Saturday, July 23, 2016

Conventional thoughts

I cannot believe what I am about to write: at the conclusion of the Republican National Convention, I am grudgingly finding myself having to face the distinct possibility that Donald Trump could actually be the next President of the United States. According to FiveThirtyEight, Trump's odds of winning have increased from just under 20% at the time they launched their 2016 Election Forecast to over 40% at the conclusion of the Republican convention. It's legitimately troubling me that the polls have shifted so significantly, and that I feel the need to write this post at all.

When I last wrote on the American election after Super Tuesday, Trump had just solidified his lead in the Republican nomination; since then, Trump has displayed surprising resilience despite an increasing number of gaffes and blunders from him and his campaign team, including several during this convention. He has somehow managed not only to weather major world events such as Orlando, Brexit, and Dallas that have exposed his ignorance, but to actually increase his portion of the popular vote and his chances of winning the general election in November.

I do not think that it's worth my time (or yours, for that matter) to attempt to recount how we got to this point; rather, I want to deal with the major issues that I am continuing to encounter as I navigate this new political landscape. The three main issues that I have seen arise in the past month and through the convention have been the relationship between Trump and Evangelicals, the way in which the media is perceived, and the pattern of character attacks on Hillary Clinton.

On Trump and Evangelicals

I expected that most Republicans would eventually find a way to rationalize their support of Trump, though few have been as painful to see as Paul Ryan's capitulation to his party's choice, endorsing Trump even as Trump was embroiled in an abhorrently racist attack on a federal judge. I have been heartened by the fact that many significant Republican figures have either deliberately not endorsed or have openly spoken against Trump, but I have considered that to be a losing battle for a long time, and one that does not particularly matter to me personally, as I would certainly be a Democrat were I to be an American citizen.

The much more personally disconcerting development of the past two months has been the way in which several prominent Evangelicals have publicly contorted themselves in order to support Trump as the nominee. Trump named his Evangelical Advisory Board a month ago, and although I acknowledge that not all 25 members have publicly supported Trump, many of them have, and I cannot imagine that it would be palatable to have a decidedly anti-Trump voice within that group.

Trump's pick of Mike Pence as his VP seems only to have emboldened the Evangelical support of Trump further, and the policy that the Republican party is officially endorsing is arguably capitulating more to social conservatives (a group which happens to have a significant overlap with Evangelicals) than any Republican platform in recent memory. The whole picture is very bleak for those of us who identify as Evangelical Christians but who do not find ourselves in agreement with either Trump or the Republicans in general.

There are prominent Republican Evangelicals who are not supporting Trump - primarily Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention and author Max Lucado - but there are far more voices within the Evangelical wing of the church who are encouraging their parishioners to support Trump. As one article commented, rather than religion affecting politics, politics has now infected religion. I perceived the tension between the two through the last few American elections, but I think that there was at least some reasonable space for dialogue and for arguments that Christians should vote Republican as a moral imperative in the past; with their support for Trump, I do not see how these Evangelicals have twisted themselves around to this point of view.

I'm really worked up about this issue in particular because it equates a particular political viewpoint with a faith viewpoint without room for dialogue. It alienates people who disagree with either of those two assumed perspectives, and it forces people to have to choose between their church and their conscience. It causes dissension within the church, and it makes people leave when they feel like they do not belong. It makes the church complicit as a political entity, and I believe that one of the core things that Jesus taught was that the church should have a perspective that goes beyond our political spectrum.

I know I probably should not be as disturbed by this trend as I am, particularly since I am Canadian and therefore not directly affected by what happens in American Evangelicalism, but the same thing happens north of the border. I experienced it directly in the last election with others implying that the Conservatives are the "Christian" party, as opposed to the "godless heathens" of our more center or left parties. I am tired of being judged for having my church and my political conscience be at odds with one another, and I can foresee a future in which, like many other Millennial Evangelicals before me, I will feel forced to make a decision between the two - and it's not going to be in favour of the Evangelical church if that happens.

On the media

One of the arguments that I have repeatedly encountered in my discussions is the point that I am hearing only what the media wants me to hear, and that there is some element of a left-wing liberal media syndicate conspiracy that wants to ensure that Donald Trump is not elected in November. While I concede that there is a clear bias from news organizations such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Slate, as I agree that there are many major news outlets that do not want Trump to become President, but I do not think it's a conspiracy or unjustified; rather, it's a legitimate fear that Americans are about to elect a man who is professionally and personally unfit to hold the office.

Most of the articles I have read discuss the things that Trump says and the policies he states, and they actually take him seriously, which is why their overall tone is one of extreme concern. The kinds of articles I have read do not take potshots at Trump, but they examine the full implications of the statements Trump makes, as well as attempting to parse his true positions through the morass of Trump's long history of quotations over the past thirty years - and unfortunately for Trump, his character over that period does not come out as presidential.

As an aside, I do acknowledge that many of the late night TV hosts are capitalizing on mocking Trump and that I do derive a certain amount of glee at times from those digs, but I do also admit that they have begun crossing the line in recent months, and that there are times in which what they are doing is unfortunate and mean. I do hope that there is a shift in tone away from their form of bullying in the coming months, though I fear that there may not be, given the current political climate of the US.

There are a few troubling implications with this argument against the media. It capitalizes on conspiracy theory politics and anti-intellectualism. It eliminates all need to listen to the media. But perhaps most significantly, it trivializes anyone with a point of view that agrees with the media and it asserts that anyone who agrees with a perspective expressed therein is a media marionette parroting only what the establishment wants them to say - a statement I choose to refute vehemently.

I am an educated and informed person, and I read media carefully. I choose to share certain articles because I believe that they are useful for my future reference and for others in my social media community because they provide ideas and perspectives that are well thought out, well argued, and well supported. I am not a media shill, nor am I unthinkingly spreading propaganda. The fact that thoughtful, articulate pieces argue a certain point of view is not evidence that they are colluding; it is evidence that those arguments need to be made.

While it is true that I do not spend much time regarding media that disagrees with my point of view, such as most Republican and/or Conservative news outlets, I am aware of their arguments. I choose to avoid them in part because I know that I do not agree with their content, but more significantly because I find many of their methods to have little journalistic or interpersonal integrity - methods that were also demonstrated by the speakers at the Republican convention.

On Hillary bashing

Another argument I have heard several times in response to articles I have posted about Trump is a variation, often spoken or written with extreme derision and scorn, of, "Who would you choose? Hillary?" - the implication therein being that a vote for Hillary is obviously the wrong choice. But I have found that further conversation typically leads to one of a few ends - she's a corrupt criminal; she's the personification of the system; or even that she's a weak woman - with little nuanced analysis of her record or policies. Even the use of the name "Hillary" (as opposed to "Clinton") seems to be the same kind of infantilization that the Canadian Conservatives attempted to execute by referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as "Justin" throughout the election (and since).

The vilification and dehumanization of Hillary Clinton reached a new low during the RNC with chants of "lock her up" and "guilty" being encouraged by speakers from the main stage, in addition to the innumerable (and, in most polite company, unquotable) slogans that appeared on shirts about her character. It is similar to the treatment that Obama has endured over the past eight years, although this time it is tinged with misogyny rather than racism. It is truly unfortunate that Republicans continue to engage with this kind of vicious bullying, as I do believe that it is obscuring some legitimate policy concerns and distracting from genuine dialogue between the two parties.

The Democrats as a whole have not engaged directly in as much of these kinds of politics in recent memory, and I am truly hoping that they choose to focus on positives during their convention this week rather than merely bashing Trump. They can talk about the Republican policies and Trump's statements without overtly mocking him, and I hope that they elevate the dialogue, rather than descending to the level that Trump and the Republicans demonstrated this past week.


As a high school history teacher, I have taught twentieth century world history several times over the past decade, and I have often struggled to help students understand how fascism rose between World War I and World War II in Europe. Students have not had a framework in which they could understand how Mussolini, Franco, and especially Hitler could rise to power and how they could convince rational people to commit such terrible atrocities. Now, unfortunately, we have a clear example of fascism at work in a modern society with the rise of Trump.

Trump's statements, policies and personal history reflect patterns of misogyny, racism, xenophobia, personal degradation, irresponsibility, anti-intellectualism, cultural ignorance, lack of regard for authority, and bullying. Despite what some Republicans would have you believe, Trump has demonstrated no willingness or ability to govern in a way that does not reflect those established attitudes and behaviours.

Although I am not exactly excited by the idea of Hillary Clinton as President, she is arguably more qualified than any other non-incumbent candidate has ever been to hold office, and I think that she will do her best to serve her country well. I have no reason to think that she will be a disaster as President, and if I were to have to choose between the two, I would certainly pick Clinton. But right now, I'm mostly just glad that I'm not going to have to cast a vote in that election.

More than anything, I hope that this entire process will cause both parties to rethink their positions and methods, and that 2016 will become a true turning point for American politics. Canada experienced a shift with our election last year, and I certainly hope that the changes in our political landscape hold out with our next election in 2019, much as I hope that the rhetoric and the vitriol are toned down south of the border after the first Tuesday in November - starting now with the Democratic National Convention.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Quarter 2 Media Update

The second quarter of the year was a little slower for me this year, as it often tends to be for media consumption. The end of the school year usually ends up consuming a lot of time and energy, and I often find it challenging to fit in my usual media habits around all of the things happening in May and June. Then again, it's not like there were a lot of movies that demanded my attention anyway, and most of the stuff I have missed out on was either not a big deal, or will be easy to catch up on later. At any rate, here's my top ten things I experienced, top ten I missed, and top ten I'm looking forward to in the next quarter.

What I experienced

Veep Season 5 (HBO) - Every bit as brilliant and more as its preceding seasons. I'm slightly concerned that where the show left off would have made a perfect series finale, but I have complete faith that the team behind Veep will make the next season really interesting. JLD and Tony Hale seem like they will likely win Emmy Awards again this year, and the show should too.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Season 2 (Netflix) - Kimmy was even more wacky and wild this season, which makes sense since the first season was originally produced for NBC, and it paid off. It felt like the world was richer, and some of the storylines really came to fruition by the finale.

Sherlock - The Abominable Bride - Sure, it was only one special, but it was enough Sherlock to tide us over until Series 4 finally comes sometime next year.

Survivor: Kaoh Rong (CBS) - Season 32 ended on a surprising note, and I would rank it somewhere in the middle of Survivor seasons - a lot of great moments, a few great contestants, but overall not the series' best work.

Captain America: Civil War - I wrote my reaction in detail here, but suffice to say that I liked it well enough despite its flaws.

Deadpool - After avoiding Deadpool for its first couple of weeks, it took another month or two before I got around to it, and I'm glad I did. I cannot think of many movies that were more raunchy fun in the theatre; Hot Fuzz, Bridesmaids, and Zombieland come to mind, the latter of which seems very appropriate since it was written by the same guys who wrote Deadpool. This might be the movie that changed superhero movies, and that's not a bad thing.

Lauren Winner / Brené Brown - I did not read much this quarter, but I did introduce myself to two new authors who are both brilliant women who are changing the way I think. I read Winner's Girl Meets God and Real Sex, and I'm halfway through Brown's Daring Greatly, and I am a better person for having them in my life as authors.

All Sons and Daughters / Rend Collective - I have recently started to try to listen to more "worship" music, a practice that has been made more difficult by the programmatic, predictable, dull nature of much of what the Christian music industry produces in that genre. I have lately discovered these two artists thanks to some thrift store shopping, and I am much better for it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild preview at E3 - Although we did not get the NX preview we had hoped for, Nintendo did give an extended series of previews into the new Zelda game, and it might be the game that saves Nintendo. Seriously.

2015 movies - I finally caught up with a number of movies from last year: Bridge of Spies (slightly overrated); Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (entertaining and worth a watch on Netflix); Sicario (Traffic meets Zero Dark Thirty meets WOW!); Spotlight (deserved its acclaim and its Oscar); and Spy (surprisingly funny). Sure, I still have over a dozen more that I have not yet seen, but I'm still making progress on last year's movies, and so far 2016 has not provided a lot of good (or even popular) movies on which I feel the need to catch up.

Also receiving consideration: The Besnard Lakes live in concert; Collective Soul live in concert; NHL / NBA Playoffs;

What I missed

Finding Dory - I'll get around to seeing it sooner or later, but it seemed like it merited mentioning here.

X-Men: Apocalypse - I was slightly excited to see this, until I heard the reviews. Now I'll wait for cheap theatres or Netflix.

The Americans Season 4 (FX) - I don't know if I'll ever get around to watching it at this point, but it still merits mentioning for my intention to do so.

The Night Manager (BBC/AMC) - I hear good things about this spy drama.

O.J.: Made in America (ABC/ESPN) - I didn't have a lot of interest in this documentary until it started getting rave reviews. Now I think I have to watch it and catch up on the FX dramatization over the summer.

Star Fox Zero (Wii U) - After all the hype and the delay, this game was not well received. Well, that saves me $75.

New books by Rob Bell, Shane Claiborne, and Chuck Klosterman - Three of my favourite authors released new books that I would like to read soon.

The Lumineers - Cleopatra / The Avett Brothers - True Sadness - I didn't really end up listening to much music over the past few months, but these new Americana-folk albums are high up on my list for experiencing soon.

Andy Shauf - The Party - The Regina-based singer released his new album, and it's getting a lot of traction in major media.

Thrice - To Be Everywhere Is To Be Nowhere - I don't know how, but I still haven't listened to this album yet, despite waiting for it expectantly for months (or years). I need to fix this oversight ASAP.

Also receiving consideration: Game of Thrones Season 6 (HBO); Silicon Valley (Season 3, HBO); Money Monster; Beyoncé - Lemonade; Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool

Looking forward to (or at least intrigued by) in Q3 (July to Sept)

Any Given Wednesday with Bill Simmons Season 1 (HBO) - Simmons' series has shown some promise in its first two episodes, so I am interested to see what happens as the summer goes on and the show develops.

Switchfoot - Where the Light Shines Through (July 8) - I wrote about my experience with Switchfoot a few weeks ago, so I am definitely excited to hear the new album and to see how it fits into the band's repertoire.

The Night Of (July 10, HBO) - HBO has a history of strong summer miniseries (including last year's brilliant Show Me A Hero), so I'm excited for this series that goes deep into the interrogation about a night gone awry. John Turturro stars, and Riz Ahmed was incredible in Nightcrawler, so I'm really interested to see how this series goes.

Mr. Robot Season 2 (July 13, USA) - I still need to catch up on Season 1, but this seems like it's going to be the show of the summer, so I should probably keep it in the queue.

Ghostbusters (July 15) - I am very torn on this one. On the one hand, Paul Feig and his female stars (Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig) have a proven track record; on the other hand, it seems like this movie might be a little spiritually dark. I think I'm going to wait to read some of the reviews to see how it's received, but I'm interested in it nonetheless.

Star Trek Beyond (July 22) - The third movie in the new Star Trek franchise seems like it might bring a change from Into Darkness, especially since J.J. Abrams took his lens flares to a galaxy far, far away. There is the possibility of a good movie here, but I'm mostly just interested to see what they do with the series.

Suicide Squad (August 5) - So, I was initially out on this one, but I have to say that the more recent trailers have made me much more interested than I was initially. I don't know what I'll think by the time it releases in a month, but count me as intrigued - on the same level as Ghostbusters.

The Get Down (August 12, Netflix) - Baz Luhrmann's series about the rise of hip-hop in the Bronx in the 70s seems like it might be everything that Vinyl could have been.

Weird Al live in concert (August 13) - Cross another one off the bucket list. I've wanted to see Al live since I was ten, so this is a biggie.

Star Trek's 50th Anniversary (Sept. 8) - I remember just becoming a Trekkie when the show celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1991, so I'm really excited to see what kind of celebration is coming this fall. I might even finally finish watching The Original Series by then.

Also receiving consideration: Roadies (June 26, Showtime); Vice Principals (July 17, HBO); The Little Prince (August 5, Netflix); TIFF (Sept. 8-18); Snowden (Sept 16); The Magnificent Seven (Sept 23); Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Sept 30)

Monday, July 04, 2016

2016 Q2 Board Games Update

I had a successful and eventful second quarter of board gaming over the past three months, with more plays than all but one previous quarter and the re-emergence of game design as a pursuit. Not only did I spend more time on my existing design, Pot O' Gold, but I spent some time on my second design (the title and concept for which I am not yet publicly divulging) and on starting a game design group within my local game community. Suffice to say that I am really excited about the possibilities therein. Anyway, here's what my last three months of gaming looked like.

Update on year goals

Goal #1: 366 plays for an average of one play per day. After 95 plays through 91 days to start the year, I'm now at 202 plays through 182 days, so I'm on pace for 404 plays for the year - well above my goal of 366.

Goal #2: Complete a 10x10 challenge. I'm still only at 34%, so I will have to commit myself to playing these ten games a lot more over the next six months.

Goal #3: Play 25 of my Top 30 to play. I'm now at 10/30 played, but I am picking up the pace. Furthermore, there are only six games on my list that are not currently in a friend's collection, so there is a good chance I can get at least all of the other fourteen games played, if not at least one of those last six.

Goal #4: Play at least one game with my wife per week. June was a little spotty, but I'm still well on track for this goal on average over the year.

Goal #5: Reduce my Want to Play list to 150 games by the end of the year. I'm down to 180 already, but I have another two dozen games I could add to my list - and that's without the new games from Gen Con and Essen hitting my list. I think I'm just going to have to resign myself to the fact that regardless of how quickly I play new games, there will always be more new games to play.

Goal #6: Play all of my complex games at least three times. By my reckoning, I have just twenty games that I would consider "complex" (either by using the average weight on BGG or through my own definition), and I have not even played them all once. I have, however, played two of them (The Castles of Burgundy and Orléans) at least three times already, so I'm calling this 10% finished.

Goal #7: Host one game night per month. I think this has happened at least once per month, so I'm calling it on track for now.

Goal #8: Blog once per month about board games including my quarterly review posts. I had two board game specific posts and three others that incorporated board games as a metaphor for something deeper in my life, so I'm calling this one on track.

Goal #9: Be more careful with Kickstarters. I backed only one Kickstarter this quarter, though there were a couple of others that I was really considering, so I'm going to call this on track.

Goal #10: Have Pot O' Gold published (or at least well on its way to production). I made progress with the rules and graphic revisions, and the second round of play testing is still underway. It's coming along!

Games played

I outpaced my own expectations with 107 total plays this quarter, the second-most I have played in any quarter (I had 122 plays in Q4 in 2015. Here are how some of the lists breakdown into the specifics.

Most-played games this quarter: 
1. T.I.M.E Stories (8)
2. Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 (5)
3. Carcassonne (4)
4. (tie) The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Citadels; Flash Point: Fire Rescue; The Grizzled; Imperial Settlers; Pandemic (3)

All-time most played games:
1. 7 Wonders (60)
2. Pandemic (41)
3. Race for the Galaxy (36)
4. King of Tokyo (29)
5. (tie) Dominion; Splendor (25)

Games played this quarter from my Top 30 to play: Alien Frontiers; Cacao; Dungeon Lords; Grand Austria Hotel; Rialto; Voyages of Marco Polo (6)

Other new games played this quarter: Akrotiri; ...and then we held hands; The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Commissioned; DC Deck Building Game; Dr. Eureka; Funemployed! The Game; The Grizzled; Gone Viking!; Happy Salmon; Karuba; Knit Wit; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; Mice and Mystics; Mysterium; OctoDice: Railways of the World; The Resistance: Avalon; Star Realms: Colony Wars; Super Motherload; Taktika; Uchronia; (Unpublished Prototype); Valeria: Card Kingdoms; Volcano (26)

New expansions played this quarter: Eminent Domain: Exotica; Pandemic: State of Emergency; Thurn and Taxis: All Roads Lead to Rome; T.I.M.E Stories: The Marcy Case; T.I.M.E Stories: A Prophecy of Dragons (5)

Favourite new games played this quarter: The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; The Game; The Grizzled; Knit Wit; The Voyages of Marco Polo

Want to play

As mentioned earlier in my goals, I really worked on my WTP list this quarter. I played 22 games from my list, removed another 3, and only added 4. That said, I do have another 26 that I am considering adding to my WTP list (or that I will probably end up playing at some point regardless).

Games added to my Want to Play list: Imhotep; Quests of Valeria; Yokohama (3)

Expansions added to my Want to Play list: Cacao: Chocolatl (1)

Games removed from my Want to Play list: Paradox; Progress: Evolution of Technology; Rampage (3)

Changes to my collection

I had fewer changes to my collection in quarter 2, which was perhaps inevitable, but I feel like I continued to improve the overall quality of my collection both through my new additions as well as through the games I liquidated.

Games acquired: Between Two Cities; Blueprints; The Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game; Caverna: The Cave Farmers; Eminent Domain: Battlecruisers; OctoDice; Uchronia (7)

Large expansions acquired: Core Worlds: Galactic Orders; Eminent Domain: Exotica; Imperial Settlers: 3 is the Magic Number; Imperial Settlers: Why Can't We Be Friends?; Pandemic: State of Emergency; Scoville: Labs (6)

Small expansions acquired: 7 Wonders: Duel - The Messe Essen; Agricola: Biogas Plant; Dixit: 2012 Asmodee Special Cards; Glass Road: Harlekin; Keyflower: Emporium and Monument; Ora et Labora: Loamy Landscape; Pandemic: Promo Roles; Russian Railroads: Mini Expansion; Stone Age: Casino; Viticulture: Moor Visitors; The Voyages of Marco Polo: The New Characters (11)

Kickstarters ordered this quarter: Quests of Valeria (Feb)

Kickstarters still on order from previous quarters (with expected arrival date): Innovation Deluxe (July); The Manhattan Project: Chain Reaction (Sept); Morocco (July); Thief's Market (July); Villages of Valeria (Sept)

Games liquidated: Hera and Zeus; Province; Roma; The Settlers of Catan: The Card Game + Expansions; Spyrium (6)

Wish list

My wish list continues to remain fairly static at just over a hundred items, though I did add slightly more items (17 in total) than I acquired (11) in this quarter thanks mainly to discovering more promo expansions for games I already own. Maybe it's time to try to work out some more trades on BGG.

Games added to my wish list: Codenames: Pictures; The Game; The Grizzled; Knit Wit; Lanterns: The Harvest Festival; The Voyages of Marco Polo (6)

Expansions added to my wish list: The Grizzled: At Your Orders!; Imperial Settlers: Aztecs; Star Realms: United; Tiny Epic Galaxies: Beyond the Black (4)

Small expansions added to my wish list: The Game On Fire!; Imperial Settlers: Council; Imperial Settlers: Storage Tiles; Imperial Settlers: The Watchers Guild; Orleans; Die Reise Nach Tours; Tokaido: Felicia; Tokaido: The New Encounters (7)

Looking forward to Q3

Kickstarters arriving! - There are often delays, but I am expecting at least three of the five Kickstarters that I am expecting this quarter to arrive at some point before September 30. I am assuming, of course, that the impending Canada Post strike will not delay my packages for too long...

Three more months of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 - We are halfway through the campaign of Pandemic Legacy: Season 1, and I am very excited for the twists that will come in the next three months!

Game Design - Between tweaking Pot O' Gold, working on my next game, and enjoying our newly started Game Design group, I'm excited for what's coming over the next few months.

Announcement of Spiel des Jahres and Kennerspiel des Jahres - the nominees for the most prestigious award in gaming were announced in mid-May and the winners will be announced in mid-July. I am expecting Codenames and Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 to win their respective categories, but there have been enough surprises in previous years that there might be an upset. In the meantime, I have played all but one of the nominees for the two awards (Imhotep), and I have to say that this might be one of the best groups of nominees I can recall.

GenCon - The early August convention in Indianapolis has become a major reveal point for publishers, and it is one of the most exciting times to see new designs that will be released over the following year. Someday, I will convince my wife that we should go in person, but for now, I'm just going to enjoy all of the news that will come in the first week of August. Until then, I'm just going to keep whittling away at my list of games to play...


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