(A Little More) Dresden Files Noodling

A problem I have with most games lurking in the urban fantasy genre is this: those that have are PCs and those who do not are squishy meat.

Non-supernatural characters in urban fantasy games are worse than afterthoughts — they’re filler. They wander the world as empty ghosts who run the clubs where PCs hang out, get out the spackle when they get shot, die when spells go awry in messy splatters and wander through the living universe like potential hamburger. A few games have humans strike back against the super special guys via secret societies who act as limp antagonists, but typically You Haz Powahz or You Suck.

This was a major In Nomine problem. Angels and Demons are supposed to hide among the masses and never let their masks slip, but why? Humans are so weak compared to Celestials they hardly make pets let alone servitors or a race whose souls need saving.  Paper thin humans stood around helplessly miming their scripts as Celestials limped into the hospital rooms full of bullet holes. Expert surgeons were unable to dig a bullet out of a Celestial thigh with even the shiniest of scalpels.

There was no patch or workaround; the system had a scale issue that divided a world into Celestials and Meat.

I saw this the few times I played Vampire. It popped up a little in the horror games of the 90s. It does make sense from a design standpoint: why would anyone ever play a human being in a supernatural world when the supernatural world is neat and the mundane world is… mundane?

Why indeed?

I credit Buffy the Vampire Slayer* for showing off humans vs. vampires — and the humans not being quite so lame as previously presumed. Quite the contrary. True Blood is sometimes even better — Jessica and Hoyt, anyone? Humans do populate the world, vampires can be killed with a well-placed stake through the heart, monsters can be defeated by cunning plans and a dash of insanity. Humans do not need to be formless meatbags filling a meatbag universe.  They can be people, too.

This brings me around to Dresden Files, a game which takes the True Blood High Road and makes humans relevant. Not just relevant: actively dangerous to the supernatural community if they find themselves in position to be knowledgeable and can use a stake. Human allies, servants, servitors, lovers, enemies, cult members — these guys now have value. It changes the whole feeling of a genre formerly populated by ghosts and wisps of memory. I assume this comes from the novels but I see it clearly in the system.

The FATE point refresh mechanic is as elegant a bit of RPG engineering as I ever saw. It’s a simple and neat package of a solution. Regular humans may not have all the whizz-bang supernatural powers of the local magician or vampire, but they’re luckier. They can pull off a high-risk maneuver more often. They can bring out that down side of the other guy just a little bit more for advantage. Simply level the playing field by giving those without supernatural powers more playing field.

And it’s so simple. You pay for your powers out of your refresh pool. When you, the supernatural dude, refreshes FATE points, you get less than the guy who doesn’t have supernatural powers. The FATE economy in the game ensures a big pile of FATE points in the center of the table but, when push comes to shove, you, the supernatural guy, have to horde a little bit more than the human who is more inflow-positive. It’s a balance in incentives, a triumph of basic economics — humans have more so they will spend more and they will reap the benefits of having more because the fun is in moving FATE points around. And you, the supernatural guy, you get to cast a lightning bolt, but just slightly less than your human driver gets to jump the party’s Subaru over the gap of slowly raising sides of the drawbridge.

Humans get slightly more narrative control.

A simple and clean mechanic solves a problem that plagues the genre.  Worlds are populated with people instead of meat. Humans have narrative worth. All the bits about hiding among humanity and the dangers of humanity and being hunted by human secret societies now have heft.  Weight.  Don’t screw with humanity because while you may be able to live off human blood these guys can shoot you.

Clean solutions to nasty little balls of problems warms my little engineer heart. This is why I find myself talking up the game: not only does it solve a balance problem, it does so in such a nice way no one ever notices the problem ever existed in the first place.

* A show I, granted, never really watched because I am the world’s worst nerd. I am a really terrible nerd.

Dresden Files Noodling

Licensed properties are never my first choice for a game. Nor my second. Nor my third. I pass them by on the shelf. Untouched. Unloved. I’m not a big enough fan of most properties to crack the spine let alone dig into the meat of the game to get to the goodness lurking within.*

I have not read any of the Dresden Files novels, nor read the comic book, nor watched the TV show. Twelve novels, at this point, daunt me; my reading queue is quite deep and I have all the patience of a methhead. I am coming at the game as someone for whom the property has no draw. This turns out to be the selling point, if not the winning point: the Dresden Files RPG is a fantastic urban fantasy RPG which does not need the Dresden Files. It is yummy taco filling surrounded by a property corn shell — the Dresden Files content holds all the good stuff in so it doesn’t go running all over the plate but it is not strictly necessary from a meal stand point. It can just be all taco. And also, salsa.

The cheese, as they say, stands alone.

I won’t bother with a lengthy review deconstructing the 400+ page tome of the first source book alone. Suffice to say it is an excellent game, well designed and well laid out with attractive art and a flow that makes sense.** The Internets overflow with 1000 word reviews full of praises for FATE, a system I hear actually works, so go read those. I have a special fondness for the city creation chapter since, in my hoary old age, I find I have less love for vampire love then for tools and toolkits.

My gut tells me had I had this game in my hot little hands ten years ago this would be the game, the Holy Grail, the great RPG beacon in the sky shining down the light and the goodness and I would have been insufferable with it. Every game must be this Dresden Files thing. Space opera? Dresden Files. Vampire soap opera? Dresden Files. Cthulhu?

I draw the line at Cthulhu. Cthulhu is sacred.

Since I am old and I spend all my time talking about the Good Old Days, my core urge is to go off and convert it to everything I have ever played. I am giving into that urge. Here’s what I would run with the FATE version contained in the “Your Story” volume of the DFRPG:

In Nomine: I have spent years trying to convert IN to something that would work for IN and became convinced FATE was the answer a few years ago when it was in an Earlier Incarnation. With DFRPG I’m convinced; it would take some new stunts and spells in the magic section to fill it out and a mechanic to deal with some of the finer bits of IN like disturbance rules*** but it would work. It would not only work it would be a vast improvement: non-useless humans, human servants with actual power, angels and demons working in a humanity that could take them out.

One of the great weaknesses of IN was the terrible imbalance between normal humans (squishy worthless meatbags) and mid-level servitors and high-level servitors. With DFRPG still would have some power imbalances but it would be less lumpy. Now those Vampire servants of Death have worth and we won’t even talk about the serious juju those Jesuits get up to with their Relics in the Vatican basement. The world got fuller: an encounter with an Ethereal on the streets of New York has epic consequences but so does finding that Balseraph lurking in the upper ranks of the Pentagon who can send out his secret military Angel-capping squads who can actually hit with their weapons. The dangers are real and people are dangerous. You cannot let slip your faux-human mask because those guys have guns that hurt.

It would be a different game, I think. One populated with more characters. But with more than angels and demons. And I come down on the side of being good with that.

Nephilim: I have spent years trying to convert Nephilim to something. For those who don’t know (and that is everyone), Nephilim was an occult/urban fantasy RPG (a familiar genre!) from Chaosium with an extremely compelling back story and an excellent magic system in concept but terrible in execution. It was converted from an even earlier French game but bore almost no relation to the original game except the Tarot themed groups and the secret societies — of which the Knights Templar were the ultimate hunter killers.

When FATE 2.0 came out I did a character creation with Nephilim’s multiple reincarnations through history system and it worked ridiculously well but it didn’t have all the stunts and the magic system (yet) so I had a part-Nephilim. Even with DFRPG the magic system would need to be redone to pick up the Nephilim occult flavor. But there I was, reading the “Your Story” book, thinking about the Nephilim character with two Aspects: “Phoenix” and “I love Judgment — AND SO DO YOU.” And around the corner from my buddy the Phoenix Nephilim with the alchemically enchanted flaming sword are the Knights Templar with God Knows What…

A long time ago I wanted to run a Nephilim game that was based on the coming of the Fool because all Nephilim games are based on coming of the Fool. Now I am thinking about how easy it would be, with the DFRPG, to run a game based on Tarot-themed secret societies. And strange beings who live for thousands of years. And the Knights Templar. And horrible secrets hidden throughout history. And how awesome it would be.

Anyway, moving on…

DFRPG Tactical Combat: I recently read through Diaspora RPG (and so should you). Within the pages of that lovely little book is a platoon combat mini-game that runs on FATE and uses FATE characters. And once upon a time I read Delta Green.**** Who hasn’t?

So imagine a game where the ultimate capstone scene after hunting down the nest of Fey in downtown Chicago where they’ve holed up. A bit of squad combat breaks out when highly trained commandos break into the nest and start hosing it down with automatic weapons fire and arcs of mystical lightning — what squad wouldn’t have their mage units? But the Fey, they’re prepared, and they have their own squads of shape shifting were-spiders and mystical armor and the essence of Baba Yaga’s chicken footed house….

I want to marry the Delta Green pragmatic research into the horrors that lurk underneath the surface of normality with the Dresden Files groups of vampires and fairies and weremonsters. And I think it can be done with the help of a white board and some useful rules used for taking out space monsters.

So anyway I can go like this for a while because this game and this system can definitely support warring Tarot-based secret societies going to war with one another while human groups bent on eradicating the occult and supernatural hunt them all. Or maybe it can be Angels and Demons instead. Either way, the system is there, it just needs a bit of patching. A few stunts, some new spells, and it is good to go.

And now I’m thinking more about the Fool than I have in years.

Oh! One last thing, although surely this won’t be the last on occult urban fantasy games — I did look over the second book. Great if you love the Dresden Files. Not too useful if you are trying to shove Those Who Creep And Nibble into the game system.

Rob! I need a cult creation toolkit! My platoon squads of military priests need to go eradicate them with the Holy Assault Rifles of John the Baptist!

* Hilariously, I have written on licensed properties. Sadly, this property has kept me from looking at Smallville which, I have been assured, is quite good, but I have a physical aversion, almost allergy-like, to JLA.

** Rarer than it seems in RPGs. However, the index is hot linked in the PDF which made for an interesting surprise. Skim the index WOAH I’m on page 283!

*** Diaspora provides a compelling patch with shifts in their personal combat rules.

**** See? Call of Cthulhu. All roads lead back to CoC. Everyone says it goes back to D&D but they are wrong. CoC is the grand daddy of all these games and I bow before its might. And I roll d100…

Boardwalk Empire

HBO’s new series Boardwalk Empire started yesterday. HBO needs a new, solid crime series. In the hey day of HBO we had Sopranos AND Six Feet Under AND Deadwood AND Rome AND Carnival… when Sopranos and Six Feet Under wrapped, HBO was left with this void. Rome, while wonderful, had but two seasons. Deadwood three. HBO got a few shows right (we like Big Love) and it showed the Wire, but it fumbled the ball badly on others. True Blood started and found its voice in the second season — although it is a bit in trouble of adding too many wacky supernatural groups and getting too goofy.

The oomph lately, though, has been going to AMC and Showtime. What HBO needs is a Sopranos replacement.

I’m not certain Boardwalk Empire is a full-on Sopranos replacement but it has the potential to be something interesting. It’s crime and mob crime but its different mob crime. It’s historical set piece mob crime. Prohibition was just ratified, crime is about to explode, and no one has really gotten rolling yet. The show is about the power and money scramble under the new rules — because where someone would once pay .15 for a glass of whiskey they’ll now pony up $3. Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson is compellingly slimy without being an over the top scene chewing villain. It’s beautifully rendered. The costuming is phenomenally well done and clearly trying to give Mad Men a run for the money for its picky period details.

It has that slow build all these HBO shows have where it spends the first three episodes laying down all the groundwork and exposition before picking off characters. It has some solid mobster violence. It’s a bit more like Rome than the Sopranos — it feels like it needs historical Pop-Up Video with little bubbles and arrows to tell me who each character is and how they work into the scene. I wanted a THIS IS CICERO!!! for Rome and I needed a THIS IS LUCKY LUCIANO!!! pointer in one of the dinner scenes.

Our main concern is that Stephen Graham’s Al Capone has the potential to overshadow Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson and we want the focus of the show to be on Atlantic City instead of Chicago. (Eric said he would totally watch a spin-off of Stephen Graham’s Al Capone’s rise to power, though.) Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano didn’t stand out for me which is for the best — again, I’m afraid the camera will move to New York when we want it in New Jersey.

It’s Rome meets the Mob. I like it, but I’m not attached to it the way I am True Blood — but True Blood started kinda dumb, too. (It’s still kinda dumb, but that’s another story.) The first episode, although a bit slow with all the ground building and exposition, was by far good enough to not only earn itself a second episode but a first season. Yeah, I’ll come back and watch it.

Remember: it took a full season before we got the utterly magnificent second season of the Sopranos so I’m willing to give it the full 13 episodes.

[Game Review] Diaspora

It’s not too often I sit down and read a new RPG.  Okay, it’s never that I sit down and read a new RPG these days.  I’m always like, yeah, sure I’ll read stuff but…  I was sufficiently intrigued and I actually purchased an RPG and read it, and that RPG was the excellent Diaspora.

Diaspora is a hard science fiction game based on FATE 3.0, a snazzy storytelling system that does many things well and other things perfectly and smooths out many lumps in the gaming experience.  It’s also a toolkit and it can be used for anything.  Once it was used for Pulp, it’s quite popular right now in the urban supernatural genre, but me, I come from an old Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov and Robots and Empire background so I was mighty interested in hard sci-fi and see where it could go.

This is not a book about other people’s fancy characters. The guys who wrote this game are not interested in telling you about their campaign.  (Yes, the campaigns are used as examples but it is not the crux of the book in any way.)  This book is a toolkit with a minimal hard science fiction gimme — the faster than light drive for space travel between worlds and some very excellent background on technology — and then hands everything else over to the gaming group.

Diaspora is essentially an RPG wrapped around six internal mini-games, all powered with FATE and using FATE dice: cluster creation, character creation, personal combat, starship combat, platoon combat (!) and social combat.   The first two only come into play when starting a new game while the other four are set pieces for different parts of the game.  These are optional, but Diaspora would not be Diaspora without them.

Cluster creation I could play all day long and never get bored.  Using FATE dice, one rolls up sets of words and defines them with three attributes (Technology, Environment, Resources).  Each of the three attributes has a -4 to +4 sliding scale.  One can have a string of low tech garden worlds full of rich bounty for the harvesting, or a vastly technological world raping its system to the core to make a ringworld, or a system just starting to explore space.  Or all of these.  Then dice define how the cluster is put together.  This is the local Diaspora universe and each game is different.  Simply talking through planet and cluster creation brings up tons of ideas for scenes and games and entire campaigns.  None of them feature Cthulhu.

Character creation is very much standard FATE character creation with a heavy emphasis on weaving the PCs into each other’s background.  This is standard for every FATE game.  Diaspora has a nice list of skills and stunts.

Where Diaspora shines for me are the mini-games.  Diaspora takes what could be very crunchy, mini-requiring wargames and turns them into fast, furious and fun games baked into the juicy FATE shell.  The best part of the mini-games is that they stand alone; one only needs to either make some characters or take some pre-genned ships or platoons and go to town.  They do need a whiteboard and markers to work properly — these are the sort of mini-games that require props — but the results feel so satisfying.  The examples are clear and to the point.  They don’t muck around much with story.  They show you what they need to show you and get out of the way.

And yes, I made a little squeeing noise when I saw the platoon combat mini-game.  Me!  I did!  All I could think about was Aliens.  But my favorite of the four by far is the social combat mini-game.  It’s the best RPG social gaming simulator I have seen since Chris Aylott’s “Dynasties and Demagogues” for d20, a system that never did social combat well but tried.  Unlike FATE which does social combat, and with the Aspect system and compels and social maneuvers, does it well.  It feels like the ebb and flow of social combat.  It feels like the board has pawns and bishops and queens and the players can push them all around by making cunning rolls and burning FATE points.  Maybe I am very visual and I like being able to see the little dots on the field and know what my political target is and how far there is to go to win or lose, but it clicked with me on a deep level.  I want to take Diaspora’s social combat system and use it everywhere.

Yeah, I would totally play Diaspora.  It appeals to my deep gearhead geek.  It gives me toys and gets out of my way so I can go play.  I would probably lose at the starship battle and platoon battle the first several times I played but FATE allows one to lose gracefully so that’s all good.  I’m sure there are now fancy Indie gaming terms I have completely forgotten to codify why I like it but in my terms it is: excellent narrative structure for flow of play, incredibly clean and clear game rules, excellent examples, lots of ships and weapons out of the box, and the process of creating a cluster filled my head with ideas.  It passed my test — if I could think up three campaign ideas while reading the source book, it’s a damn fine game.  If I could think up three ideas and understand the rules clearly then it’s a win for the good guys.

The PDF is only $13, so it is slightly above the “I would buy it just to skim it” price.  It looks fantastic on Good Reader on the iPad, so if you have one of those, you’re in business.  I hear it’s in paperback now, too.  So go buy that. You can even go buy it here.

Not quite 1000 words on antihistamines and cold medicine on a game.  Awesome. Also, it occurs to me that I do not mind reviewing games as long as they are available in PDF that displays on Good Reader on the iPad.

Big 10 Divisions

When I heard the Big 10* was splitting into two divisions that would culminate at the end of the year with a single playoff game between the two divisions to determine a Big 10 winner, I was undecided. Would the Michigan-Ohio State game get lost in the shuffle? What if it wasn’t the end of the season? Would we all die???

Turns out the divisions do not suck and I find myself mildly pleased. Not overly enthusiastic because I am mourning the loss of the UM-Penn State game — YOU PENN STATE PEOPLE KNOW WHO YOU ARE — but it is far less a bag of suck then what usually comes out of college football. The divisions are:

* Michigan, Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern.
* Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.

I liked the addition of “protected games” although some of them are a little contrived. I also realize everyone wants Michigan to play Nebraska every year as a big marquee game. They kept the Michigan-Michigan State game and the Little Brown Jug game. I think it works out. Sure, no more UM-Penn State, UM-Purdue or UM-Wisconsin games, all staples of the schedule, but I think we’ll live.

I also suspect this has been engineered to absorb Notre Dame and Missouri. No one has made any particular secret that the dream is to expand the Big 10 into a 16 Team Supergroup**, sort of like a Velvet Revolver of College Football. Or maybe Them Crooked Vultures — it has Dave Grohl. But that means Notre Dame and Missouri have to sign up. I bet they will — it makes the Big 10 huge and the ad revenue on TV will be even more astronomical, astronomical-astronomical, than it is now. The lure of filthy lucre will pull Notre Dame, forever going ‘I will not be seen with those stinky State Schools***’ into its ugly orbit. And Missouri will want to play Nebraska. But what do you do about the Michigan-ND rivalry since the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is protected? Complications!

The only big hitch? This entire system is all predicated on Michigan not sucking. And that, my friends, is hilarious.

My points:

1. I am not horrified by the Big 10 divisions.
2. But I am a bit sad at the lack of some of the staple games I look forward to every year.  And the yearly mockery.
3. I look forward to a glorious 16 team future! Where there are 16 teams! … or at least 14.
4. I like the playoff game to determine a Big 10 Champion. Now if we can have interconference play between other conference champions that built up to some kind of, oh, I don’t know, playoff system at the end of the season, all the better.


Eric points out that the addition of Missouri and Notre Dame would make the Big 10 the Big 0x10.  They are all engineering schools, right?

* Now with 12 team action!
** Mysteriously still called the Big 10. State schools save ND, and we don’t count gud.
*** Unless it’s college hoops.

It’s Savage Out There

I saw NBC Universal, ABC and Telemundo trucks. The NBC Universal guys seemed to be slouched, bored, and having a smoke. I also spotted the FBI (very early) and several brand new “NO SKATE BOARDING SIGNS THIS MEANS YOU” signs which, I suspect, are a coincidence. Some photographer yelled at me to get out of the way while standing in the parking lot of the Panera — I don’t know what was up with that. I was passed on the way back from lunch* by people wearing press passes. They all looked bored. There are 17,392,531 security guards standing around the Discovery Channel building but they’re all talking among themselves.

No sign of our local normal Crazy Sign Guys. Not even Jesus Guy or our Local Anti-Abortion Protesters.

I see the news has moved on to Yet Another Exploding Oil Platform and Burger King being sold for $4B. The World Moves On. Also, my brain is now completely consumed with the new Big 10 divisions. No Michigan-Penn State games in 2011 or 2012!

Steam tofu on rice — thrilling, yeah?

The Discovery Channel Building

I went to the gym today.  I was feeling particularly virtuous because it meant I went to the gym multiple times this week.  I even managed to keep my heart rate “in the zone” (below 140) for the majority of the time on the cross-trainer and it left me feeling a bit sore in places that need exercise.  I mention this because I had a meeting at 1:30pm and I needed to pick up lunch and be back by around 1pm-ish.  Had I gone at my normal time, I would have been locked out of my building.

I walked back into the building at 1:06pm, annoyed a few people, sat down to my desk, and heard people talking loudly about something going on across the street.  Then I heard the police sirens.  I have a big wall of windows.  I can see actual weather and time, but I can also hear the street noise from 29 and the Silver Spring Metro (Red Line).  Most importantly, the building is across the street from Discovery Channel HQ and most windows have a view.

By “across the street,” I do not mean down the block a half mile away.  I mean, literally, across the street.  Look out the window and there it is.  The building makes a big wind tunnel in winter.  It’s hilarious during Shark Week when they strap giant inflatable shark parts to the building.  It has the best lobby with a giant dinosaur skeleton and a physics machine.  The lobby is open to the public and people do stroll through at lunch.  I have done so myself.

This means I called into my meeting and it was punctuated by sirens in the background and people going, “What was that?”  I had my droid and peered at twitter and coworkers who were coming back from lunch were posting pictures of police mayhem right outside.  We all got off the phone (meeting over) and headed off to go peer out a window with a good view.  We watched the police block off 29 and put up yellow tape.  We watched the news helicopters fly in and the various TV stations set up their gear and harass random people heading back from Downtown.   We watched at least 30 police cars show up and park.

So okay, it turns out there’s a crazy guy in the DIscovery Channel building across the street and the FBI was called in.  He has a gun and he has fired either one or five shots.  He had between one and twelve hostages at any one time.  He has a bomb.  He has multiple bombs.  The downtown strip behind the building by Borders was evacuated (this one was true).  Cops were telling people to get off the street or they were going to arrest them (they didn’t).  The giant Police Command Center RV pulled up.  We found streaming video of the news outside.  We watched the helicopters above us give us shots on the monitors of what we were looking at out the windows.

And we did watch the cops evacuate the day care center in the Discovery Channel building.  People pushed cribs across 29.  They disappeared into the McDonald’s.  We joked that the McD’s was selling its weight in McFlurries.

Nothing happened for a long time.  Our building was switched to key card access only, probably to keep the gaggles of reports that set up on our curb in front of our building (Metro Level exit) from wandering in and out.  The news told us the name of the guy, flashed a picture, and it was eerie: it was a guy who had been seen, often, standing around on various corners at lunch time waving his sign.   It was THAT GUY in a “HEY, IT’S THAT GUY!” sort of way.  People got up and milled around and went to the windows to watch the SWAT guys stand around.  (One apparently took a header climbing out of the truck.)  Work kind of happened in drips and drabs with the thoughts that the guy across the street had something strapped to him and it might be a bomb and it might be worse.

That was exciting.

I spent most of my afternoon watching the news spread from the local news to the WaPo to CNN to the NYTimes to the BBC and then everywhere.  It was a little boggling that closing the street outside my window was now world-wide news. It didn’t help that our local crazy guy had left a manifesto full of environmentalism and evolution and anchor babies and squirrels.  (Squirrels?)  It was a manifesto’s manifesto and the Internets, as they are, were having a field day while we were waiting for it to end so we could go home.

Then it was over.  5pmish.  The SWAT guys lured our friend, the local crazy guy, out of the lobby by the nice dinosaur bones and science displays, out to the manicured sitting area in front of the doors and ended it.  The crazy guy’s bomb did go off, but it went pfft.  We watched the cops pull away and some of the back streets began opening up.

Then there was escape.

Good grief, man.  What kind of world do we live in now that it seems sensible to try to blow up the Discovery Channel? Not a BP office?  Or the nice government offices around the corner?  I joked when it started that the guy objected to “The Deadliest Catch” and I wasn’t far off.  And it’s not like those offices are small.  That building is huge.  I know the crazy guy had years of being barred from coming into the building and he snapped.  But really?  The Discovery Channel?

That was my day.  How was yours?

The End of Iraq

This stumbling finish to the end of the Iraq war feels like the end of the college football season: inconclusive, no clearly declared winner, no closure or finality, and will stumble forward despite the declaration of The End because there’s too much money in it not to. And as Iraq is planning to buy $13 Billion in arms from the US, it’s a Federal jobs stimulus program, too.*

I recommend this article on the New Yorker, a Date that will Live in Oblivion:

What President Obama called the end of the combat mission in Iraq is a meaningless milestone, constructed almost entirely out of thin air, and his second Oval Office speech marks a rare moment of dishonesty and disingenuousness on the part of a politician who usually resorts to rare candor at important moments. The fifty thousand troops who will remain in Iraq until the end of next year will still be combat troops in everything but name, because they will be aiding one side in an active war zone. The proclaimed end of Operation Iraqi Freedom has little or nothing to do with the military and political situation in Iraq, which is why Iraqis were barely aware when the last U.S. combat brigade crossed into Kuwait a few days ago. And for most of us, too—except, perhaps, those with real skin in the game, the million and a half Iraq war veterans and their families—there’s hardly any reality or substance to the moment.

Yeah, that.

* Suck it, US Census.