Saturday, September 29, 2007

Settlers of Cataan

This is an adorable podcast interview of Klaus Teuber and his son Guido. Klaus designed Settlers of Cataan, which is a fantastic boardgame, as testified to here (the second link is one more suitable for home viewing, and best taken with humor and prior knowledge of the game).

Settlers of Cataan was a game I was first introduced to many years okay, at the age of eleven or twelve. It's wonderful, this virgin island that turns into a little contest of hardcore economic imperialism, with soldiers that are little more than robber barons and take a backseat to the machinations of trade.
The first time it reemerged recently was as the way my family spent my second-to-last night in Albuquerque before going off to college. We had a fantastic time, a rather unconventional map, and the game felt not so much new as fresh - it was unlike any other time I had played Cataan, and that was great.
The second time it came up was when I was reading Cronon's Natures Metropolis for my urban history class. Economic systems, the wealth of the surrounding hinterland being drawn in, and many cities, all interdependent, but vying for supremacy as the primary economic powerhouse are parts of both Settlers of Cataan and, well, the history of Chicago. I mentioned this to my professor, who had never heard of the game. I sent links, with long-term local game group plans forming in my head. (Or at least, whims of including game mechanics in a future research paper).

I also found the above podcast, which is just wonderful. It's a father and son talking about games design, with the family as the testing ground, and family game night as this wonderful period of interaction. Klaus mentions the "ghost" that gaming creates, and hints at this other entity that animates the room, that adds to the intensity and the fun of sitting with people you know and plotting, to their face, their demise (or, if you are like one higher-minded family member, your ascendancy; not everyone is motivated by spite). The games I enjoy most have this multi-person interaction. It's why I'd rather play spoons than Texas Hold 'em, or why I prefer Diplomacy to chess. Gaming is a social activity, and it should have it's share of social interaction - the muted, stifled tone that hardcore competitive games breeds is just, well, no fun. And what's the point without fun?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Makes Me Proud

My underground newspaper has grown up. Or at least, it's on its own, mostly, like adult kindergarten or the teen years. The first issue made entirely without my knowledge, input, effort, or anything had been produced, and is now up at the blog, linked on the sidebar and here.

It's rough-ish, being topical and holiday centric, and so only barely hits upon the social commentary it can grow into. But, its a zine, a free underground paper, and one that has outlived my time at high school. Training wheels off, here's hoping they make it okay.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

On Guilt

I'm going to start this off by saying that I missed the Jena Six protest on Thursday. The big one, with thousands of people, where the NAACP and other like organizations specifically called for white allies, so that they could challenge the racist notions of the ruling bodies of that town.

I didn't make it. And, to be perfectly honest, I didn't know that it was happening on Thursday until it was Thursday afternoon. I didn't know the call had gone out for white allies, and I didn't know that pitifully few white allies had shown up at the rally.

My ignorance here seems to be rather steep. To the point where it lines up rather nicely with apathy, an outsider could construe, and perhaps the delightful concerned citizen who informed me of all this drew that conclusion. With luck, they are a better person than that, and just needed to let someone know how much it hurt them, hurt there ideals, their notions of society, to have seen such a pathetic turnout. There was some degree of dismay, some of anger, and some of shock and lots of disappointment in the one-sided conversation.

I listened attentively, having been called out and correctly identified as having gone through YRUU anti-racism training. And, to be fair, I'm in New Orleans because of a commitment to social justice. The Jena Six, this great big, latter-day showcase of racism and unfair power structures, is the current Big Deal, and don't get me wrong, it is one. It's big enough to warrant
a large outpouring, a tremendous show in support of the accused. And I missed it; I was, in fact, ignorant of the rally, and it was well within my ability to find out, to show up, to protest, to even mobilize my peers towards such action. But, I didn't.

There is no changing of the past that can be done. That isn't how the past works, and so rather than being rallied, motivated towards some new great work, I was left there, listening to someone who knows superficially my commitment to justice, and told about how it was all a failure, and then told to go forth and organize my peers. No specific objective was given; it seemed to be an after-the-fact thing, like organize your peers to make up for the sin of not having been there today. Perhaps this entry's title and my tone give it away, but this was not a pleasant conversation. This was one of those moments where the appropriate course of action was to take on the guilt of the dozens who don't care. This is the moment where the kid sitting in class is scolded, while his tardy peers get off without the talk. This was a rather intense laying-it-on, as it were. I messed up, and Unitarians lack formal penance.

At one point, I asked what could be done. What work is there still to do, what more is needed, what can I do to help the cause, to atone for my well-established failure.

I was told nothing more than I had missed it. That this was the big one, the new mobilizing for another campaign in the Civil Rights movement, which now has less choice of battlegrounds and so must be ready whenever a situation is presented, unorchestrated as it may be. these are tougher battles, and the call had gone out, and I had missed it. There is nothing more to do.

This is useless guilt. This is guilt that has bluntly removed itself from a valid purpose. If there was more action to take, I would have been as ready for that as a three-time murder being told by Pope Urban II that if I took the cross to the holy land, I still had a place in heaven. But there was no plea, nothing more than a vague "be ready" given to hint at a way to absolve this. This Guilt has done nothing more than harm, and while all guilt comes with harm, it is considered good form to include healing instructions as well.

So, On Guilt - if there is no specific aim, no greater action that this guilt will make the individual undertake, if there is no social justice that can come as the result of it, it has very, very little place in, well, anything, really. It alienates allies, it lessens sympathy, and it gives off an unpleasant "holier-than-thou" attitude. It's a detrimental thing, and people eager to do good work don't need that, not without instruction.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Power of Informality

I come from a big church - in excess of 600 members, which is astounding for a denomination that considers big to be 200-250 people. So, being at the New Orleans church, with it's regular membership of about 80, is a new experience for me. It's this hard core of UUs, the group that will always be there but that my church has more or less moved beyond. Not that they aren't important, not that they aren't valued members and great people, but as the hard core, they are no longer integral. Not everyone does everything anymore.
This is, at its heart, something that can only exist in a small setting, like why communes can function but the USSR collapsed (very surface analogy there). This is a congregation in a very different sense than I am used to - this is a community, and informality is the guideline here, even in matters that seem to me to be beyond the reach of mundanity. This is discourse during a ritual, this is letting the whole thing be something other than a tightly run affair. It's a gathering of friends, an open house, where great words happen to be said and hymns happen to be sung. It is more involved and on a whole different level than I am used to. This is not a ritual of which the layperson has a part - this is a ritual that would not exist if every layperson didn't do there part. It's fumbling papers, mistakes admitted at the pulpit, and announcements shouted out from the audience. It is impressive, but it is so alien to me. It works, it works really well for the core, and I can now sympathize with what people have lost as the church grows. But the grandeur, the deep significance and overwhelming spirit of the sacred that the full church offers is nothing I would give up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 to 10/30. ~ I miss you, Roy ~

I was 12 for 9/11. I saw the second plane hit on TV as I went inside my friend Joe's house. I was a little early for the bus. My science class had a field trip today, and that went off fine. Caleb's father, an Air Force man, drove us out to Tent rocks. We joked, being middle school boys (of course, the passenger load was all male) and worried that Albuquerque might be a target, because we had an Air Force base, and everyone knew the mountains were full of nuclear weapons.

My father left work early, unable to grind through the job when something so gravely profound had just happened. He went home, to be with the family, who trickled in. I came back from the field trip, my brother from 4th grade, and mom came home from a day of substitute teaching.

At his elaborate retirement community, my Grandfather heard the news, and rapidly began the descent that ended in a hospital next November. I think, more than anything, more than the lung cancer, 9/11 is what broke him. He was a diplomat, you see. This was his life, this preventing and forestalling tragedy. He was crucial in the first Camp David peace accords, he had met multiple times with Yasser Arafat on behalf of the United States. This was a man who knew the middle east, as well as any outsider could, and he cared deeply for a peaceful solution to what always seems to manifest itself as an unending problem. 9/11 broke him.

I can't really separate the events now. There's over a year overlap, and the events were separate enough at the time. Just - this man was the inspiration to me, not so much from when I knew him, but from what I knew about him. He fits in my pantheon somewhere. My reaction to 9/11 will always include that, will include promises sworn at cemeteries by an idealistic 13-year-old, and will always have the whole distance that New Mexico brings to worldly events. I didn't really lose anyone, I had no one I worried for after the event. I just allowed the world to have its profound affect on my emerging adolescence.

So it goes.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Gods of Arr-Kelaan

I've been getting back into old webcomics recently, and stumbled upon one of my all time favorites that is still going, The Gods of Arr-Kelaan. It's a fantastic tale, and offers one of the most incredible, most in-depth created worlds I have ever seen. The premise got its start in a long, complicated process, the core of which is having no god for a character in a role playing game. Ronson, the most consistent protagonist of TGoAK, became the ideal lazy roleplayers god - he is apathetic, hates getting prayers, and spends his time drinking.

I'm unsure what happened to the game, but the setting moved on. A world populated by gods made out of everyday modern flawed folk (Ronson can come across as a much saner Homer Simpson, and on the whole is more redeeming than that) came into being, and in addition to the god of apathy, we have gods of wealth, knowledge (a former scholar), and a few of justice (one of whom treats his godhood as though he is a new superhero). The comic weaves in the origins of these modern folks godhood with several stories that develop the mere mortals, and how the populace of this world interact with a brand new pantheon of divinely gifted but rather less divinely driven people.

The story, while rather long, is worth a read from start to finish, and it reads differently than most webcomics. It's done in formal page layout, in a style that just feels like it should be thumbed through carefully before being stored in a plastic bag in a basement somewhere. The comic is actually available like that in print form, but what was the most exciting discovery is available here - to go forward, you'll have ti click and drag the corners of the pages. GO ahead and do this even if you haven't read any of the comic.

Got it?

Fantastic. This is incredible stuff, at least in my modest evaluation. It's "physically" turning pages online! This is so many degrees of neato-cool.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Labor Day Weekend

Wandered around 'my' neighborhood in New Orleans last night, which is oddly surreal on a few levels, all of which are by definition are below the surface of reality. Firstly, it's the fact that two years ago this was all under water, at least a few feet deep. It's an odd notion, that of having once been able to swim where one now walks. Another is that this part of the city is, in places, supremely beautiful. The houses are old, with a splendour only befitting of a city that isn't quite imperial, but is a rather wealthy spot in the midst of an empire. It speaks of attainable grandeur, of business success, and not so much of glory as of a life well lived. Walking past these ivy-covered houses, one will occasionally see a church, magnificent as a miniature cathedral and spires that can only ask one to believe something incredible must be there driving force. One gets to this area only a few blocks after walking past overgrown sidewalks and more plebian shotgun house duplexes. The contrast is good, and it has all the feel of a city that is lived in, that is to be lived in, and that has been lived in for a goodly time.

The last point of note was the Jewish Cemetery we stumbled across. It was an old one, full of the above-ground graves that are so startling at first. The fence was open but we were the only people there. At least, the only people who still drew breath. We sang, in a way that sounds trite but managed to encompass hymns and spirituals and then carols, but also had plenty of room for modern pop songs and dancing without spectators. It was again surreal, being in this place of the dead in the city trying to be reborn while being so full of life. It was ripe with transition, the play of early teen-hood opening up room for a transition into another, more quietly respectful, frame of mind.

Upon leaving, we passed by the row of child graves. Many had only pet names, some were unnamed, and one at least died in 1876. It's odd, seeing the tiny bit of land, and knowing that this child would have been too old to be a great grandparent.