Archive for the ‘Thinky thoughts’ Category

Giving Thanks

Sunday, November 19th, 2017

November is the time of year when we are reminded to be thankful; the rest of the year is when we ought to be but aren’t reminded. Nonetheless, this month I find myself with more to be thankful to*. First off, someone finally bought my old house, and while I could complain about price or process, the fact is that not owning an abandoned house for another winter is a tremendous amount of mental strain I can now avoid, so I’m quite glad that’s done. My only big issue remaining is a health one, which I thank my loved ones for supporting me through, and hope to be healthy again in the not too distant future. After I get that resolved, I’ll just have the same problems as everyone else in this crazy country.

It’s also been a good month for appreciation of my work. One of the things about being a writer is that you never know if anyone’s reading or enjoying you, but whether it’s someone letting me know they enjoy my raps in the comments, or someone mentioning at a poetry reading that they enjoy my columns, I thank the people who give me feedback on my work.

Boardgame-wise, I have a review up for Concordia, and I’ve just started a campaign of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 with a few of the folks from my weekly game night, so I’ll probably review that once we’re done. And I thank them for providing a nice welcoming place for me to game on a regular basis.

*I’ve always preferred “thankful to” rather than “thankful for”, because thanking is an active verb that takes a direct object. Don’t be thankful FOR your relationship, be thankful TO your partner since they’re directly responsible for your great** relationship.

**If your relationship is very far from great, remember that it is not mandatory.

Everything Happens For A Reason

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Well, the world is filled with terrible things lately, which certainly are more terrible than my own personal terrible things, which in turn have nonetheless been sufficient to keep me from posting for a while. I do have a newish boardgame review up for the highly streamlined Caverna Cave vs. Cave, and here’s a recent column you might enjoy in honor of the late Andy Rooney.

I’ve been doing a few freestyle rap performances at the monthly Downstreet Art festival in town, with my final one coming at the end of this month. Meanwhilst, here is a poem I performed at an open mic tonight, which seems relevant given the numerous hurricanes, fires, and other natural disasters currently underway:

“Everything Happens For A Reason”

That’s what they say
when tragedy strikes
When faced with horrors the likes
of which you’ve never seen
They will try to stay serene
and utter this atrocious treason:
“Everything happens for a reason.”

Pray tell then,
What reason requires the suffering of old men?
What reason requires dead bodies piled in stacks
from natural disasters and terrorist attacks?
What reason requires that a five-year old girl get cancer?
I’m pretty sure your answer
Involves something like “God has a plan”,

But, man,
In that case one of two things must be true:

1) You’ve got an omnipotent deity who
Only helps his flock, while other people feel his wrath.
Which, although biblically supported, makes him sound like a sociopath.

or 2) God had some sort of higher plan we cannot intuit
And giving cancer to a five-year-old girl was the easiest way to do it,
But an omnipotent god really ought to be able to do better.

Either way, please unsubscribe me from your newsletter,
Or at least, next time a tragedy chances to occur,
Please keep in mind that some of us prefer
To accept that some things happen with no reason provided,
Rather than be told, “This girl died because a malevolent deity decided.”

The funniest joke of all time

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

Quick bulletpoint list of things:

-My new musical (co-written with Sam) opens this week! If you’re near Orlando, FL in the next week or so, you should buy tickets for the Fringe premiere of Punslingers: A Western Wordplay Musical!

-My column continues apace, most recently with my perennial advice column Ask Dr. Manners, and a Les Miserables parody about the AHCA which I called Speaker of the House*

-Gaming-wise, recently I played the underwhelming Power Grid Card Game in the cardboard world, and have been sucked into Mobius Final Fantasy in the videogame world.

-My old house, which has recently had all beautiful hardwood floors newly refinished, is still for sale. If you are or know anyone who might want a lovely old Victorian in the burgeoning town of North Adams, MA, just blocks from town and Mass MoCA, for under $70,000, you should look at this listing.

But what I really had on my mind lately was something else. And the something else made me think of an old Emo Phillips joke that in one UK survey, was voted as the funniest joke of all time. Obviously that’s setting your expectations far too high, but anyway, here’s Emo Phillips at his finest. And what made me think of that joke was the fact that I was about to get into an argument with someone I mostly agreed with, on Facebook. And sometimes when I do that, I feel bad for arguing with people I mostly agree with, when people spouting horrible ideas that I vehemently disagree with seem to be in abundance lately, and yet I do not tend to end up arguing with them. I think this is because I do not suspect that they would be open to dialogue, and that there is little to be gained by shouting at people who think I’m an idiot and should be ignored. But when friends of mine say something I have a minor disagreement with, I see an opportunity for discussion grounded in mutual respect.**

Still, the end result is that the bulk of my argument time is spent disputing people with whom I align to a fairly large degree on major issues, while vast swaths of humanity are spouting horrible garbage which I simply avoid rather than engaging. This is weird and/or a failing on my part and/or indicative of something.

*Much better than the first title I thought of, which was “Master of the Health”

**Although as it turns out, my success rate on Facebook is probably 50/50 at best. And may not be best.

It’s Not The Heat, It’s The Humanity

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

With the inimitable Tom in town, lately I’ve been going for more long walks to have interesting conversations*, and one conclusion I had come to recently is that most problems are caused by other people. I’d recommend avoiding people in order to reduce the number of unpleasant experiences you have, but it turns out many of life’s pleasant experiences also involve interaction with people, making the whole thing much more complicated.

One nice interaction with people I had recently was WordXWord, which was as always a delightful week of spoken word, even though I wasn’t competing this year. It was also nice to have a few people tell me that they read and enjoy my column, because I get very little feedback about it generally speaking.** ¬†Specifically speaking of which, here’s my most recent column: Oh, The Humidity

While I haven’t yet played No Man’s Sky because I can’t really justify buying games on release, I have been dipping back into both Terraria and Starbound, which scratch the same sorts of itches, and which have the advantage of optional multiplayer. Even if multi-player Terraria oft ends up being other more-skilled VGG friends handing me their cast-off equipment, the bad jokes are what make it all worthwhile.

I’m hoping to write some slightly better jokes for this week’s Third Thursday Comedy Mic, which I should probably do instead of extending this blogpost. Oh, but first I’ll mention in case you missed it previously, last post links to my old house, now for sale at a very good price, please share the link with anyone you know who might be interested in buying it. My life would definitely be improved by a swift sale of that house. And I’ll fry you a burrito.

*One of my favored activities in general, although aside from Tom my list of regular coambulators had recently been reduced by one, which is inconvenient since it had already dwindled to one. But walking and talking is surprisingly engaging, for something that isn’t the Internet.

**Notwithstanding troll comments on the Berkshire Eagle site, because the commenters there are only slightly better than YouTube commenters. “All the rude invective, now with 50% less offensive language!”

Unfounded Optimism

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

I’m the first to admit that I do not have a reputation for optimism. I tend to take a more realistic view of most things, that other people might call cynical. But in terms of big-picture things, like “is a pervailing racist sentiment gathering steam or the last throes of a fading mindset”, I am perhaps more optimistic than the current polls warrant. In a few decades it will be better, not worse, I tell myself.

I am also optimistic about my comedic writing, since next year should see me collaborating with old and new friends to make some funny; further details once there is something to show you. But in the meantime, you can read about my plea to our town’s mayor to stop the War on Thanksgiving, or you can take my fast, fun, and frustrating multiple choice quiz of Name That Fascist!

In gaming news, I’ve got a review up for a newish little filler game called Trambahn, and most recently have been playing the Echoes expansion for Innovation, which remains one of my favored boardgames. Videogame-wise, having finally finished Arx Fatalis (an old game, but an interesting one to explore), I have started up Risen.

Also, in spite of being sick recently, I am in love and so life is good. Optimism.

Rented Lance

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

This lance ain’t free. Although I am freelancing for Fodor’s Guides once again, so have been traveling all over the Berkshires. Meanwhile, in addition to my often-followed but rarely-read Leaf-Peeping Guide for Tourists, I wrote a column I’m quite proud of, which I like to call Anagram Augury: Bernie Sanders. In the boardgame world, I have a review up for the new co-op game Star Trek: Five Year Mission.

Today I had the thought that¬†tribalism is one of the most destructive forces in modern society, and yet is harnessed to do good for members of the ingroup almost as often as it is used to make things worse for outgroups. So many groups will raise money and work hard to help those in need of their tribe, whether it’s religious charities helping fellow members of said religion, or a big fundraiser I saw recently on BoardGameGeek for gamers in need.

I think sharing a tribe is often a shortcut to empathy, and I think the great problem of modern times is getting people to have empathy for all of humanity even those who seem differently, thus the challenge is to convince people that all of humanity is their tribe. I saw a news story the other week about a hummus restaurant in Israel that gives discounts to Arabs and Jews who eat together. A good start.

Hobo Sewer Bacon

Saturday, August 1st, 2015

This post’s title is my favorite clue that I gave in my most recent game of Train of Thought, the party board game I oft describe as “Taboo for smart people”. It remains one of my favorite games to bring to gatherings. As for newer board games, my most recent review is of a game about putting together a newspaper called Extra Extra. The print newspaper industry may be dying, but at least it’s an interesting theme for a boardgame.

I could tell you about recent columns on topics like marriage equality and vegetables, but I’d rather share with you this random verse I wrote. A friend had linked to an article about Marvel’s hip-hop covers, suggesting that heroes battle rap instead. I was amused by the idea, and found myself inspired to write a quick 16 from Iron Man dissing Captain America:

Awwww snap, it’s a rap where Cap gets capped.
I put on my Hulkbuster suit to give daps,
That is a testament to my genius,

Both for invest-a-ment and science, I mean this.
Seen this billionaire,
Fillin’ the air, killin’ it there,
Willing to share my wealth and power;
Built the Avengers their whole fuckin’ Tower.

You? I already told ya,
Unfrozen Caveman Soldier,
Hold yourself as morally superior?
Guess I’ll have to kick your posterior.
You’re inferior to my tech.
Without your serum, you’d get no respect,
So protect ya neck, and you best believe,
I’m a Stark; Winter is coming, Steve.

National Poetry Month

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Yep, it’s National Poetry Month. I am once again taking the 30/30 Challenge to write a poem a day all month long. If that’s not enough poetry for you, you can read my newsman’s ode to the esteemed Dr. Seuss in a column I call Headline Seuss. And later this month I’ll be giving a presentation on From God To Verse through a local Jewish group. National poetry month is the perfect time to buy my rhyming translation of the Torah/Pentateuch.

The other day Debbie made lamb and potatoes, which was delicious. I love potatoes cooked in lamb fat, which I have affectionately termed “lambtaters”, which* in turn led me to wonder what a good example of a lambtater would be. Muttonleany?

My 4th Thursday Comedy Open Mic nights continue at the Parlor Cafe; anyone who finds themselves local during the appropriate time should stop by for free laughs and reasonably priced food and drink. Non-locals can content themselves with my ranting in written form. Last month the Williams Alumni Fund sent me half a dozen emails of solicitation within a 2-week period, prompting me to write this column about The Alumni Fund. If that sounds too bitter, maybe I just need some Hobbies**.

And I have finally started using Twitter. Don’t worry though, I’m not really joining the 21st century, I still don’t have a cell phone or ipad or car or anything like that. I recently joined a local boardgaming meetup group, so I’ll just be hanging out doing some old-fashioned analog Luddite gaming***

*When shall we three meet again?

**Like measuring temperature from absolute zero. Everyone loves Kelvin & Hobbies.

***Amish pair o’ dice.

Theme Song To Every Anime Ever

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

My latest column: Salad Days
My latest boardgame review is about a game that is fast becoming a favorite: Mage Knight.

I enjoy anime, and now and again I’ll binge-watch a bunch on Netflix. I’ve noticed that a lot of anime seems to share some similar themes, which is why I wrote this generic anime theme song:

“You have a special magic power,
And other people have one too…
They try to kill you but you manage to defeat them,
Because they’re not as cool as youuuuuuu…
You have a special magic power,
You have a special magic power,
Love is hiding in the shadows.”

So yeah, that’s like, 50% of anime. And then another 30% is just light relationship silliness. But the remaining 20% has some fascinating and lovely stuff. I recently finished watching Attack On Titan, which although it certainly lacks for closure, is a compelling story with an abnormal theme and kept me on my toes. I think my favorite anime of late has been Death Note — I actually first read a volume of the manga, and found it so intriguing that I immediately went and watched the whole run of the anime on Netflix.

Starting a new monthly comedy open mic tomorrow night at our local coffee house; hopefully it goes well.

An Exceedingly Long Post About Race, Media, and Privilege

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Where to begin? I haven’t posted in a while, so let me start with the usual gaming updates: I played some boardgames, especially an old favorite called Goa, and also reviewed a number of new games including two that I especially enjoyed (Johari, Villainy). I also wrote many humor columns including two that I especially enjoyed (Terrifying Bear Danger Rating: A Fear Chart, Bard-Mitzvah: A Shakespearean Travelogue). And I played various video games, including two that I especially enjoyed (Wasteland2, Jade Empire).

I also performed poetry at a few different locations, comedy at a few different locations, and just last night, went to see a comedy performance by Hari Kondabolu. I was chatting with the strangers at my table, a couple from Northampton, and we wondered if one of the reasons people got excited by Kondabolu is that he brings a new edginess; half a century ago it was edgey to swear in your act, or to talk about religion. Nowadays such is commonplace on the comedy scene, but harshly calling out racial privilege repeatedly amidst your comedy act may be the new edgey. (Yes, such may be commonplace in certain small circles, but edgey has always been saying on stage to a wide mainstream audience what you’d normally just say among your friends but not in a room full of strangers.)

Anyway, listening to him talk about such things — and talk about the importance of talking about such things — has prompted me to re-post here a more private journal entry I made a few weeks ago. It is not, alas, funny, but perhaps you will find it worth reading nonetheless:

***

“The Clueless White Guy Chronicles”
or “Epiphanies of the Obvious”
or “Intellectual Knowledge versus Emotional Knowledge”
or “Sometimes Issues Are Sufficiently Large That It’s Hard to Choose a Single Title”

Perhaps some of you are familiar with a video game called Skyrim. I played the hell out of that game, well over 100 hours. A year or two ago, I recall having dinner with two friends of mine, M and Z, as I explained that Skyrim had been a bit of a weird experience for me insofar as my character received continuous random hatred from a majority of the NPCs in the entire game.

I’m playing as an Elf, but most of the people in the world are not Elves. They are Nords. And you start out the game imprisoned by this imperial alliance trying to kill you, and then you’re rescued by a group of rebels fighting the imperials, but it turns out that the rebels think Skyrim is for Nords and they tend to dislike Elves. So of the two opposing sides, it seems like neither really cares about you. And then you can just be walking into a random town, and people will start insulting you because you’re an Elf.

And there’s this one group of NPC heroes who are supposed to be the “good guys” in the game, but their main hero was someone on record as wanting to kill all the elves. And basically, across all of Tamriel, everyone is looking down on me or being a jerk to me for no reason and I don’t want to get in fights in town unnecessarily but it’s hard to just sit there and take non-stop insults and ill-mannered treatment from the entire gameworld, and if I respond in kind it starts a fight, and the town guards show up with a bias against me just because I’m an Elf even though the other guy started the fight. I explained to my friends that this was really frustrating and demoralizing to feel constantly harassed just based on your race.

“Yes, how interesting that must be for you,” my friends said, mockingly, “and how nice to experience that in a video game.”

At this point I should probably mention that my friends M and Z are of Filipino and Iranian descent, respectively. And so for them, a constant casual racism is not so much an anomalous feature of a particularly involved video game, but an all-too-familiar feature of the world. This kind of thing is very old news to half of the country. Now obviously I know this intellectually, but I’m guessing I’m not the only white person who ever found that experiencing racism for a few dozen hours in a video game (even though it’s obviously nothing like dealing with it in real life) makes you understand it in a different way than merely knowing it exists intellectually.

Last week I was thinking about all of that because I had a similar epiphany of the obvious. I’d been binge-watching movies on Netflix, and my recent selections had included a number of films like Shaft, Django Unchained, Harlem Nights, &c. And after a half-dozen films I found myself automatically suspicious of and/or ill-disposed towards any white people who appeared on-screen. I knew they were not to be trusted, and the counter-example of Django’s partner did not change my overall perception. He was “one of the good ones” who was “not like all those other white folks”, and I still knew that I could presume random white guy was probably up to no good, not just a friendly innocent black guy.

My brain did that after two days of movie binge on a very small particular subset of movies in the world. So what happens to the brains of society at large after decades of representation in the other direction? Again, this is in no way a new observation, having been experienced by, pronounced, and written upon by countless people (including many of my friends) for decades. But while I’ve always known intellectually that media representations of minorities are an important problem, it was still a moment for me last week where I said, “Wow, look at the kind of effect I experience on my perception.”

So that is a thing about which I have been thinking lately. And I debated a bit whether to post this where people could see it, both because a) The world is not desperately in need of another white guy’s opinions on race, and b) I’m pretty sure I do not come off looking too bright by saying “Hai guyz, did you know racism is really a thing?” when this is painfully obvious to many people who will read this and less painful but still obvious to most of the rest of you. But I guess that’s what invisible privilege is: The luxury to not think about racial issues, or at best to acknowledge intellectually that they exist but not have to experience or deal with them. So since I have that luxury, I guess literally the least I could do is to mention it, even though it does not make me look great.