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Category: Political

Full Steam Ahead: Age of Empires III

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 9 Hours.

 

The Age of Empires series of games is special to me. These are the games that introduced me to the real-time-strategy genre. Age of Empires got me interested in the classical empires of Persia, Egypt, and Greece. Age of Empires II brought the stories of medieval leaders to life: Joan of Arc, Genghis Khan, and Saladin. Age of Mythology took the well-balanced, carefully crafted gameplay I had come to love, and transported it to the world of Norse, Egyptian, and Greek legend.

So, let’s make no mistake: Age of Empires III is fun game. It is a well-balanced real time strategy game, and part of one of that genre’s most consistently excellent series.

Now watch as I spend most of the rest of this article barely talking about the game.

The Spanish home city, and title screen of Age of Empires III.

Empathy Is Not a Zero-sum Game

Fifteen men and one woman have left this world too soon. Local communities and national organizations alike have been showing up to support their families and others who are feeling the loss at a very personal level. The event is one of the saddest things I have heard in the news recently, while the response is one of the most heart-warming. It’s nice to know that we are a society that shares empathy and shows support in dark times.

Unfortunately, not everyone is showing up in the spirit of empathy. An online harassment campaign has started against Nora Loreto, a freelance journalist who simply asked a question about discrepancies in how we as a society respond to tragedies. It was a valid point that didn’t necessarily have to be made at the time the tweet was posted. However, the explosive maliciousness that immediately followed suggests to me that she said something that needed to be said. Jumping so quickly at the chance to destroy an opponent with a torrent of death threats and verbal abuse is not something that decent and respectful people do. It’s what angry and defensive people do. If our outpouring of support was not as selective as it is then there would be no such rage.

How we react to a faux-pas on social media platforms varies widely depending on who is posting it.

We are not only selective in our empathy, but also in how we respond to a social media faux-pas. I know this because I am every bit as guilty as Loreto is of being slightly ill-timed in my tweeting. I’m being dragged on Stalinist Twitter right now for mentioning that it’s a worthless endeavour to try to compare genocides to one another as they are all the worst. I would stand by that statement on any other day, but I should not have brought up the Holodomor in the context of a post about Yom HaShoah. While it might not have been the worst possible example of trivializing whataboutism, it was still inappropriate. It was a mistake for me to let my opinionated self go unrestrained by my wiser and more prudent self. I should not have said anything, but I did. I posted a tweet that was ill-advised — as a white man who was challenging the prejudices of the far left (or far right to the extent that some of those may be their sock puppets). Sure, they said my opinion doesn’t count. Big deal. What are the chances that this incident will cause right-wing politicians to pluck me out of obscurity for Two Minutes Hate? How likely is it that I am going to receive a barrage of death threats? Harassing phone calls? Attempts to destroy my career? Practically zero chance of any of that. These things are happening to a white woman who challenged the biases within her own society, but are unlikely to happen to me. The fact that we both did the same thing and only she gets mobbed shows that our societal outrage is selective.

So, do I think Loreto would have been wise to hold onto that opinion for a few weeks? Yes. Just as I would have been wiser not to take the bait on my Twitter news feed. But here is the thing: nobody honours the memory of the deceased and injured by engaging in online harassment. Nobody honours the victims of the worst crimes against humanity by denying and justifying other cases. None of these are a zero-sum game when it comes to empathy. We may be limited in our ability to provide dollars to everyone we would like to, but we are not so limited in care and compassion unless we choose to be. And those choices will reflect the kind of people we are, so I hope that we choose wisely by showing kindness and empathy to all sorts of people who are grieving a loss and also to people who make mistakes on Twitter.

Annus Revelati

At this time last year I was writing one of those retrospective posts lamenting the year that was. I’m not going to sit here and list all the horrific plays in political games around the world we saw this year. Almost everything that has excited and outraged us has been as surprising as a sunrise given the events of late 2016. Every violation of the rule of law and basic decency coming from the most powerful office in the most powerful country in the world should be no surprise to anyone who was paying attention to 2016. That we now have unscrupulous players in Canada and other countries looking to imitate that example is as predictable as it is appalling. Yet despite all this I believe that rather than an annus horribilis, 2017 has been an annus revelati. If my Google/Wiktionary-based Latin skills are good enough, that should mean a year of showing, uncovering, revealing, and disclosing. We cannot help but see now what has been under the surface, whether it was intentionally obscured or simply invisible to those who chose not to see. This has been the year that we have been reminded of some of the things we have to take into play rather than take for granted as axiomatic truths.

As important as it is to keep the big picture in mind, it is very important that we also see the brighter things even if they seem very small in a very large world. For me personally, 2017 saw a number of happy events yet none of these were really new things. I got married, which showed the rest of the world the love that my partner and I hold between ourselves. Though in some ways it can be considered a new beginning, it was a fulfilment of the engagement that happened in 2016. I formally joined a Unitarian Universalist church, though I had been interested in the faith and attending services throughout 2016. I welcomed a second author to this blog halfway through the year who has been a HUGE help in making this project manageable at this time in my life. That, too, was suggested to me just as I was first starting: bring in guest posts sooner rather than later so that it seems less weird when it happens. It took a while, but I am glad that I did that with Alastair’s series. I got back in the DM’s chair during Extra Life, but I have spent more time talking about wanting to run more tabletop adventures than actually doing it in 2017. That adventure, naturally, revolved around revealing the sordid truth about the temple that loomed large over a destitute village.

The most exciting part of a tabletop adventure’s plot is usually some sort of revealing of the truth.

So, looking back on the year that has passed, everything that has happened in my world has been about revealing and uncovering the nature and consequences of what was already set in motion. Now it is time to look forward and think about what to do with what has been revealed. I believe that we can affect games much larger than ourselves by how we play our little games, whether recreational pastimes or the game of life as it plays out for our small individual lives. These are my recommendations to my readers for the year of 2018 CE on how we can work to improve our play:

  • Defend, but don’t play defence. Innuendo Studios is doing a fantastic series called the alt-right playbook, and in Never Play Defense we are reminded that a person can be effective without being right if they are playing aggressively. I’m not saying that you should ditch substance for bravado, but boldness is a better look than apologetic hesitation. I recently had the opportunity to inform someone at a game table that I am certain that my Romani friend would never attempt to “gyp” him of any points that he is due. Making this matter-of-fact statement was far more effective than something that started with “Sorry, but I am offended by…” There is no need to allow yourself and your loved ones to be attacked nor is there any need to turtle up and yield all of your ground. Now is the best time to speak up at your gaming table when someone is doing or saying something that could put you on the defensive and renew your efforts to be deliberate in what media to (not) consume. And, if you are so inclined, support Innuendo Studios.
  • Don’t apologize for what you are (not). Following that, when someone goes name-calling, embrace the ones that should not be an insult in the first place. A lot of what I write in this space might be labelled as “social justice warrior” ranting even though in terms of 4th/5th edition D&D classes I am probably more of a warlock than a fighter. But seriously, why should I yield this ground? I endeavour not to be antisocial. I detest injustice. I believe in fighting for what is right. Getting upset over labels only derails my intent and delivers the desired reaction to the sort of person who would wield such a so-called insult (refer again to the video linked above). So be a social justice warrior, or evangelical Christian, or whatever words people say in disdainful tones that, at face value, actually represent the kind of person you aspire to be.
  • Let go of the notion that everyone agrees with your rules. If you have not learned this again and again in 2017, then you have not been paying attention. The notion of a “marketplace of ideas” and quotes attributed to Voltaire about free speech are fine when an overwhelming majority of people in a society can agree on the basic rules surrounding minimal human decency and the existence of immutable facts which cannot be changed by the volume and repetition of spurious zingers. You can’t play a game with those who won’t agree to the rules. No fair play is possible when the torch-wielding mob is out to cause havoc. Such people must be dealt with in a different manner than people who can agree to a good set of basic rules but with whom you profoundly disagree with when it comes to how to solve particular problems.
  • Embrace a little bit of swagger. Remember that while your stated beliefs don’t make you a better person, telling the truth does. Your tweets don’t make you a better person, but playing fair does. The colour of your political party’s campaign signs does not make you a better person, but holding people accountable for their behaviour especially when it’s a popular person on your team does. So when you can be certain that you are doing and saying the right thing, do it openly and proudly. There is no reason to pretend that fair play, the rule of just law, and respecting the fundamental worth and dignity of every person aren’t for winners.
  • Read Crash Override. I am just getting started on it now, but the subject matter is really important. And it doesn’t matter what you think of Zoë Quinn personally. If you want to be a critic, be an informed critic. Know about the things you disagree with. Learn about (sub)cultures that you haven’t really been concerned with up to this point. But also, being sympathetic doesn’t excuse ignorance either; it is important to know what you are up against and what you can do to help. Games matter. The internet matters. Internet and gaming culture matter. These are important parts of, not distractions from what we call real life.

If a few more people do a few more of those things, I believe that 2018 will be a brighter year, even if just by a little bit.

Full Steam Ahead – Wargame: European Escalation

Time logged before Full Steam Ahead: 3 hours

Before saying anything else about this specific game, I want to tell you how it came to be in my library. It was my fourth year at the University of Calgary, and I was in the middle of writing a project for, I think, Cold War Politics (it was either that or US Military Politics). This project was a beast to write, and after my third night in a row staying up until 3:00 AM, I opened Steam. I needed something, anything, to take my mind off of this paper.

Enter Wargame: European Escalation, a real time strategy game set during the Cold War. Players experience a variety of scenarios in which the Cold War degrades into an armed conflict, the forces of NATO and the Warsaw Pact facing off in the European theatre of conflict.

Given the course I was working on, and my natural interest in the history of the Cold War, especially in Germany, I thought this seemed like an interesting game. So, I made a deal with myself: once I finished the project, I would buy it and play it. I completed the paper, bought, and downloaded Wargame: European Escalation.

Three hours later I stopped playing it, not returning to it until I started writing Full Steam Ahead. Turns out writing academic papers fuelled by sleep deprivation and heavy metal music is more fun than Wargame: European Escalation.

The only winning move is not to play…

Worth Debating

You know the guy. He quotes Voltaire and insists that anything and everything is up for debate in a truly free society. He loves posting in comment sections and social media and insists that it’s debate time, any time, or else you’ve conceded that he’s right. He’s the guy that Dr. Nerdlove is talking about in this Twitter thread. What that guy is really doing, though, is trying to lure you into a game not worth playing. One where gish galloping is not only a valid tactic, but almost essential to winning. Most of the time I see it as a game better not played than won, but sometimes I will engage if I am feeling up to it (which is not required at all times) and if I am it’s usually aimed at the silent reader rather than trying to convince the self-righteous logic-warrior that he’s wrong. He’s the kind of guy who will claim that white supremacy can be defeated by calmly and rationally outlining the logical reasons why it’s wrong. It never ends that way, ever.

If we are to support the sort of society that values human life of all types we must stop consenting to this game and his rules. I refuse to debate those who would engage in apologetics for the torch-wielding mobs on their own terms. But as someone who could be described as a “debate geek” how can I say this? Well, there are some things worth debating and there are some things that must not ever be in order to maintain a society where liberty even has a chance to flourish. That white supremacy must be rejected is, as far as I am concerned, not up for debate. How best to respond to the troubling fact that they feel it’s no longer necessary to remain in the closet is up for debate, as are the landmarks on our cultural landscape that inform what kind of people we are. That’s why I go on about video games, tabletop, and fiction on this blog in the way I do: it all adds up to what kind of society we live in.

That’s why today I am going to ask if Ready Player One a good book and a film to look forward to? That’s up for debate, too, and I don’t think it’s purely trivial. There is a conversation to be had about a book that’s getting an adaptation directed by Steven Spielberg which is, essentially, white guy nostalgia. Not that it isn’t important to put out the big fires, but understanding the cultural landscape we inhabit will help us see fire hazards.

If you search the internet for reactions to Ready Player One you will find mostly positive coverage, some effusive praise that I think reaches a fair bit too far (the trailer calls it a “holy grail of pop culture”), and a small section of people who think it’s cool to cast me as one of those torch-wielding white supremacists if I am looking forward to the film in any way. And I am, a little bit. I have previously described the book as a cool idea wrapped in a plot that’s a satisfactory vehicle but not especially inspiring or original. It’s not high on my priority list, but there is a good chance that I will give the movie a watch. Alex Nichols offers a more nuanced critique that I agree with on many points, except that I don’t think that stroking white nerd nostalgia is what makes it bad. What in my mind separates the book as it is from a great book is that it does its thing so uncritically. If you have read the book, you eventually come to see that Halliday’s was a deeply troubled mind and that for all of its technical and artistic brilliance, OASIS is a deeply problematic system. I don’t think that the narrative would suddenly disintegrate if the over-narrative was less self-indulgent than the game inside. Some parts of Ready Player One are indeed the purplest fan service that has received attention outside fan fiction sites, but a lot of it read better to me because I’m the direct target audience. But it did leave me wanting in terms of looking at how the entire premise of the egg hunt was in fact a big red flag pointing to some very ugly things about the OASIS. When I mentioned to my wife that I was going to mention the book in today’s post she recommended that I look up the Thug Notes review. I thought, oh good, here’s a guy who us going to take this book to task for its biases. But he doesn’t, except in a single comment about the conspicuous lack of Run DMC. I don’t think that the narrative would have been better with meticulously researched examples of stuff that was popular outside of white suburban nerd-dom stuffed into OASIS, but it would have been better if the characters in the overworld could see how narrow and self-indulgent a lot of what’s inside is, even as they obtain an education that they could not otherwise get in the dystopian “real world.” I reject outright any implication that it’s the Turner Diaries but with video game references, but I must also be very critical of the fact that highly concentrated white guy nostalgia is being cast as the holy grail. I think because of the attention that’s building, it’s worth debating.

So yeah, think that I ought to have sympathy for the Nazi march? Go away. Think that Ready Player One is either unironically good or the actual worst thing in the world? Debate me.

A Country Made For Love

Because July 1 falls on a Saturday this year, I would like to take a moment to salute my country on its 150th anniversary. I am, like almost everyone, predisposed to think highly of the country I was born in. But for me, there is more to my love of Canada. It’s more than just because it’s a really big mass of land of many different types.

If you’ve been paying attention to Canadian media (social and otherwise) then by now you will have heard a lot of critical messages asking what we are celebrating when other people have inhabited this land for many centuries prior to confederation. My answer to this is that Canada wasn’t Canada before it was founded, and it was the founding of the current country, the current society that I am celebrating, not the arrival of human civilization. That would push the date back several thousand years. But it’s Canada where my ancestors were able to settle and build a better life than they could have imagined under direct English rule or under Russia’s boot. The country they have built is one where we don’t require violent revolutions or election boycotts or resistance movements when our government is elected in a configuration we don’t like. We can get upset about it, but to change it we organize parties and win elections. This isn’t even as common in the world as we would like to think it is. We have an economic system that, though it fosters some structural inequalities, provides a very high quality of life for the general population. These are great things that we can be proud of.

Our mountains are very pointy; our prairies are not; the rest is kind of bumpy.

But we know that there are things we should not be proud of. Japanese and Ukrainian internment, the Komagata Maru, the St. Louis, the head tax, residential schools, and the sixties scoop come to mind. To paraphrase John Oliver, Canada has had, and continues to have, endemic problems that need fixing. That doesn’t mean I’m not proud and not going to celebrate. Rather, it is because we talk about and try to do things about those problems that I love Canada. Other countries to to bizarre lengths to hide the blemishes on their historical records. We are not better than them for not having those problems on our record. If there is anything that sets Canada apart, it’s that we are baring rather than covering those faults. I may not be proud of the bad things, but I celebrate the fact that we are having the difficult conversations and working towards improvements. I am grateful that I live in a country where I have access to clean water, fresh food, non-exploitative employment, and world-class healthcare that I can afford. I know that not everybody in this country has the same access to those things but I believe in my fellow Canadians who are working to fix that. I am proud to live in a country that advocates for human rights even while it struggles to come to terms with its own history. I am free to support any political party I choose, then a few years later do everything I can to see that same party voted out of office. I am free to adopt any religion of my choosing, even if it’s not the majority religion or the one I was born into. I know other religious groups suffer far more discrimination than mine, but I am proud to be part of one such group that is actively working to support religious freedom for all. Nothing is perfect.

I can rant on this blog about all those imperfections and occasionally endorse or conjecture some small measure to improve things just a little bit. If all of these things aren’t worth celebrating, then I don’t know what is. Happy Canada Day.

Irrelevant Measures

The people of the United Kingdom participated in a political game last week when they went to the polls. Of I were to characterize it as a contest between the party leaders for the title of prime minister, the pedantic purists would start yelling because that’s not how it works in the Westminster system where members are elected locally to represent their constituents. They’re not wrong about the process, but I can’t imagine that many international observers care deeply about which particular individual represents Ipswich or who represents East Dunbartonshire. The contest that I watched with interest was the one that played out indirectly in hundreds of constituencies. There are many traditions about how the “confidence of the house” is established but when it comes down to who gets to wear the biggest title, the measure that matters is which parties won how many seats.

Anyway, Corbyn’s Labour party had a much better showing than expected, but they lost. They significantly increased their seat count and proportion of the vote, which are good measures of how well the party is doing in the long term. These are, however, irrelevant measures of success in the electoral game. The ability of Labour to name a prime minister or to pass their legislative agenda isn’t much stronger now than when the Conservative party held a majority. These should be simple matter-of-fact statements, yet if you take Corbyn at his word that he can still be prime minister you’d think the result was something completely different than what it was.

So it’s clear that Labour is on an upswing and Corbyn’s critics within his own party have to eat a little bit of humble pie. That doesn’t mean he won. He’s in a good position to win the next round, but he’s most certainly not going to hold the title prime minister in a matter of days or weeks. Part of the problem is that there is no clear coalition to take down the Conservatives. It would be entirely reasonable to think that Corbyn could lead a coalition if Labour plus Liberal Democrats plus some smaller parties with similar agendas (Greens, perhaps) could form a majority. But they can’t.

The house doesn’t have confidence in Corbyn… at least not yet.

To form a majority Labour will need every other party in the house to help topple the Tories. Not just every major party, every party down to the smallest. This reminds me of Canada in 2008, when our Conservative party was in a similar situation (plurality of seats but no majority) but was able to persist because the Liberals and New Democrats didn’t have a majority by themselves. They also needed the support of a regional ethnic nationalist party, the Bloc Quebecois, whose agenda wasn’t really compatible with the mainstream parties. They could agree that they didn’t like Stephen Harper, but that was about it. Then, too, we had partisans boasting about the Conservatives having “lost the popular vote” but it would be another seven years of Conservative government before a different party was able to win by the measure that counts: number of seats in parliament and confidence of the house. Perhaps Corbyn is in a better position today than Dion was in 2008, but he still has to grapple with the fact that his party needs the Democratic Unionist Party to topple the Conservatives. Based on what I have read about this party so far, “willing to go to an election at this time” appears to be the only possible common ground that a party of social democrats could have with right-wing ethnic nationalists. If I was a Labour guy, the thing I would want the most right now is to give a nod to last week’s result but to spend more time building than boasting, focusing on winning the next contest rather than dwelling on the numbers that I like the best.

Likewise, if I was American, I would want to cut it out with the Corbyn shows that Bernie would have won nonsense. Clinton came much, much closer to winning the top title than Corbyn did. If she had won, she would still be at the mercy of the house and the senate. Or, if the Democrats had won congress but lost the presidency, then Trump may have been president only for a “matter of days.” Again, the relevant measures have nothing to do with “popular vote” or numbers of marchers or tweet counts. These may be somehow useful data, but the real contests will be the midterm elections and 2020. If you are an American who has a problem with the current administration, it’s time to organize rather than time to gripe. Regardless of whether or not Bernie could have won, it’s now up to you to find someone who can and will win.

So, please: let’s not remain obsessed with irrelevant measures because they suggest that a loss for the team we cheered/played for wasn’t actually a loss. Get the results that count, then build a consensus for changing the rules. Let’s support adopting some form of proportional representation or abolishing the electoral college or making whatever other change in our respective countries that makes electoral contests better and more fair. But that requires a mandate, and to build that, your party needs seats more than it needs tweets.

Life Isn’t Monopoly

It’s been almost a year since I wrote Hell, Titles, and Houses in July 2016. In this amount of time things have gone from crazy to ludicrous and now, finally, to precarious. I’ve been a fan of Garth Turner’s blog The Greater Fool for a while now, much longer than it has been fashionable to question the sustainability of an economy based on perpetually increasing house prices. Reading that blog every day might be a weird thing to be passionate about, but it helped me build confidence in the belief that not being in a position to buy a house doesn’t make me a loser or a victim. I had to change my beliefs. I knew the “responsible adult” thing to do was to get an education and a good job, pay back debt as fast as possible, then make the most important purchase of my life. But after putting in the work to get the education, the job, and slay the debt I came to realize that I had been doing the right things for the wrong reasons. I was being a responsible adult because I saw a game with winners and losers, and I intended to be a winner: the guy who owns a modest-but-nice house and therefore never has to suffer the indignities of pet restrictions and rent increases. I was to become wealthy over many years by virtue of owning, a sort of petit-bourgeois privilege afforded to me on account of being smarter and more clever than my less responsible peers (aka the losers).

Of course, a number of things are wrong with that way of thinking. It was based on erroneous assumptions about economics, as the month of May 2017 has shown us that things are starting to turn sour for everyone who has gone all-in on real estate in Canada’s hottest markets. But even if it remains the case that buying a house at any cost is a sure way to win, I now have to admit that it would be morally repugnant to “win” that way. Think of the board game that every self-respecting board game geek loves to scoff at: Monopoly. That’s the game where you throw dice and compete to see who can extract the most wealth just by being lucky to land on the right places at the right time but passing your combination of malice and good luck off as big league business savvy.

Nobody admits to liking Monopoly, yet it’s ubiquitous and continues to sell copies without an end in sight. It’s basically the Nickelback of board games.

The object of the game is to bankrupt the other players through charging ever-increasing rents. There are a lot of things that make this game less fun, and one of them includes keeping other players in play. To properly play the game, it’s not enough to “add value” to the board by assembling your sets and building houses. You have to kick the ladder out from underneath you if you want to score a timely victory. This is all fine at the board game table; nothing is wrong with some make-believe wheeling and dealing among friends and family. But could you really feel good about yourself if, in real life, you aspired to play like a Monopoly player, whether by swift domination or by squeezing your opponents slowly by keeping them in the game just so you can get more from them later? I wouldn’t think so. I would give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you don’t wish that reality was more similar to Monopoly than it is. If managing to buy real estate meant winning, and being among those who never caught the right break meant destitution, that’s not a game I would want to win.

Fortunately, the economic game in the real world doesn’t work like that. I am writing about this topic now because the markets in Vancouver and Toronto are faltering. May 2017 looks like the zenith of the madness that inspired people to blame foreigners for domestic problems in Vancouver, push and shove each other to scramble into an open house guarded by a police officer in Greater Toronto, and for people my age to feel like this music video is the most relatable thing we have heard in a long time. It is a cultural sickness we have in Canada that enables us to rationalize that behaviour in the face of a reality that is quite unlike Monopoly. It makes me hope that Garth Turner’s daily posts in this past month are accurately chronicling the unravelling of the economic assumptions that fuel the madness of this Monopoly mindset.

It wasn’t too long ago that conventional wisdom held that rants such as this one were pointless and esoteric. But nowadays, Canadian politicians (especially in BC and Ontario) seeking to maintain their positions in their own political game are scrambling to be seen as “doing something” to cool the market. Of course, I doubt that they want to succeed: almost 70% of Canadians own homes now. Successfully bringing prices back in line with incomes would be logical, fair, and absolute political suicide due to the number of people who have a lot to lose if the measures actually work. I don’t know what the politically tenable solution to our national housing crisis is. All I can do is take care of my own home, stay grounded, and hope that the storm of fear and greed eventually subsides and people start seeing houses as places to live again rather than get rich quick schemes. Life isn’t Monopoly.

Except By Righteousness

Back in June 2016, I found myself recalling the week following an act of evil. Today I’m there again, this time closer to home and on my side of the Canada-USA border. I was saddened by the news, then heartened by the compassionate response across my country, then angered by those who would callously exploit it to promote their conspiracy theories. As a rule, the game played by any kind of “truther” is one that should not be played.

A lot of what needs to be said has already been said, but there is one thing I’d like to be said louder and more clearly: we can’t just blame Trump for this. To do so would be inaccurate, irresponsible, and unethical. I have no doubt that the political tide that swept him into power may have encouraged this and other acts of evil, but we must not delude ourselves into thinking we are special. Canadians, we’re not better than Americans just because we’ve got a prime minister with better virtue signals and glorious hair. The roots of racist violence in this country go very deep. There is no contest among nations where Canadians can say they score higher than Americans at being less racist, less violent, less evil. And indeed, within this country, some of us seem to think that racist violence happens somewhere else – probably in Alberta. And indeed, while my home province has produced an infamous holocaust denying teacher and a sensationalist far right media network, we are not special. From the yellow peril on the west coast to the starlight tours in Saskatchewan, from the Christie Pits riot 84 years ago to the Hérouxville code of conduct 10 years ago: this is a national problem that cannot be scapegoated onto east, west, rural, or urban. It is not new; it was not invented by Stephen Harper nor Donald Trump. The antecedents to this recent attack belong to all of us.

“For though my faith is not yours and your faith is not mine, if we are each free to light our own flame, together we can banish some of the darkness of the world.” – Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Can we be better than that? Absolutely. In big ways and in small ways, chipping away at the big problem has not been an even or an easy process, but I believe it’s not only worth doing, it’s worth doing right. That’s why my posts on political topics lean towards self-critique more than just calling out what I see as being the wrongs of the world: the internet provides us with a vast surplus of hot takes about how bad the bad people are. That’s low-hanging fruit. What I want to reach for, what I want to signal boost, is the more challenging ideas about how we can build the kind of society where it’s harder to imagine a man walking into a mosque and shooting people. To me, winning is not being on the right side of history or being better than that other person. It’s living in a world where this kind of evil is unheard of. One place I can start is remembering that I am not a better person because I live in 2017, in Canada, or in a city. My religion does not confer any special status upon me, nor do my political views qualify me for some kind of title. It’s easy to say that of other people, but worth asking of oneself too.

In remembering not to take false pride in my origins, I am reminded of the words that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is quoted in the hadith as saying: “There is no virtue of an Arab over a foreigner nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness.” This I can only assume was said to declare the faith as universal, mirroring Paul’s words in Galatians 3:28 about there being neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither female nor male in the faith of Jesus Christ. No matter which tradition we were raised in and/or still practice, there is a wisdom in these words which transcends cultures and religions. I think we would do well to not only affirm the obvious meaning when it comes to visible differences, but also to check ourselves for other sources of misplaced pride. For there is no virtue of a Canadian over an American, nor a Torontonian over a New Sareptan, nor a Californian over an Alabaman, nor a Republican nor a Democrat; except by righteousness.

Hail To The Chief

When I started this blog I knew I wanted to write about things that can be framed as “games” even though they’re not the recreational pastimes we usually think of when we hear that word. An odd choice to be sure, but one I hope sets this body of work apart from the gaming-related noise on the internet. So I knew at some point I would have to address the phenomenon that is Donald J. Trump, the unlikely prospect for the Republican nomination. At first, I thought I would wait until his primary campaign flamed out and write a retrospective. And then he became the nominee, so I planned to watch the rest of the campaign and write the post-mortem in November. Then I had to wait and see if there would be a stunning upset in the electoral college. And now, as of yesterday, he is the president of the United States of America. Whatever the founding fathers of their nation may have envisioned 240 years into the future, this one man has come to define his nation’s politics. This election result has already changes the political landscape in North America, and it’s only just beginning.

We’d better include some measures in this constitution to prevent the rise of a demagogue…

A lot of ink and pixels have already been devoted to gloating, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and analyzing the causes of the final score in the political game that was the USA 2016 election. I’m not going to rehash most of that here. If you have seen Almost Infinite’s Twitter and Facebook cover photos then you know how I feel. But what interests me as a writer is the remarkable scale of the dissonance between the rules of the game and what people think the rules of the game are. No matter what the game is, this disconnect can be responsible for a lot of unnecessary grief. The remedy I propose is to understand and change rules rather than shout at the world about how things should be but simply aren’t.

One thing I am tired of is hearing American liberals complain that Clinton “won the popular vote” as if achieving a simple majority is the magic threshold of legitimacy. It can be argued that in a bipartisan system this would not an unreasonable standard to adopt, but I am not taking a position in this post about how they should run their elections. I am merely observing the way they do run their elections, and that this way has nothing to do with winning the popular vote at the national level. Their rules are complicated, and seem downright Byzantine to Canadians like me. These rules, though complex, are not vague: the candidate who wins the most votes in the electoral college wins the election. They might be terrible rules, but they are the rules all the same.

Peace, order, and good government: no simple majority required.

This disconnect between what we think the rules and and what they actually are exists in Canadian politics as well. Every time a majority government is elected with less than 50% of the vote you will hear people shout about how ~60% of the population voted for someone other than the Conservatives/Liberals yet the Conservatives/Liberals still got a majority of the seats. “It’s not fair!” Well, maybe it isn’t; I am not taking a position on Canadian electoral reform in this post. What I am saying is that our 39% majorities are a fact of life in this country because that is what happens when the game is played by our rules. It is entirely legitimate to wish to change the rules to something better, and it is quite possible that there are better ways of electing a parliament than the first-past-the-post system we use. However, to suggest that a Canadian government lacks legitimacy without achieving a simple majority is simply absurd (and is usually coated in a strong partisan bias; Liberals seem to have no problem with 39% majorities when it’s a Liberal majority and vice versa for Conservatives). We have not had a federal government that “won the popular vote” since 1984, when the Mulroney Conservatives in a “landslide” just barely cracked the 50% mark. There are many silly things about our antiquated Westminster parliament, and several changes I would like to see, yet I love our parliament for its quirks and its ability to deliver relatively stable governments that most Canadians can live with even if they detest the governing party. Being snarky about the legitimacy of our government because you don’t like the rules is useless at best, and dangerous at worst. Working for a better alternative, changing the game itself, is entirely more worthwhile. Or, get better at the game under the current rules and defeat your opponent like Justin Trudeau did to Stephen Harper. And yes, like Donald Trump did to Hillary Clinton. Despite all his faults, despite all the faults of the system, he won the game as it was intended to be played.

So, what does liberal America do with their situation? It’s not an easy thing to figure out from here and the answer won’t be the same for everyone. But one place where I think disgruntled Democrats can start is to flush the pee jokes out of their system and get to work on improving their game under existing rules while also pursuing electoral reform. Trump is POTUS and just wishing it wasn’t so doesn’t change anything. The same rules that allowed him to win also allow for the Democrats to win back their congress and senate over the next couple years, for impeachment of the president, and failing that they have another run at him in 2020. Their victory is not guaranteed, but there is a path towards it. Americans who oppose what their president stands for have options. As an interested observer, I am hoping that the vast majority of them choose something more productive than complaining about it on social media to their friends and followers who think the same way. Protest. Get involved. Do something about it. The USA is a weird, sometimes frightening, sometimes amazing country that deserves much more than a steady stream of snark piped into a series of echo chambers about what shouldn’t have happened.


Alright, the political rant is done. Back to writing about internet spaceships next week, then more tabletop RPG goodness on February 1.