#REVIEW: A Promised Land, by Barack Obama

This one sat on my shelf for a lot longer than I expected it to. Amazon tells me it arrived at my house on February 6, so it took almost exactly four months for me to actually read it once I had it. There are reasons, I suppose; the fact that the damn book is two inches thick and 700-pages-plus-endnotes long certainly had something to do with it, but the simple fact is that while I wanted to hear what Barack Obama had to say about his presidency, I didn’t really feel like I was ready for it. Frankly, I was angry with him, and not really for any good reason; the last four years were not his fault, but that doesn’t change the fact that I wasn’t really ready to remind myself of a time where I not only liked the president but was reasonably happy to be living in America. And while I feel like Joe Biden has had an enormously consequential first 100 days, it remains to be seen whether we’ll be right back neck-deep in shit in a couple of years.

On Sunday, unwilling to take yet another Unread Shelf picture with this damn book in it, I begrudgingly picked it up and started it. The entire idea of wading through it made me tired, frankly, and I was fully prepared to force myself through a hundred pages and then put it down, convincing myself that I’d tried and it’s not like I can’t pick it back up later. I wasn’t going to burn the thing or anything, but I definitely wasn’t looking forward to it.

Well, it’s the 3rd, and I probably read the last 300 pages of the thing today– which turned out to only be volume one of Obama’s memoirs, ending with the night they killed Osama bin Laden– so apparently I got over that. Obama has always been an engaging author (I have both of his previous books) and that is on full display here. There is also something about reading what is essentially a history book about a time that I remember. I have said this before, but let me remind you: not only have I voted for Obama nearly every time he has run for public office (I moved into his district in 1998; he became an Illinois state Senator in 1997) but my life intersected with his in a lot of ways. I know exactly where his home in Hyde Park was. His first kiss with Michelle was at a Baskin-Robbins that was literally across the street from my first apartment in Chicago; there’s a plaque there now. I had several classes with Bill Ayers in graduate school, and Ayers was very nearly my Ph.D advisor. And I’ve met Jeremiah Wright, his pastor. I am one of those people who was telling everyone that he was going to be our first Black President, although I figured it would be 2012 or 2016 before he ran. Honestly, I wasn’t terribly happy with his decision to run in 2008, thinking he was too young and inexperienced; his campaign convinced me I was wrong about that. Obama was my President in a way that no other President has been, and unless Pete Buttigieg actually succeeds in gaining the White House at some point in the future, it’s hard to imagine that any such thing will happen again.

tl;dr I barely put the damn book down for four days, and even took it to work on Tuesday. It’s exactly as good as Barack Obama’s memoirs ought to be, and it shouldn’t be especially surprising that I enjoyed it. Honestly, I feel dumb that it surprised me; I let myself get too caught up in my head over the whole thing and forgot that being reminded of a time where even if I didn’t agree with everything the guy in the White House did (he made terrible choices on education, which was the worst thing about his presidency, or at least his domestic policy) I at least trusted him to think. And there’s something to be said about voting for someone who you are absolutely certain is smarter than you. I wish I could do it more often, honestly.

(Before you say anything: Hillary Clinton and Kamala Harris are both smarter than me. I’m not convinced that Biden is, but he’s absolutely a better President than I could be.)

Anyway, go read the book. Even if you don’t tear through it like I did, it’s engaging and interesting, and while I can imagine someone who finds it a little dry (did you find Obama too professorial? You will feel the same way about the book. He gets into the weeds.) I am absolutely not that person. Maybe wait for paperback, as the list price of the hardcover is $45, but go read it.

Taking tonight off

Enjoy the long weekend.

On terrible people and my time & money

While I’ve been doing some DMing for my wife and son lately, the last time I spent serious time playing role-playing games was in college. I lost my group when I moved to grad school, and basically never tried to find another one after that. My college group mostly bounced back and forth between Call of Cthulhu and Dungeons and Dragons.

One of the best campaigns I was ever involved in was a published Call of Cthulhu game called Horror on the Orient Express. I have some of my best memories as a gamer from that campaign; it was a tremendous achievement in game design and, not for nothing, was expertly run by our DM as well.

I recently discovered that Chaosium, the company that owns Call of Cthulhu, was planning on updating and republishing Horror on the Orient Express in a new, two-volume, 700-page, ludicrously expensive version for their 7th edition rules. It’ll be out in a couple of months.

Did I say ludicrously expensive? I don’t care, I’m buying it anyway. This is why I have a job.

Well, it’s for the seventh edition, and while I doubt that the seventh edition is all that different from the rules I’m familiar with (and it’s not like I intend to run this; I’m buying it for nostalgia value and to reread it) it felt weird to think I was going to buy an adventure for 7th edition Call of Cthulhu without actually owning the core rulebooks for 7th edition Call of Cthulhu.

So I spent a hell of a lot of money at the Griffon yesterday. Because these damn things are pricey, even under normal circumstances.

Let’s talk about H.P. Lovecraft a little bit.

Just in case you’re not familiar with him (although I doubt that’s going to be the case for too many of you; after all, you’re here,) the Call of Cthulhu game is based on a mythos created by the works of an author named Howard Phillips Lovecraft. H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on fantasy writing and specifically the horror genre is kind of difficult to overstate. His work is a big deal, and damn near everybody who works in genre has read him. He was also an enormous, disgusting racist, and his racism bled into a lot of his work. Now, when I say that about somebody who was born in 1890, a lot of people are going to shrug. “He was a product of his time,” they’ll say. “We can’t judge people Back Then by our modern moral standards.” Nah. H.P. Lovecraft was so much of a racist that it was notable in the 1920s. Like, ordinary run-of-the-mill 1920 white people thought this guy’s ideas about race were kinda fucked up. Google the name of his cat sometime. The guy was a hell of a writer, but he was trash as a person.

Typically I do not like to spend money that will trickle into the hands of giant fucking racists. However, in the case of Lovecraft, while the overall picture is complicated, his work is mostly in the public domain by now. Furthermore, Lovecraft had no children and his wife divorced him (well, sorta) a few years before he died, so there’s not even a family that money spent on Call of Cthulhu is going to go to.

But the guy’s legacy still has to be grappled with, right? The World Fantasy Award used to literally be a bust of his head; it was remodeled in recent years to a (much better) excellently creepy full-moon-behind-a-tree version after Nnedi Okorafor, who is Nigerian-American, won the award and pointed out that the greatest award of her literary life meant that she had to look at the face of a dude who literally didn’t think she was human every day. There is a long, ongoing, and very likely never-ending conversation about whether we can separate art from artist, but we can definitely avoid literally honoring the artist when that artist turns out to have been a terrible person. If that person is still benefiting from the sale of their art, then you need to have a deeper conversation. H.P. Lovecraft has been dead for 80-some-odd years and buying his books doesn’t send money to anyone connected to him, so reading his stories isn’t as problematic as, say, reading the work of still-living garbage humans John C. Wright or Orson Scott Card.

(“As problematic,” I said. And I’m not going to spend one second trying to talk someone out of feeling otherwise; if you feel like I’m making a distinction without a difference, let me know.)

All of this may be more lead-in than this issue deserves, but I was leafing through my new rulebooks last night and, as one probably might expect, Lovecraft’s name is all over this thing. And I thought about that for a bit, and went to the first few pages of the book, looking to see what they had to say about the man himself. And I was startled to discover that the official 7th edition Call of Cthulhu rulebooks devote two sentences of a chapter called “H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos” to talking about Lovecraft’s racism, and those two sentences are basically there to utterly dismiss it. The game, remember, is traditionally set in the 1920s, not exactly a great time for American race relations, to say nothing of the sexism, and the author is one of literature’s most famous racists.

I’m a little surprised and more than a little disappointed that the game doesn’t address this more directly, is what I’m trying to say here. The newest edition of the Dungeons and Dragons rulebook has a whole section at the beginning of the book about how players of all races, genders and sexualities are welcome in the game and theirs is set in an explicitly fantasy world. Call of Cthulhu is not only based on the work of a racist but is set in the 1920s, when any number of people who might be interested in the game now might face some issues playing characters who reflect them. I can easily imagine a Keeper making the life of a Black or gay or Asian or enby or hell even female player miserable because That’s How Things Were Back Then. Maybe, in our pair of oversized-hardback, two-column, 400-page rulebooks we should take at least a few paragraphs to talk about how to navigate that? Particularly in the Keeper’s Handbook, the book for the person running the games? This hobby has kind of a reputation for being a little exclusionary; can we take some time to push back on that, please? Just a little?

I dunno. I’m not– at least not without further reading, and again I’ve only skimmed these books since buying them– accusing the Chaosium writers of being racist or sexist. Right now what I’m specifically saying is that there’s a huge blind spot here, and it’s kind of made me uneasy about shoveling more money toward this company. I may feel differently once I’ve read through the rulebooks; if I discover I’ve missed something important (and there’s 800 pages of material here, so this is entirely possible) I’ll update later. But this is squicky, and I don’t like it, and I thought that was worth talking about a little bit.

Consequences! Consequences for anyone!

The news has just broken that the sweaty, incoherent, oil-haired ghoul known as Rudy Giuliani has had his home and office raided by the FBI. I am at the point where I just want someone involved with the Previous Administration to go to fucking jail, and I don’t especially care who it is so long as they don’t come back out alive. I want literally anyone from that administration to see some kind of punishment. I don’t even care if it’s legal. The rack. Guillotine. Toss some fucker out of an airplane without a parachute. An Iron Maiden. Public flensing. I don’t care. You may remember that this particular evil motherfucker literally propositioned someone he thought was a teenager for a blowjob on camera fairly recently and absolutely nothing happened to him.

Enough. Hurt one of these motherfuckers. Just pick one.


I quit the IU thing, and I’m about to turn down an offer for a summer school position, mostly because we want to sign the boy up for a bunch of summer camps and I can’t take him to said camps or pick him up from said camps if I’m at a school halfway across the city for six hours a day. The money would be nice (and the IU money would have been nice, and the IU money plus summer school money would have been really nice) but I think I need to prioritize my kid, who has spent most of the last year at home, being outside and interacting with other children. Plus, y’know, if I don’t do summer school, I get June off, and I kinda need to learn calculus this summer so spending this summer teaching myself math might be a good way to spend those hours where he’s at camp.

(Googles “free online calculus course”)

I spent some time at work today going through– not taking, necessarily, just reading through– a practice exam for this test, and the questions fell into two categories: 1) Questions that I knew how to answer immediately, and was 100% certain I would be able to answer correctly, and 2) questions that I didn’t even know how to start, and would have no clue how to answer. Some of those will be easily fixed by some study; one question, for example, began with “Given that A|B,” and that | symbol is not something that is used in eighth grade Algebra and I don’t have the slightest idea what is meant by it. I’m not worried about figuring it out, though, and once I know what A|B means, the problem didn’t look hard. Then there were the multi-part questions where I didn’t know how to do anything, and … well, that might be trickier. There were zero questions that I looked at and thought “I can probably figure that out, if I needed to.” Everything was either “I got it” or complete cluelessness.


I have not, after a day away from the kids, quite recovered my chill. We will see if tomorrow replaces it or not; either way, I’m not working Friday, as my wife is having LASIK surgery and I’ve taken the day off to make sure she gets there and back and has someone around to do shit if she needs it. It won’t be as hot tomorrow either, and I’m always much closer to being human when it’s not hot. This is, now that I think of it, another reason for me to not do summer school, because I’ve worked in the building summer school is in before and I’m pretty sure that I remember it not being fun in June. Tomorrow is the last day of testing and then there’s only, like, seventeen days of school left. I can make it. This ought to be a piece of cake, frankly.

He said.


I do not plan to watch the President’s speech tonight, although I feel like I should. Why? Because the motherfucking thing starts at 9:00 PM, and that means that by the time it’s over and I’m done monitoring Twitter it will be well and truly past my bedtime. Sleepy Joe, my ass. Sleepy Luther can read a transcript tomorrow sometime.

Briefly

I am not done sorting out my feelings about the Derek Chauvin trial– and I doubt that I will be until after he is sentenced. And I am definitely not done sorting out my feelings about the fact that less than 20 minutes after the trial a cop gunned down a sixteen-year-old Black girl in Columbus.

I kinda hate it here right now, and I’m incredibly tired, and I’m wearing my Black Lives Matter shirt to work tomorrow.