the Queen back catalogue. He has powerful projection and an impressive vocal range. He also has a definite stage presence and connected well with both the band and audience.

We were served a long and satisfying set-list of Queen songs (from most of their albums) and the audience got right into it. There was plenty of singing along (in the case of fans like me this included specific backing vocal patterns and drum figures and so forth). It was a stack of fun even from way off in the most distant seats. Amplification is vital to these big arena concerts but I'm happy to say it was only as loud as it needed to be. The screens were also very impressive and, combined with some artificial fog, produced a surprisingly realistic depiction of the big melancholy robot (from the 1977 News Of The World album art) bursting forth from back-stage.

There was some nice use of misdirection too. As we were watching some of this wizardry, an additional drum-kit emerged from the floor in the 'neck of the guitar' part of the stage that projected well into the ground level audience space. There the stars of the show (Roger, Brian, Adam) gathered separately from the supporting musicians to play a set of more intimate songs. This arrangement later allowed for Roger to engage in a 'drum battle' with Tyler. There were also guitar solos (naturally) from Brian and a bit of slapped bass from Neil. Adam sang a charting song of his own and now-and-then Brian and Roger took on vocals for songs they had written themselves. Everyone was in fine form. I was particularly impressed with Roger both drumming and singing at the same time.

Possibly the nicest part of the night was Brian sharing a hobby of his - stereoscopic photography. With a specially-made camera he took three-dimensional 'selfies' with the audience in the background. It was a very clever way of making a huge venue have an intimate moment. It was also just fantastic to see these life-long musicians (with Brain and Roger pushing 70) still having a fantastic time sharing music loved the world over.

We both purchased tour t-shirts - I got a relatively generic shirt depicting the Queen band crest while Belinda got one depicting the iconic pulp fiction robot that was mascot of the show. It was a night to remember and also reminded me that sometimes there is still a chance to do something even if you think it has passed. I left the gig buzzing.

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Salad Days

I have never been a huge fan of salads and barely if ever made one till recently. Somehow the mood took me to take one to a barbeque, but I made it to my own liking, informed somewhat by my food wheel notion.

The number one thing I did was to reject lettuce as an ingredient. What a banal and tiresome thing lettuce is! The base of my salad was one or both of baby roquette and spinach. Roquette in particular is a far more tasty and interesting leaf.

Next I added some slivers of red capsicum. I also considered adding similarly sliced onion but a few friends are sensitive to that flavour-enhancing bulb, so I spared them. That was all I included of more traditional salad vegetables but I added other and more novel forms of plant matter.

I threw in generous helpings of both pine nuts and corn kernels (minus the tinned brine they tend to come in). I did discover that too generous a helping of these results in them gathering at the bottom but a bit of salad tossing fixed that. These are both things that salad sceptics like me may favour for both texture and taste. But there was more.

I had wanted to find some marinated sliced mushrooms at the deli and throw them in. My thinking was that the marinade would serve as my salad dressing. It seems however that such a product is rare and so I settled for marinated eggplant. This worked rather well but on another occasion I had more time to spare and so got both mushrooms and some balsamic dressing and did it myself.

Already my salad has interesting ingredients and a flesh-like ‘star’ of the dish. And as described so far it is vegan. However my original version was vegetarian because I had added in some baby bocconcini (once more minus the water it is packaged in). The cheese instantly pushed the marinated fleshy thing aside as the protagonist of this dramatic concoction.

Oddly, I was the only one to bring salad to two separate parties, and in both cases it was welcome by those present, and complemented other foods well. However, I like to think it serves as a bit of a meal in itself, due to its eclectic mix of ingredients, which for convenience I will list here:

Core Ingredients

Baby Roquette, Pine Nuts, Corn Kernals, Mushrooms, Balsamic Dressing.

Optional or Substitute Ingredients

Baby Spinach, Red Capsicum, Onion, Marinated Eggplant, Baby Bocconcini.



Game Over

I announced my fantasy setting online here and then enthused about a new game set in it here. That game went for over four years and was only recently completed. I have never been in a game that lasted so long and with such stability. We had the same Games Master (GM) in me and the same four players for the entire time (with the occasional guest now-and-then).

I think logistics helped keep the game running. We almost always played at the same share household (in which most of the players lived). We almost always played on a Saturday (daytime). We negotiated dates at which we could all attend which averaged to one long session per month. A more important factor was that everyone was committed to the activity because it was fun. Part of that fun arose from spending time with friends we may have otherwise missed. However a lot of it also came from us enjoying the game itself.

My manner of GMing focuses on story-telling. The problem with this is it can make for a game that is overly directed by the GM. However my players seemed to welcome my structure and it did allow for a lot of leeway. The overall direction of my intended campaign was preserved but there were many player-directed twists and turns along the way. These necessitated me responding with re-routings of my story that were usually better than the original plan.

A story-telling focus had me talking a lot but the others seemed okay with that. I did share some of the work however by getting players to read narrative passages or participate in written dialogue. Everyone seemed to like the play-acting aspect of this.

Most of the talk however was paraphrased or improvised as is usual in role-playing. I was narrator and also (over time) scores of incidental characters (which I loved inventing). I discovered that it was both efficient and interesting to re-use many such non-player characters.

You would think that a role-play game set in the imaginations of its players would lack the limitations of budget imposed on (say) a television serial. However in practice I found that a GM has only so much time and energy to invent new concepts. As such old incidental characters would return to the story as needed. Likewise key locales were re-purposed at different times. There was economy to this but it also had an interesting affect on players. The familiar resonates with us and helps provide a sense of coherence to a long campaign. It also allowed me to put new twists on old concepts and this was sometimes more surprising than a wholly new element.

A favourite re-use of something for me was the Jagged Tooth Keep. This site had originally been visited ‘in the flesh’ by the original characters but then much later the Lost Wanderers (played by the same players) stumbled into a magical simulation of it. Confusion and suspicion ensued. The Jagged Tooth was just one of many concepts for which I made maps, illustrations, descriptions and even chose themed music (Fortress Around Your Heart by Sting). In this way I got to be creative and expand muchly on the content of The Lands.

Gaming definitely expanded the information content of my setting. This included mundane things like describing livestock (small kine and huge fowl are the norm) and local customs (such as a ban on propositioning someone more than three times). However it also resulted in some extraordinary content (such as demonstrating that a string of objects sometimes seen following the Moon were in fact an ancient and magical sky elevator).

With a few glaring exceptions I made my world a small-scale one. In some fantasy settings we see fortresses as tall as modern skyscrapers but I preferred something more modest. Part of this was a desire to anchor the setting in history. Another was to make the few spectacular things all-the-more impressive. And yet another was to make The Lands seem like a cozy world – one worth saving from the enemy forces of my long-term campaign.

My players were presented with a complex story but I also made some effort to incorporate other kinds of gaming too. My players enjoy solving puzzles and so I did what I could to present some. However I lack skill in this area so borrowed concepts liberally from existing games and tales. Once I even purchased a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle that was part of the story but also had to be solved by the players themselves for the characters to succeed.

Another area in which I lack skill is strategy and combat simulation (even using my own ‘home-brew’ rules variations). However we had a number of eventful encounters during the campaign and got better at them over time. The last one involved an Undead Dragon that belched aging at its rivals and which was set in a 'dungeon' based on the current map of Chadstone Shopping Centre (sometimes it saves time to use existing things and any old thing will do).

I found it challenging to make my game challenging. For one thing my story had a relatively optimistic tone to which my players responded well. For another it is difficult for one mind (that of a GM managing however many antagonists) to face four minds each focused on ensuring the safety of four protagonists. I did a few novel things to give the characters bigger challenges. One was for the renowned Lost Wanderers to experience a flash-back game in which they were novices. Another was to give my players some antagonists to temporarily play to get a feel for what life is like for minor villains facing champions.

The key villains of my game were anonymous and distant in nature, impersonal supernatural forces motivated by hunger rather than cruelty. It was necessary to fight them just as it is necessary to respond to a locust swarm. This concept has always interested me but I do feel I could have put more work into also developing personal villains for the heroes to have an enmity with. There were a few non-player characters who could have done this but I never drove this and in the end they all became allies facing a common menace.

A theme of my game was that it is sometimes necessary to unite with those of markedly different morality to ones own. With this and other themes I made the story be the messenger rather than give characters moralizing speeches (as is the trend in much fiction these days). I subverted a characteristic of sword-and-sorcery tales by having a barbarian warrior and an undead lich (literary rivals) work together to hone a future champion of The Lands. This non-player character resented the manipulation once discovered but took on a leadership role of her own volition, did so in her own way and re-positioned her mentors as followers.

Another subversion I enjoyed presenting was that of having a classical fantasy world successfully resist an incursion by forces more at home in cosmic horror. In my teens it seemed odd that Dungeons & Dragons had familiar fantasy races in it (like Elves and Dwarves and Goblins) but also hosted products of a more demented imagination (like Mind Flayers and Beholders). At the time I just assumed the game creators had been indulging in mind-altering substances back in the 70s. I now know that they were influenced by more than just J R R Tolkien and also drew on the shared settings of H P Lovecraft and R E Howard. My campaign can be seen as me expressing a preference for the former over the latter.

Hope was very much a message but so was bravery in the absence of hope. Characters in my fantasy setting assume they have an immortal spirit but the Starborn Invaders (as I called the cosmic horrors) had the ability to consume spirit as if it were energy. The moral challenge then was to resist for the sake of others and for the future even at the risk of personal annihilation. In this sense fantasy characters suddenly faced the kind of danger we face in reality. How they conducted themselves became as significant as any eventual victory or reward.

I got to enact so many schemes that I had been imagining for ages. In particular it was fantastic to show how one can time-travel by fooling history into thinking one belongs in the past. This was done to bring Lost Legions that had vanished in the past into the present to help save the world (in a variation of the old ‘Sleeping Hero’ legend that made an entire community the long-hoped-for saviour and a time-loop into the method that brings them back).

All that gaming has been recorded in whole paragraphs that are interesting to look back over and could in the future form the basis of some fiction writing. I could also now edit and expand the content of my Lands weblog but will have to decide what information should stay secret. And finally I should modify some of my ‘homebrew’ rules with game experience in mind (in particular my clergy and rogues need more heroic moments relative to my warriors and mages).

The Lands was saved in the end but has also been changed. Populations have been disrupted. Balances of power have shifted and new alliances formed. Secrets were exposed and a few more generated. The Lost Wanderers were granted a province to govern while our original party won possession of an ancient and forgotten ‘sky-ship’. There could definitely be more gaming but for now I will give it a rest and get on with other things.

Thanks to my players Varia, Marty, Katrina and Sarah for all that gaming. You are fun-loving, inventive, creative, and as skilled at making peace as at winning wars. Thanks also to occasional guests Josh, Belinda and Cameron for help and extra company. I had a fantastic time.

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Same-Sex Marriage Victory

Around the turn of the century I was sitting among a group of progressive campaigners discussing whether there was any way of making same-sex marriage a legal fact. If only Labor would adopt a supportive policy and bind its parliamentarians to that while the Coalition allowed its parliamentarians a conscience vote then we may just have a chance of getting the numbers. A lot has changed since then.

Last week the Governor-General rubber-stamped legislation making same-sex marriage legal in Australia. This followed a decisive victory for the Senator Smith private members bill in both chambers of Federal Parliament. And this in turn had followed on logically from a majority result in the same-sex marriage postal survey that I discussed here. I was confident of the consensus across major parties to support change but it is nice to see it become an historic fact following decades of campaigning.

In this entry I will expand on some of the arguments I made in my pamphlet and discuss some of what passed during the campaign. I made that pamphlet as a 'do-it-yourself campaigner' but there was more to it than that. The official Yes campaign had a very simplistic three word message of 'Love Is Love' intended to resonate with the elusive 'average' Australian. This message was delivered in a professional and respectful manner but it was too wishy-washy for my tastes. I wanted something more nitty-gritty and so decided to become part of the large and amorphous unofficial Yes campaign.

I focused on rights and this was apparently also utilized by specialized affiliates of the official Yes campaign targetting recent migrant demographics. I feel vindicated in that the neighbourhood I letterboxed is very much a migrant area. I cannot ever be sure my few hundred pamphlets had an impact but I think it was important to try methods others were neglecting in this era of electronic echo chambers. I also did it because I discovered those electronic methods can be counter-productive.

On Facebook I had stated my position and invited disparate friends into discussion with me if they felt differently. This overture was almost instantly undermined by friends quipping that they too supported a Yes response and considered a No response to be stupid or nasty. Who is likely to engage with me if they see the dogmatic company I keep? I differed from much of the unofficial Yes campaign in my focus on respectful debate and my desire to change minds. This task has gotten harder in the past decade and that was amply demonstrated in the hours following the announcement of a nation-wide Yes majority in the well-attended postal survey.

Very quickly punters could see that some of the few electorates that showed only minority support for a Yes response were working class areas of diverse migrant populations. Soon I was countering all manner of comments on Facebook that were expressing opposition to homophobia by betraying borderline racist, creedist and classist attitudes. How can we switch so rapidly from humane to inhumane stances at the glance of an electoral info-graphic?

Part of the problem was the simplisitic notion that the campaign was defined only by 'love' and 'hate'. This dichotomy excludes the possibility of other conditions such as ignorance, confusion, fear or indoctrination. I met a lot of resistance to my advocacy for a more nuanced take and it was only on the following morning that antagonists started to back down.

The thing that made them step back (other than the passage of time in this fast-paced world) was the circulation of a long and well-crafted post by a queer campaigner of recent migrant background giving us a reality check and confirming that it takes time and work to change the minds of those who have been conditioned by particular traditions. It seems we trust personal anecdotes more than expert or even common sense arguments. This frustrated me because of my hours of effort the preceding day. There were many ways of thinking that had been sidelined. Here are a few:

* Any understanding of the facts will tell you that every electorate in the nation harbours thousands of both Yes and No respondents. It will also tell you that our citizenry excludes permanent residents and minors who cannot vote. Characterizing entire swathes of suburbia on the basis of one voluntary survey at one moment in time is beyond stupid.

* The concept of Pluralism tells us that society is composed of many overlapping interests whose political allegiances shift and change from issue-to-issue. The person you oppose today over same-sex marriage will be the person you side with on refugee rights tomorrow. With that in mind it seems emotionally vexed to demonize someone for any one stance.

* Historically, progressives like me have embraced universal notions of our common humanity and thus had understanding for those who think differently. Such a stance also allowed us to find common ground and change minds. Possibly this philosophy is too reminiscent of the utterances of some religious philosophers and therefore deemed hackneyed by many. But it works if we let it.

Any one of these concepts would have prevented the profiling of whole electorates but only the demand to back off from campaigners of particular demographics worked. In this sense identity politics proved ineffective. You would think the concept of 'Intersectionality' would have done the trick but it seems too difficult a concept to digest. Many were so stuck on the one track of opposing homophobia that for that moment all other forms of prejudice were forgotten and only personal anecdotes from particular activists could prompt a switching of tracks. Embracing our common Humanity would have done it automatically and allowed a 'privileged' person like me to get the job done. But I find I cannot use the power I supposedly have in online settings. Hence I stepped away from the computer and onto the streets.

Within the word limit of my pamphlet I defended 'Political Correctness' (PC) as a contemporary form of manners. That seems to contradict my criticism of identity politics in this post. However a distinction needs to be made. Few if any adverse effects of PC fall upon ordinary members of the public. Only its own adherents are hampered by the constant peer-driven behaviour management it engenders. This is a problem for progressives rather than for society as a whole. As such I can happily defend PC to the public.

The No campaigners made reference to lots of other tangential issues besides PC. My pamphlet summarily dismissed ludicrous notions like marrying animals or objects but I skirted the issue of Polyamory. I support the notion of a society that recognizes and accepts the practice of non-exclusive relationships between consenting adults. However it is also a debate for another day. Society needs time to consider this issue and polyamorists ourselves will have to decide exactly what it is we want from society.

Another distraction was the Safe Schools program but I never bothered to reference it. I have been on both sides of the educational fence and as such can be rather sceptical of ever-changing educational trends. But I also see the wider context of a society in which pragmatic teaching staff, family members, friends and popular culture all serve to ameliorate the shortcomings of theory. Overall, any education program that helps children have a better grasp of reality is one I support.

I argued for laws that conform to the way society is today. This by itself could result in problems but such laws need to also meet the test of minimizing harm and maximizing quality-of-life for all. Harm Minimization is also why I supported the consensus bill that accommodated some religious concerns. This is far better than a zero-tolerance driving of such resistance-to-change underground. Let them openly stand apart and have the public walk away from them in droves. Growing religious diversity will allow for the ability to shop around.

The one novelty of my pamphlet was its argument that same-sex marriage improves religious freedom by allowing those religious supporters of same-sex marriage to celebrate it. This even seemed to surprise progressive religious persons I shared it with (it is almost as if the truly compassionate among them are so focused on the needs of others that they forget that they have needs too). It was only once I sent this message to a number of religious groups who support change that I saw them starting to use the same argument. Possibly this straight agnostic had a small impact on how they saw themselves but you rarely can say for sure with campaigning efforts.

And now it looks like we are to have a public inquiry into religious freedoms. This is a last-ditch effort by the moral conservative minority within the Federal government to claw back some of what they feel they lost with the Smith bill. However inquiries tend to take on a life of their own and I think we will find this grows into something that represents all variations of religion in Australia rather than just those who called for it. So for instance what works for Christians will also have to apply to Muslims and this will limit how much any group pushes its case.

The moral conservatives have tested the concept of the 'moral majority' and found us wanting. I wonder what impact this will have on them. I suspect that it will embolden the moderates (across the major parties) to understand that Australians are far more permissive and accepting than they had imagined. I think it will also benefit parliamentary democracy at the expense of populist alternatives like plebiscites. And most importantly I think it will give confidence to queer Australians themselves to enter more fully into all aspects of society.

The survey was a divisive one but in reality any debate would have been. We still cling to the notion promoted during the Enlightenment that rights are innate but in practice they only exist because we make and maintain and refine them. A lot of work has been done by brave and tenacious queer campaigners. The result of same-sex marriage is far more than just a gesture. Existing marriages conducted overseas were instantly recognized and many more will soon be entered into. The legal rights associated with marriage will tangibly benefit many. Lives and even livelihoods will be improved as the economy gets a boost to wedding-related services. And there will be some very festive celebrations.

I have spent too many words in this post on whinging. I should remember that something I have actively supported for over two decades has now succeeded. This is a victory to be savoured and it is worth noting that nothing like this has ever happened in our history. We have done better than just win back lost ground. Rather it is new ground and better ground at that. Bring on the Summer of same-sex marriages galore.


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