Depression – here I use the term in a strictly technical sense – is something very different from sadness; it’s a terrible condition which is always linked to the idea of a final conviction, issued continuously on every moment of one’s life. And here we run immediately into language problems. Far more understandable are the pains of bereavement, poverty, hunger and unemployment. Although depression itself may result from each of these elements, it’s the idea itself that seems to have something wrong. The commodification of the word ‘depressed’ has really destroyed most of its medical semantic value. - Giorgio Fontana, Berfrois.com
Image: John Constable, The Sea near Brighton, 1826. (Click to enlarge.)
On Berfrois's Facebook page, the above by Giorgio Fontana is beautifully accompanied by the Constable painting seen here.
Fontana is correct, depression is not sadness. It's not quiet, either. It's a distracting mental static that at best is mercilessly stupefying, like the sound and motion of waves that are slightly too big to be gently lulling or mesmerizing in effect. quite crashing, but they don't crash like stormy seas, either. Collectively, they are a seemingly inescapable ocean, always ominous, sometimes slightly so, sometimes dreadfully so with occasional swells and fits. A gray sea without sight of land. It is not "feeling a little blue," it is not "having a bad day," and when one is in its shore-less midst ones mood can pitch back and forth at times between desperation and lassitude.
In 1974, Gary Gygax (1938–2008) and Dave Arneson (1947–2009), both influenced by tabletop wargames and fantasy fiction, created Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). In 1977, the Dungeons & Dragon's Basic Set was published by the company Gygax and Arneson co-founded, TSR, Inc., and Gygax next wrote the more complex three-book Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
The game, under the simple title Dungeons & Dragons, is the epitome of tabletop role-playing games. Its fifth edition debuts in summer 2014 as a product of Wizards of the Coast (WofC), a Hasbro subsidiary based in Seattle.
Tabletop wargames, a major influence on Gygax and Arneson, descend from chess but are less abstract. They are strategy games that first became popular in the 1950s in the U.S. through the Avalon Hill gaming company.** Before that time, wargames existed as instructional tools for military officers--for instance Kriegsspiel (1812) used by the Prussian army--however, popular wargamming arguably descends more directly from the game H.G. Wells created in his 1913 book Little Wars. The book transforms typical improvisational play with toy soldiers into a parlour game version based on codified rules.*** (Read Little Wars at the Gutenberg Project website.)
Both tabletop wargames and RPGs use dice and probability. In wargames, dice and chance tend to stand in for battlefield or strategic conditions generally termed "friction," which are not encapsulated by the rules, e.g., weather conditions, the "fog of war" (Nebel des Krieges, a concept identified by Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz (1780–1831), troop morale, etc.)
In role-playing games, the dice serve the same basic function but relative to friction operating almost always at the level to the individual character (the player character (PC)) not a military unit.
The various polyhedral dice used in many RPGs are sub-cultural icons and are designated by their number of sides, e.g., d4, d6, d8, d10, d20, etc.****
Fantasy fiction was the second influence on Gygax and Arneson. It dramatically expanded as a literary genre following the tremendous popularity beginning in the 1960s of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings (1954).***** The genre includes many unremarkable "Tol-clones" written since the 1960s as well as comparatively more worthwhile works. As I see it, the genre as it exists now descends from three literary categories pre-dating Tolkien, the first two of which influenced Tolkien and the latter two of which are now generally considered to be as sub-genres within fantasy fiction:
1) mythology and myth-imbued lore, primarily those of medieval Germanic peoples (e.g. the Prose Edda, penned c. 1220 by Snorri Sturluson, and Beowulf, of the Nowell Codex that was penned c. 975–1025);
2) a type of tale Tolkien describes in his 1947 essay "On Fairy-Stories," which include works by George MacDonald (e.g. The Princess and the Goblin, 1872) and William Morris (e.g. The Well at the World's End, 1896); and
3) fantastical or horror pulp fiction, such as that published in the 1920s magazine Weird Tales, including works by H.P. Lovecraft (e.g. "The Call of Cthuhlu"); this category also falls into one often termed weird fiction.
The Role-playing Games Industry After D&D
From the 1990s on, tabletop role-playing games evolved into card-based games, computer- and mobile device-based role-playing games, and what is now the $1.4 billion massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) industry.
I spent many hours during my teenage years playing tabletop role-playing games. Some fellow Generation X gamers include Steven Colbert, Conan O'Brian, Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Jon Favreau, Ewan McGreggor, Seth Greene, Patton Oswalt, Joss Whedon, Jack Black, and David Boreanaz. Vin Diesel is a major D&D fan. He's been interviewed about role-playing and cites Dungeons & Dragons as an influence on his Riddick films. (On the set of Riddick in 2004, he introduced Dame Judi Dench to D&D.) Wil Wheaton is also a fan and an enthusiast of tabletop gaming in general. He hosts the program TableTop on the Geek & Sundry YouTube channel. Among the Baby Boomer generation, Stephen King is a D&D fan.
The second part of Jerry Whitworth's excellent article "The ’80s – Geek Edition" gives a good sense of the evolution of RPGs, in part from from the perspective of the comics art profession.
Tabletop RPGs that I played the most often, some of which are still in production:
- Middle-earth Role Playing (MERP), a product of Ice Crown Enterprises, Inc., and the first role-playing game I purchased,
- Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, a product to Fantasy Flight Games in Roseville, MN licensed by the British company Games Workshop (LSE: GAW.L),
- GURPS (Generic Universal RolePlaying System; see the Web site), a creation of Steven Jackson Games--the Austin, Texas offices of which were raided by the Secret Service in the 1990s relative to concerns that GURPS Cyberpunk was a how-to on cyber crime--including related products GURPS Autoduel, GURPS Horror, and GURPS Old West.
- Star Frontiers,
- Twilight 2000,
- Top Secret,
- Ars Magica (I merely dabbled; it's now in its fifth edition)
and, of course,
- Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), the fifth edition of which will be released in 2014 as a product of Hasbo-owned Wizards of the Coast (WofC).
OF SPECIAL NOTE:
"Happy 40th Birthday to Dungeons & Dragons," The Guardian, Jan. 3, 2014.
The Great Kingdom is an upcoming documentary about the origins of D&D.
This TSR timeline offers a look at D&D's evolution over the last 40 years.
See the Salon.com article, "All I needed to know about life I learned from 'Dungeons & Dragons'"
Images; top: "The red box," the 1983 revision of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, this product probably more than any other introduced people to tabletop RGPs; second from top: polyhedral dice (okay...my polyhedral dice actually--unused for about 20 years now, alas--photo by yours truly); middle: the first edition of The Lord of the Rings; second for bottom: a webisode of the Geek & Sundry program TableTop; bottom: the cover of an edition of Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP).
*What's a role-playing game? The short first two paragraphs devoted to the topic on Wikipedia are as good of a definition as any I've encountered.
**The Avalon Hill brand is, like the Dungeons & Dragon's brand, owned now by Wizards of the Coast (WofC). As a teenager in the 1980s, I played numerous Avalon Hill tabletop wargames, too. That quality tabletop wargames possess that chess lacks I term "military simulation," others use the term "battlefield emulation." I find it difficult to describe. It's something like a concern for the historicity of the simulated military encounter or some history-based technical detail that not only the aesthetic of the game but also at least some of the rules attempt to impart. This degree of military simulation varies widely from game to game.
Regarding the emergence of tabletop wargames in the 1950s, perhaps it reflects, in part, American society's heightened awareness of military matters as the U.S. moved into its second decade of almost unrelenting war or concern for war: the Second World War followed by the Cold War and the Korean conflict.
***Wells' game may reflect British society's formality and preoccupation with the British Empire, which in 1913 was arguably at its height, as well as the fact that the upper- and middle-class lifestyles afforded the leisure time (and indoor space during inclement weather?) necessary for Wells' game. As others have pointed out, it's ironic the Wells, a pacifist, created Little Wars. Perhaps him doing so points to just how pervasive the aforementioned societal preoccupation was. Nonetheless, Wells notes in his book that "much better is this amiable miniature [war] than the real thing." (See Michael Rundel's "HG Wells' 'Little Wars': How An Icon Of Sci-Fi Invented Modern War Games 100 Years Ago.")
****I played several, the most original of which I encountered but never had opportunity to play was Ogre, which is now in its sixth edition and which also exists as the Kickstarter-funded, 29-pound The Ogre Designer's Edition (photo, click to enlarge) that shipped in November 2013. It garnered 5,512 backers and funding that was $903,680 in excess of the stated $20,000 goal.
*****Some might include certain historical novels set in the Middle Ages in the fantasy category, too, but this is a gray area. There are historical novels involving magic as the novel's characters understand it. An example is Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. To the characters, magic is a reality--it seems to be a real, operative thing in their world--and thus within some such novels it is described as such, usually from a first-person point of view. Another gray area is what I call naturalistic fantasy: works that, like a historical novel, are devoid of magic or the supernatural except as they might exist in the perception of characters, but that are set in a time and place imagined by the author and not corresponding to reality. George R.R. Martin's fiction comes close to this type of fiction. Compared to Tolkien's fantasy, for instance, Martin's is less mythic in tone, less concerned with magic, and is more informed then are Tolkein's works by anthropology and the dynamics of power and politics, gritty subjects than, say, philology and mythology, which inform Tolkien's works greatly).
Allan Kozinn's review from The New York Times of a 1990 performance of the operetta The Journey of Snow White, which was composed by Al Carmines, formerly of The Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village, NYC. (My friend the late Wayne Eley of Atlanta, Georgia produced a video of the original production of the operetta.)
The Judson Memorial Church has for decades been a home for offbeat art exhibitions and music, theater and dance productions that reflect the spirit of its Greenwich Village neighborhood. This year, the church is celebrating its centennial with a varied schedule of events, including revivals of three shows by one of its former ministers, Al Carmines.
Mr. Carmines, who has moved uptown to the Rauschenbusch Memorial Church, is a prolific composer with eclectic tastes. His 1971 quasi-operatic musical comedy, ''The Journey of Snow White,'' was presented at the Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South) through last night.
In this amusing fantasy, Mr. Carmines freely embellishes the fairy tale. In his version, Queen I - Snow White's mother - predicts her death in a melancholy Purcellian recitative. But before leaping into the grave, she persuades the King to marry Queen II. While not overtly evil, as wicked stepmothers go, Queen II is unusually attached to her mirror (a character here), and the Queen turns on Snow White only when the mirror voices a preference for the younger woman.
When Queen II discovers that Snow White is living in the woods with the seven dwarfs (actually, there were six in the performance on Sunday evening, the seventh singer having sustained an injury), she commissions three witches to kill her. Instead of a single, charming prince who can wake Snow White with a kiss, Mr. Carmines sends three: an opera singer, a cowboy balladeer and a rock star who acts like a young Elvis Presley.
None of them rouse her, and the rock-and-roll prince's aria is lewd enough to get him ejected by the dwarfs. In the end, the full court and the ghost of Queen I turn up, and Snow White is rescued by the mirror, who has decided that he would prefer to be human.
The mood of the work is suggested in some of the aria titles: the two oddest are ''Love Is Our Epistemology,'' sung by the dwarfs, and ''The Impression on Our Retina Has Gone,'' sung by the woodland creatures. But there are serious notions beneath the layers of overt silliness. Mr. Carmines takes his tongue out of his cheek long enough to show the power of love as a transforming force, and his finale is a gorgeous choral paean to free will.
The work's musical side has its charms as well, one being Mr. Carmines's organized approach to eclecticism, in which parodied styles are intrinsic to characterization. Snow White's agile, sugary music would be at home in a Lehar operetta. Queen I hops between moody Baroque settings and a bright cabaret style. Queen II and the mirror are more straightforwardly theatrical, and the King's music bears traces of Gilbert and Sullivan.
The menu also includes the diverse arias of the princes, a blues tune from a witch and Mr. Carmines's best moments, the exquisitely harmonized choral writing that turns up intermittently.
The production by Russell Treyz is endearingly homespun, with Nan Childress's robust piano playing, and Steve Hull's flute, clarinet and saxophone lines serving as the orchestra. Mary Ann Lee's lithe soprano and wide range is perfectly suited to Snow White's music. She was supported ably, if vocally more modestly, by the two Queens (Ann Harvey and Robin Manning), the King (Robert Sevra), the huntsman (Fred Einhorn) and the large community of animals and dwarfs.
Other notable members of the cast were Karl Heist, who as the country-and-western prince yodeled his way through his aria to his own guitar accompaniment; David Edwards, who contributed a fine tenor parody as the operatic prince; Robert McNamara, as the rock-and-roll prince, and Karen Cooper Smith, as the witch who sang the blues.
Photo: Rev. Al Carmines, photo by Gene Bagnato
Oh my. The Contact Us page on Time Warner's website for New York area customers as an interesting greeting for October 2nd-9th, 2013. (Click image to enlarge.)
Solar interference, or sun outage, is expected between October 2nd and October 9th this autumn. Solar interference can affect TV services in the spring and fall every year and causes the degradation or loss of satellite signals for short periods of time, up to 15 minutes each day, for 5-7 days.
In the summer of 1931, archaeologist Gustav Riek discovered the body of a ice-age mammoth-ivory figurine from a cave in Germany. Eighty years later the head belonging to that same figurine has been found and reattached to the body.
Below: the image I was so tempted to post instead....
Hear me ask my question to the panel of BBC Radio 4's Any Questions? this week. It will be broadcast online and on UK radio at 3:00 p.m. EDT (New York), 20:00 in the UK and available as a free podcast for download.* (Also available for free via iTunes.)
This week's panelists:
Sir Harold Evans of The Sunday Times, US News and World Report, The Atlantic Monthly, and the New York Daily News. In 1986 he founded Conde Nast Traveler. His book The American Century (1998) receiving particular acclaim. He is editor-at-large of The Week Magazine.
Former U.S. Rep. Nan Hayworth (NY 19th Congressional district) who may be considering a re-entry into politics. She was defeated in 2012 by Sean Patrick Maloney (who I've met several times over the course of years, as well as his partner Randy who is a fellow Hawkeye).
U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (MD 4th Congressional district) who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 and sits on the Committee on Science, Space and Technology and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
I attended a recording on the evening of April 18th, 2013, of one of my favorite radio shows, BBC Radio 4's Any Questions?, the world's longest-running radio panel discussion program, begun in 1948.** The show traveled across the pond to NYC this week to Columbia University's School of Journalism. Usually the show is broadcast live in the UK, and broadcast from a different location each week.
Attendees' questions are submitted ahead of time and selected by BBC staff. Panelists don't know ahead of time what the questions will be. For this taping, my question was one selected. I got to read my question aloud to the panel. For me this was very exciting.
The show has 3 million listeners a week, and it is part of my BBC Radio 4 triumvirate podcast I listen to each weekend--the other two programs being Friday Night Comedy (The News Quiz hosted by Sandi Toksvig and The Now Show with Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt) and In Our Time with host Melvyn Lord Bragg of Wigton.
*It's rebroadcast at 8:10 a.m. EDT on Saturday, 13:10 in the UK, too. Once archieved, it will be here.
**Technically, Gardeners' Question Time was founded a year earlier, in 1947, but it's a niche program really. ;)
PHOTOS, top to bottom: The panel (in the Pulitzer Building's lecture Hall on campus); me with Congresswoman Donna Edwards; me with Jonathan Dimbleby after the recording.
To identify the most underpaid jobs, U.S. News analyzed data provided by the compensation experts at PayScale to highlight occupations in which people earn far less than median pay. We further sorted those jobs to isolate those in which workers say the stress is high (a proxy for how demanding the work is) and their work makes an important difference in the world. (See a full methodology note at the bottom of the story.)
Read the article at finance.yahoo.com
(Image via Tumblr posts tagged "assisted living")
Assisted living coordinator (median mid-career salary: $36,900).
Daycare director ($32,100).
Police, fire or ambulance dispatcher ($39,300) -- "one of the most stressful jobs you can have while sitting at a desk".
Office nurse ($42,700).
Medical insurance coordinator ($34,600) -- "When there's a problem, they're the first to hear about it. But when everything goes smoothly, nobody knows they're there".
Lead pharmacy technician ($34,900) -- "pharmacies...are under constant pressure to cut costs".
Veterinary technician ($32,800).
Social worker ($42,300).
Emergency medical technician (EMT) / paramedic ($39,600).
Artistic director [of a theatre, concert hall, performing arts company] ($48,200) -- "grueling lifestyle sacrifices.... Cutbacks in public funding".
BBC Radio 4 asks in a 3-minute segment of "Profile": why is "Gangnam Style" such a hit?
The short answer, provided in part by Dr. Hae-kyung Um of Liverpool University, is that the video and its creator South Korean rapper Psy are both perfect for the online era. They both have cross-over appeal to various groups and do not resist parody; in fact, they seem to invite it. Several parody videos of "Gangnam Style" appear on YouTube daily. This trend in turn heightens awareness of the original. "Gangnam Style" is a participatory artistic and pop culture phenomenon for an age of transparency, collaboration, and global connectivity through technology.
YouTube can be a delivery vehicle for global success but it doesn't guarantee it. Less remarked upon in the BBC segment is that by reflecting the Western, specifically American, influence that for years has strongly influenced South Korea (1 in 5 Koreans are Christian, one Korean Pentecostal mega-church famously has 1 million members), Psy and "Gangnam Style" are familiar enough to Western viewers to be non-threatening while still being distinctly South Korean enough to be safely and entertainingly exotic.
So, questions remain. Why is this Psy video a breakout when earlier ones are extremely similar? Do American viewers in particular perceive a tip of the cowboy hat from Psy in his rodeo-evoking moves? Is "Gangnam Style" more popular than his previous videos in non-Western countries, too? If yes, then would non-Western popularity be as strong if the video had not also caught on in the US? Who is influencing whom and how much? I presume it's not particularly popular in Sana'a and Mexico City...or is it?
I suspect that to younger Westerners the video raises curiosity about South Korea in general and perhaps K-pop music in particular, as the Summer Olympics in Seoul might have done if they had been in 2012, not 1988. The 2012 Summer Olympic games had unprecedented Internet presence--much to the benefit of Britain's brand and London tourism--including through social media engagement by spectators and athletes, whose average age was 26. Psy is a bit like a one-man South Korean Olympics, a second one for 2012: flashy, pop-oriented, and if not athletic or very young, at least slightly baby-faced and surprisingly agile and fun to watch. BBC Radio 4 even gives some understandably tempered play to optimistic speculation about Psy's ability to thaw North and South Korean tensions. What would be more Olympic than that? Global goodwill through dance. I would not, however, expect a performance at the DMZ anytime soon.
Photo: U.S. Army, Installation Management Command, Korea Region, Public Affairs Office (2008) via Wikipedia
From the second episode of the three-part 1998 BBC Radio 3 drama, Troy (Jeremy Mortimer, prod./dir., Andrew Rissik, writer) now available for a limited time on BBC Radio 4 Extra, the words of Helen of Troy (portrayed by Geraldine Somerville, later cast as Harry Potter's mother, Lily, in the Harry Potter films),
I dressed for the first time in memory, alone, with no servants. I wore rough sailor's cloth. I remember, when I kissed Paris in the dark his body would not stay still. It moved under my hands. He took me ashore in a boat which let the water in. He sat in a puddle as he rowed, and when I laughed at him, he lept up like a baboon and stopped my mouth with his kisses. I think I grazed an elbow shouting, "Slower! Slower!" And as he came the thunder came, too. God-light arched across the bay. The cliffs shook. The clouds split open. They pelted arrows of water upon our delighted bodies....
We passed three days and nights on the isle of Cranae, sleeping and making love, eating cheese and black bread, drinking only goats' milk and rough local wine.
As the bird flies home to its nest, as the soul returns at last to god, so the spirit in love finds and receives the beloved.
The cast also includes the late Academy-award winner* Paul Scofield CH CBE, Julian Glover, Michael Sheen OBE, Lindsay Duncan CBE, and as Achilles, Toby Stephens, the son of Dame Maggie Smith and Sir Robert Stephens.
We are wretched creatures, ignorant, selfish, and cruel. My life has gone by and the time has been wretchedly used. I have been ungentle and unloving, and serving myself above all others, I have wasted my best days.
In wine there is some oblivion, yet it does not last. In sleep there is some rest, yet it is not perfect. In memory there is some peace, yet it is fleeting. In love there is some ecstasy, yet it is changeable and shifting. Forgetfulness is ever denied us, for the imagination does not forget except briefly, but possesses its own inequities until the end of consciousness, which if the gods are kind is death, a sleep secure and senseless--inanimate as the earth.
After each episode's initial Saturday broadcast it will be available for seven days to listen to on demand using BBC iPlayer.
*Best Actor, won for his portrayal of Sir Thomas More in the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, for which he also was awarded a BAFTA Award and a Tony Award.
Image: promotional photo of Whatanui Flavell and Roimata Fox as Paris and Helen in the Ngakau Toa Company's Maori production of Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressdia (Toroihi raua ko Kahira), which represented New Zealand at The Globe to Globe Festival as part of the Cultural Olympiad in London, April 2012.