Wednesday, April 28, 2010

East of the Rockies...

You can check out my latest column at American Lament.

The subject matter reminded me of one of my guilty pleasures: Coast to Coast AM. If you've never listened to the radio at three in the morning, you are missing out. Sure, there are lots of crazy stories, and some things get old after a while, but it's still fun to hear someone call into the Special Vampire Line or listen to someone's self-published book about how office supply stores are run by drug traffickers and finished furniture causes sickle-cell anemia. However, they do have a true-blue legit scientist on from time to time and I'm always fascinated by that.

It's not something you're going to listen to on a daily basis, but if you've never indulged, you should.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Worst. Team. Ever.

Okay. So it's only, like twenty games into the season, and there's something like three thousand games yet to go. I know that there's a lot of promising talent yet to manifest itself on the field. I know there are a lot of nuances and ambiguity in the game of baseball that I'm not familiar with. And yet I decree forthwith that the Pittsburgh Pirates are the absolute worst team in the history of organized sports, QED.

I'm not a huge baseball fan, in the sense that I am not a baseball fan at all. I mean, sure I'll go to the ball park and take in a game or two a year, but I go for the hot dogs and get my money's worth out of the taxpayer boondoggle known as the otherwise fantastic PNC Park. Baseball just doesn't do much for me. I'm sure that part of my aversion to the sport is because I grew up with the losingest team in any of the four major sports--the Pirates have the longest non-winning streak of all of them. This includes the Detroit Lions. The Minnesota Timberwolves. The Toronto Maple Leafs. Not even the much-maligned Chicago Cubs. Of all the teams of all the sports, the Pirates haven't cracked .500 in seventeen years. Sev. En. Teen. Years.

It's not just that they haven't made the playoffs in seventeen years--they haven't won more games than they've lost in seventeen years.

This is appalling. If they were a real business they would have folded up decades ago. This season started with a little bit of promise, getting a few impressive homers from Garrett Jones. But it's all gone downhill from there. Look at these selected scores from last week or so: (I skipped some, but suffice it to say they were all losses):

April 20th: Brewers 8, Pirates 1
April 21st: Brewers 8, Pirates 0
April 22nd: Brewers 20, Pirates 0
April 25th: Astros 10, Pirates 3
April 26th: Brewers 17, Pirates 3

Let's repeat that April 22nd game again:

April 22nd: Brewers 20, Pirates 0

Now, it may seem like perhaps the Milwaukee Brewers are a good team. They are, but I assure you: the Pirates suck against pretty much everyone. And I say that not to take anything away from the fine club they have in Wisconsin, but only to emphasize the sheer magnitude of the complete train wreck that is the Pirates.

These are not normal-person scores. These are grade A class 1 five-alarm complete imaginary scores. These are scores that small children who have no concept of competitive sports come up with in their front yard when they pretend to be the star of their local franchise. These are Little League scores.

Can we all get ice cream after the game?

I'm not going to dwell any longer, mostly because I don't know enough about baseball to come up with any fixes or criticism or valid points to bring up. It's an embarrassment, along with certain star members of certain other professional sports organizations in the city whose last name may or may not rhyme with the word Toethlisberger. The best thing that can be said is that it makes me all the more thankful for the NHL playoffs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Candy Review: As Close to Going Green As I'll Ever Get

One of the many cherished memories of my childhood was the post-Easter Blowout. Yeah, getting an Easter basket was pretty awesome when you're a kid (also, as an adult) but going to a store the day after and just absolutely load up on 75% off candy--that was a real treasure. (Okay, for some people getting candy for free is better than paying a lot less for candy than you should, but shut up.) There was a particular store, the now-defunct department store Gee Bees, that for some reason always had the best two things ever: 1) awesome post-Easter candy 2) really cheap.

Apparently, back in the day, department stores had a huge problem concerning logistics, because every year they would absolutely destroy the target of exactly how many of each type of candy would be purchased that year. It was always very spectacularly wrong, and they would have to liquidate all their malted eggs and powder blue Twix bars because seriously, who wants to eat that stuff in June?

Alas, Wal-Mart came along with their computers and their just-in-time logistics, and now the day-after sales look like a Chernobyl marketplace--bare shelves filled with the absolute bottom crumbs of the Easter candy pyramid: paraffin lollipops shaped like the fourth lead on How To Tame Your Dragon's head, perhaps, or white chocolate Cadbury Eggs with blackberry filling.

Yet, every year, I make the attempt to scoop up Easter Candy savings with as much glee as if I had just won the Powerball. A futile attempt nowadays, though I occasionally score with a stale-dated peanut-butter filled rabbit or a coconut egg.

This year, though, I found the greatest. candy. ever.


Pictured: Big Bag of Awesome

is what I found. Edible Easter grass.

I snagged this candy the day after Easter but, as you can see, I'm just now getting around to trying it. Suffice it to say I didn't really expect having it sit around on my table a couple of weeks was going to affect its quality at all.

First, let's explore the packaging. Now, the packaging has a lot going for it. The fact that this was, like, fifteen cents was merely a tertiary concern of mine. I would have picked it up had it costs significantly more, like a dollar. I was initially turned on--but not sold--when I found out it was

From the nation that brought you Nena, the Shamwow, and Heinrich Himmler.

Imported from Germany! Wow! And this was a selling point impressive enough to use Cooper font and slap on the center of the packaging. So I was...intrigued. But then I found out that

Grass-tastic? You don't say. Made up words are even better when they vaguely sound like real words. I was hooked.

Surprisingly, there were still plenty of packages available. Unfortunately, it didn't seem like it came in blue or pink like most other Easter basket grass, presumably because they wanted to maintain the integrity of the product and not turn into a farce.

I brought it home and, finally, I cracked it open tonight. I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. I don't anticipate that Cadbury Eggs will taste like real eggs, nor do I expect Easter bunnies to taste like hasenpfeffer. And yet I was 90% convinced that this was going to taste like genuine grass.

No need to worry. The packaging makes it clear: This is Sour Apple flavored. Thank goodness, since the only other green colored flavors are watermelon and lime, and had it been watermelon there would have been hell to pay. 

Of course, the packaging also states that it is a "new, improved" flavor, so I half suspect that this stuff at one point in the production cycle did, in fact, taste like my lawn.

But not tonight! No, I opened the package up with eager anticipation, with my wife nearby to make sure I didn't run off with it to Vegas.

Ah, the sweet, sweet aroma of corn starch and thickening agents

Well, it smelled like...well, apples. Very faintly like apples, like maybe apple juice that has been diluted with a gallon of water.

I immediately wanted to bale this. Does that make me a bad person?

I began to worry, just a bit. At first I thought this was fun, but, um, then I realized I was going to eat something that was deliberately created to resemble something cows need seven stomachs to digest. I was having second thoughts.
This didn't help.

You know, in the history of mankind, I do not believe that two hungry diners sat down across from one another at a table, and one looked to the other and stated in all seriousness: "You know what I'd like to voluntarily put in my stomach? A bird's nest."

Still, it did still smell like there might have been apples in another room somewhere, so from a strict culinary standpoint we were on solid ground. I dove in like it was a taspar egg.

Or not.

It tasted...flat. Almost like there was no taste, except--like the smell--a faint apple taste. It wasn't, alas, particularly sour. Sourness can save the creepiest of off-season holiday candy.

It wasn't really all that bad. But it's not exactly something I would buy to replace a Snickers bar or anything.

My wife commented that it tasted quite similar to "sour apple flavored communion bread." So, you know, there's that. 

I was half tempted to eat a lot of it at once; perhaps the flavor increases with volume. But then I had sudden nightmares of Shrek coming out my other end and wisely chose to forgo that part of my taste test. 

So there is was. Unfortunately, there was a TON of it, and of course we weren't going to throw fake edible grass from Germany away in the TRASH, so we sealed it up for future consumption.

We are going to save this for Burning Man.

The bottom line? It was certainly worth fifteen cents.

A Canal to the Moon

A few months ago I listened to This American Life. It was, unknown to me at the time, their 400th show, and as a special project, they had each of the member's parents pitch a story for them to produce. The episode included all of their projects. I happened to start listening in the middle of Nancy Updike's story, which was about what they plan on doing with the Erie Canal. The song was catchy and humorously self-referential, and you can listen to it here. (Look under Nancy's Dad's story; I also recommend Robyn's Dad's story, which is singularly awesome.)

Of course, I've had the song popping into my head here and there since I listened to the broadcast. Finally, today, it drove be nuts enough that I looked it up online. The song is not nearly as catchy as I remember it being--the rough folksy edges give it some charm but irritating enough to not throw it on the iPod. Anyway, I recommend the entire episode if you have time.

However, I can never wrap my head around This American Life. Some times I think the ideas and projects they have are awesome--a more or less random search comes up with an episode about seven men named John Smith, people who begin to believe their own hoaxes, and the stories behind deep dark family secrets. These reports are always well-written and produced fabulously.

On the other hand, they are sometimes too clever by half, stretching the themes of their episodes to cram in an unrelated (though otherwise good) story. And, as could be expected on NPR, they let their biases show fairly well. And this is disappointing. It IS NPR, so I expect everyone to make sure they remind their audience about every twenty minutes that they are still young, hip liberals. But because the reports they do are more narratives than hard news stories, it's easy to inject opinion and bias into the story. Which I really don't have any problem with; otherwise the reports would be boring. Still, it's irritating when a perfectly charming report is being broadcast, and yet the narrator feels the need to inject some unrelated throwaway comment about how awful the Republicans, religion, and capitalism are.

So while I enjoy listening to the show, I can't escape the feeling that I'm somehow off the target audience, which is a shame and also probably not true. This probably says a lot more about me then it does NPR.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Green Lantern

As a companion to the post I made the other day about Earth Day, I'd like to refer everyone to a column on called the Green Lantern. In some ways, I like this column, because they get down to the bare details about the environmental impact of common household items and activities. For example, they discuss whether plastic wrap or aluminum foil are better for the environment, or how green pet food is, or whether canned or bagged beans are the more socially conscious choice.

I tend to appreciate their analysis, because they incorporate factors that few environmental activists do, things such as opportunity cost or the substitution effect. This sometimes comes out to some rather surprising results, and more often than one would think the so-called "greener" option isn't all that beneficial, or that the impact is so close for all options any slight change in price or technology will change the result.

While I find it fascinating reading, the authors also admit that making a positive impact for the environment really isn't all about buying green mattresses or making an eco-friendly web page. It's making huge lifestyle choices that really matter--and these are choices that aren't just choosing the right packaging for your groceries. It involves never driving your car again, forswearing against flying, and taking a wire clamp to your power lines. Most people will buy recycled packaging and go to the farmer's market once a month, and feel good about themselves while they fly to Cancun or buy a big-screen TV.

As P.J. O'Rourke stated, "Everyone wants to save the world. No one wants to help mom do the dishes."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Maryland Bound

So as I mentioned in an earlier post, my wife and I went for a short trip to Deep Creek, Maryland for her birthday. We started by looking for pet-friendly locations--Dexter not yet realizing he was going on his very first trip--and ended up at the Wisp Resort. For short trips like this, we don't tend to plan a whole lot; we mostly see what is in the area and then schedule ourselves accordingly.

We did plan on doing two things: geocaching (see the earlier post) and a visit to some civil war battlefields, namely Antietam and Harper's Ferry.

We took my wife's car, which is an awesome car but is not one that I am used to driving. It's a lot heavier than my car, which is this tiny little Cobalt we've named Sandy.
Yeah, you'll date that Camero, but you'll marry me.

So, anyway, I learned quite a few things on this trip, such as:

1. Maryland driving are complete asshats.

Okay, a clarification, but not much of one: individuals driving on the Maryland freeways are complete asshats. I was driving a car I'm not used to and driving through what signs were clearly pointing out to be 8% grades, but drivers behind me refused to 1) not get right up to my bumper and turn on the crank; or 2) pass. I don't get it, so I am throwing a pox upon the Free State for having such asshattish drivers.

Also, for some reason, Maryland insists on putting these crazy little right-hand lanes that last for like a hundred yards. They're not really all that useful for passing, they're not a place you can pull off or park, and there is a perfectly serviceable left lane for everyone to get on. I'm not sure what their purpose was except to get whatever they call PennDOT in Maryland some time and a half.

Anyway, driving aside, the vacation was immensely awesome. The resort we stayed at was extraordinarily nice--they catered to the dog, and were very professional. It also helped that it was the off-season, so the room was cheaper and there weren't that many individuals staying there. One night we spoke with the maintenance guy and he told us all of the things they were planning to expand on--new exercise machines and new events.

The day after we arrived on Saturday we went to tour the civil war battlefields. The weather wasn't bad but the wind was biting cold; when we got to Antietam, however, it turns out there's a fairly well-organized driving tour. Turned out to be the best mix of indoor and outdoor sightseeing. The setup of the battlefield was very user-friendly, and we only skipped one of the eleven stops.

 This is either a Northern or a Southern monument. I was too scared to find out for certain. 

Dexter, of course, loved it. We were both kind of nervous, because he hadn't been taking to the leash all that well. Our fears, thankfully, were unfounded; he had no problem walking along the paths and sightseeing with us, and, in his spare time, running reconnaissance for McClelland. 

Take that, Johnny Reb!

We next stopped at Burkittsville to scope out any Blair Witches. Follow that link for my wife's take on it.

Harper's Ferry was a little bit of a disappointment. It was later in the afternoon, and when I asked the state park worker whether there was a driving tour, he said the only practical way to see anything was by tour bus. To be fair, the bus was free and ran every fifteen minutes, but Dexter wasn't allowed, and neither of us was in the mood. So we drove to a few of the spots and looked things over.

The next day we went to a few of the waterfalls in the area. I love seeing these falls, especially if there aren't too many people about.

Slowly I turned...

I have to hand it to whoever is in charge of such things--the falls we saw here in Maryland an in the Poconos take pretty good care of it. They're organized well and look very nice. The paths were well-maintained and sturdy. 

Well, if you want them to be. We took the easy path to Swallow Falls, but on the way back for some reason we took the path less traveled. An easy recollection of the path map would tell us to turn around and go the way we came, but all three of us took the other, longer, harder, more painful path. Go us! In addition, there were plenty of scary-looking boulder placements that look like some sort of trick from a Looney Tunes cartoon.

This state park has been made possible by funding from the Acme corporation.

We also stopped at the beach, which was both fun and relaxing. And cold. So, so cold. We also bought way too much flavored popcorn and fudge, and ended up winning a free pastry at a local non-chain coffee shop, where I also unsuccessfully lobbied my wife to purchase a pink "Caffeine Queen" T-shirt.

On the last day we went geocaching (see link above). Then we packed up and went home, where I tried that ridiculous KFC Double Down sandwich (meh) and also at the Sarris ice cream parlor and candy shop where all the ladies (and--admit it--men) just went nuts over the dog. (The ice cream is divine there and almost made me cry like a woman. Almost.) 

It was a fun and relaxing trip, and certainly a good way to get away from the responsibility of work for a bit. I was also impressed how well Dexter behaved; he was a good little dog. I'm sure, like me, he can't wait until the next trip.

(See my wife's blog here for some more pictures that don't have dispassionate snarky comments.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Save the Earth! Some Other Day.

Today is Earth Day, an event I'm not exactly 100% on board with. I have plenty of issues with the modern environmental movement, mostly that is does a poor job of cost/benefit analysis. It's difficult for people to take your proposals seriously when the "cost" of not doing something is "the world ends." There are practical and useful tools to accomplish true environmental reform, but most activists opt for "The Day After"-style apocolpyse scenarios and dress up like sea turtles when they protest.

What I specifically don't like about Earth Day is that it allows people to feel good about doing something to save the earth, when in actuality the actions they take today will have no impact at all, or at least so little impact to make Earth Day a parody of itself.

This substitution effect, to me, is actually harmful to the planet. If people take actions that let them feel better about how they are handling the earth, they are less likely to take those steps that would have a genuine impact.

For example, take recycling. Recycling is green-neutral; it neither hurts nor helps the environment. When you recycle, you effectively change the supply of the good you are recycling. This will, in turn, change the market price. Most likely the result will be a reduction in price, which will cause individuals and companies to use more of it, sending the production of the good back to where it was. In most cases, the amount produced will be roughly the same as before; the recycled portion of the industry will simply be folded into the new market price. 

[Note: I fully realize that there are exceptions to this, especially for goods where the cost of extraction and the cost of recycling are close to identical or, conversely, far, far apart. This doesn't change the fundamental point, which is that recycling changes the market price, and the market reacts to it in a way that is green-neutral.]

Note that I didn't say recycling is bad for the environment--it simply doesn't hurt or help. But if people recycle, they feel like they're doing something good, and it gives them license to, say, drive an SUV.

I am of the belief that the changes to the environment that will have the most lasting impact won't have a lot to do with what we as individuals do; it will be in laboratories and universities, developing new technologies. Not that we certainly shouldn't alter our behavior, or not legislate any protection laws--there has been lots of genuine good in the last four decades--but we're getting to the point of diminishing returns. We've tackled the easy problems; the remaining problems are harder, the actions people take have much less impact, and the issues are going to require giant leaps in technology to fix.

And that's what I don't like about Earth Day. People are going to hear and do a lot of things today, very few of which will actually help the environment. But at least everyone will feel good about themselves, which I think is the entire point in the first place.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Downfall of Downfall

Well, those Downfall parody videos have been pulled from YouTube, which is a shame.

They existed for quite some time before I knew of them. For those who don't know, this internet meme basically a clip from the Academy Award nominated film depicting Adolf Hitler and his staff, backed into their underground bunker, being told about the latest bad news from the war front. The subtitles are changed in a humorous manner about contemporary politics and pop culture, converting the film's heavy drama and expert cinematography into a light farce. The subjects that Hitler discusses with the staff are varied and numerous, from the 2008 Democratic primary to the death of Michael Jackson; the first one I saw involved the Patriots losing the Superbowl during their otherwise perfect season.

The film company that owns the rights objected to the proliferation of the clips; since they are relatively cheap and easy to make, there are hundreds of them of varying quality. Since the company owns the copyright, they requested that YouTube take the clips down. The Anti-Defamation League also objected, saying that it trivializes the Nazi atrocities.

One could argue that it's not copyright infringement at all, since it surely falls into at least the parody or the fair use exceptions. And while the article referenced above states that DVD sales aren't up as a result of these parodies, I can guarantee more people know about the movie that previously. (My wife can attest to the movie's quality--I haven't seen it yet--but if you're so inclined, have at it.) 

The director of the film, however, has a better view that closely mirrors mine. Oliver Hirschbiegel's quote: "The point of the film was to kick these terrible people off the throne that made them demons, making them real and their actions into reality. I think it's only fair if now it's taken as part of our history, and used for whatever purposes people like."

 I see nothink! No, seriously, I had it saved as a favorite and now it's gone. Hooogan!

Converting Nazis into lightweight buffoons is hardly a new phenomenon; not every portrayal of World War II needs to be heavy-handed melodrama to point out that (news flash!) the Nazis were the bad guys. I'd like to think that we've advanced far enough into Western culture to believe that respecting the horrors of history--including but not limited to WWII--is not mutually exclusive with using parody and satire that isn't a direct mirror reflection of its source material.

Besides, if this is a fight that the Anti-Defamation League feels is important, one would think they're running out of work to do. If only that were the case.   

Wife FTW!

Who can be particularly all that cranky with a wife who does something like this?

It was waiting for me when I got home from work. The neighborhood kids left some chalk in our yard and this was the wonderful result.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Geocache FTW!

I just returned from a trip to Maryland--something I will write more about at length later--but I would like to point out that my wife and I went geocaching. I love geocaching, but finding a time when the weather is right and everyone involved can go at the same time can be daunting. I've had a busy past year, so the number of geocaches I've managed to find in the last 12 months or so can be counted on about half a hand. I'm hoping to do it more often, and we'll see what the summer brings now that things have kind of settled down.

Hello, I'm Geocache

For the record, that is me with (as always) my eyes closed, and my dog Dexter. Also we're about to pull a Dexter (of the Showtime series variety) on Gumby there; I'm just waiting for my wife to get a roll of Saran Wrap and a putty knife ready.

Not sure what geocaching is? Look here. It's one of the few activities where being an outdoorsy type as well as a total nerd clash in a huge explosion of awesomeness. If you're not convinced, keep in mind that my wife thought it was the most absurd this she's ever heard, then a year later was converted much like Paul.

The first geocache we attempted while on vacation in Maryland appeared, upon closer inspection, to be on private property. I know how things operate on the eastern seaboard, and I wasn't sure if being in the panhandle would  be much different--I assumed we would be shot by a legally owned handgun as opposed to an illegally owned one. So we quickly moved on to the second one, which is the one pictured above. This was full of awesome stuff--a map of Rome, a guitar pick from Austin, Texas, etc. We ended up taking the travel bug (which is the first one we've ever encountered), which was attached to the aforementioned Gumby. 

It was fun, and I'm looking forward to resuming geocaching this summer. My wife bought me a make-your-own-geocache kit for Christmas two years ago but we haven't gotten around to planting it yet. I'm looking forward to it, as well as teaching some friends about it. We shall see.

At Least It's Better Than Ron Mexico

I happened to read a headline on Yahoo Sports: "Ochocinco to work out with Bengals." We all know it has to kill sportswriters to have to use his "legal" name like that.

I'm actually a fan of Chad Johnson--he's a good player and, more importantly, he's willing to poke fun at an industry that takes itself waaay too seriously. The NFL is full of people who, while they are professional and are getting paid like movie stars, tend to brood childishly about their treatment by coaches, players, the league, and the media. And Chad Johnson isn't immune to that and he certainly has his faults, but at least he is having a blast. He's not shooting people or assaulting women in bathrooms--he's dancing with the stars.

And, most importantly, he's not playing for the Baltimore Ravens. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Crank Crank Theatre Presents

Never Fear!

When it comes to professional sports, I am a bit of a sucker for the underdog. Not terribly so--I'll root for my Pittsburgh Penguins and Steelers (and I suppose Pirates, if requested under pressure), but all other things being equal I'll throw my lot in to those expansion teams and small-market clubs that rarely get traction and don't have the long-standing cultural impact to their cities.

For example, the Cinderella story this year in the NHL playoffs are the Phoenix Coyotes. First off, why does Phoenix have a hockey team, while perfectly good hockey towns like Seattle, Hartford, Winnipeg, and Hamilton settle for minor league teams? They're in the DESERT, for crying out loud.

Dry ice, anyone?

Anyway, they're the perfect underdog. Last year the team almost folded--the finances of the franchise were quite poor in the sense that players were being paid in land abatements and poutine. They finish near the bottom of the league fairly consistently. But this year, it was a new coach and a new owner (alas, the new owner was the NHL itself, sort of a screwed-up version of a hockey foreclosure) and they managed to place a respectable fourth in the western conference. As of this writing, they've won one game against Detroit, but are losing in the 3rd period in the second game. Even if they don't win the series, it's a start.

I'm not sure why; I know everyone has fondness for the little team that could. But I don't quite feel the same about, say, high school basketball or minor league baseball or college football. I guess in my mind the quality of the teams are so varied and the rosters fluctuate so much  that true underdogs are hard to identify, and many people simply convince themselves that their favorite unknown team is going to stick it to the reigning champ.

Usually, it's a lost cause. While I have a soft spot for the Columbus Blue Jackets or the Tampa Bay Rays or the Detroit Lions, the numbers usually don't pan out quite as expected. It feels good to root for the little guy, even more so when they beat the spread.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Metacom's Revenge

I was perusing my news feed this morning when something caught my eye.I saw something I don't get to see often.

Board games made the news today! Alas, it wasn't exactly good news.

Now, granted, when I say "it made the news" I mean it showed up in the "Quite Unusual Things We Found Today" section where they have stories about the world dog-riding-on-a-skateboard record holder and the woman born with twelve ovaries. So perhaps it's not exactly above the fold. The important thing is I noticed it and now you have to hear me talk about it.

Anyway, this is the story about a game. Specifically, a wargame called King Phillip's War created by a social studies teacher named John Poniske. Based off of King Philip's War, a little-known pre-revolutionary conflict between English settlers in New England and a number of Native American tribes, it's being targeted due to its violent nature and insensitivity to the Natives.

These guys are gonna party like it's 1675–1676

The Native American tribes are protesting the fact that the game trivializes the losses they suffered at the hands of the colonists, and also paints the natives as bloodthirsty savages, an image they have worked hard to erase from the cultural consciousness.

Debates like this crop up from time to time in wargaming circles.Actually, no, that's a lie. This sort of thing is never discussed by wargamers because anyone playing wargames already knows their opinion about this. It would be like the local chapter of the NRA discussing the merits of gun control--if you were for it, you wouldn't be there. But it does appear on the periphery from time to time.

Some people find it difficult to separate themselves from the game and its historical context. How can you play a game, they say, for fun, when you're representing the worst of human nature? And I have to admit there's a touch of truth to it--there are certain boundaries of taste one has to consider when dealing with war. But wargames have been around for a long, long time, and very few individuals stand up and object. Wargames tend to be quite impersonal and most individuals can separate the historical context from what they are participating in when they play these games.

Wargame designers pride themselves in historical accuracy. Many individuals learn about these little-known battles because they were drawn to a game. Making history interactive is a very useful tool in education. Reading about a battle is one thing; but understanding the decision-making process is another, and wargames do a very good job of that.

Designers also have to strike a delicate balance, however, and a lot of times this is how they get in trouble. If they keep too close to the historical events, they create a game with a forgone conclusion--the real-life winner will always win the game. However, make it too even, and you'll stray from realism far enough that you're no longer presenting a historical simulation. There are plenty of game mechanics that solve this, but not all designers succeed. Those that don't aren't around for long.

For King Phillip's War, part of the controversy is either that the colonists get rewarded for exterminating tribes, or the tribes get bonuses for raiding the colonists. So the tribes are either dead or savages, neither of which is ideal from a public relations standpoint. But how is this any better or worse than all those games of Axis and Allies? Someone has been playing the Germans all these years.

There's probably only one reason that this made the news: The game is produced by Multi-Man Publishing. This company is known primarily for buying up the rights to Advanced Squad Leader, a "tactical" combat game that was very nearly destroyed as the markets shifted away from board games and wargames in particular. (Note that I put "tactical" in quotes not because I don't believe that it's tactical, it's that it's almost a parody of tactical--as far as I can tell, you have to roll a die to find out how many puffs on a cigarette a private takes before they get a shot off. Oh, I wish I were kidding.) Oh, and on an unrelated note, the person who spent the money to save this game is Curt Shilling, pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks and oh by the way has a boatload of cash.

Shilling himself has been reasonably receptive about the entire episode. His quote from the above story: "If everyone intent on keeping historical events stopped at content that might seem offensive, we'd lose sight of the horrific mistakes this nation, the world and the human race are capable of, and that would be a horrific thing."

That quote seems to be the right balance: acknowledge the issue, but make certain that the project still presses forward.  Making such a game is nothing to feel guilty about--it represents something that actually happened and may teach a thing or two. But even if it doesn't, so what? Which is about how I feel about the entire thing.

Though I suddenly have a desire for duty-free cigarettes. Better get my 1d6 ready.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Auto Tune The News

For those who haven't had the pleasure, I present to you the latest installment of Auto Tune the News:

The Gregory Brothers have been doing this for about a year or so now. Not all of them are particularly memorable, but numbers 4 and 5 are particularly well-done. (The first few are kinda creep because they were still figuring things out.) It's that long sought-after combination of hard news, odd unrelated characters, and the ghost of T-Pain. I recommend perusing them when available.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Welcome to Crank Crank Revolution, a blog devoted to a vast array of items, most of which are the seemingly random items that I believe to be in the best interest of society.

For those keeping score--and I know you are all out there--this is, in fact, my second blog. My first blog, American Lament, is kind of but not really active. It was intended to be a showcase for my ability to write columns of approximately 800 words on a specific topic. I still update it from time to time and I still intend to keep it active. The problem was that I wrote two columns per week for an entire year, then a column a week for the next year, and I realized that the amount of work I was putting into it was no longer equal to what I was getting out of it.

I then realized that I was having more fun writing shorter, less structured items for people to consume, and that that's really what blogs were for--not some heavily edited, soundly constructed treatise on the NFL playoffs or my hair dryer, but random bits of stuff like, say, the NFL playoffs or my hair dryer, in a shorter number of words.

So we shall see. In the meantime, here are some blogs of people I trust:

My wife maintains three (count 'em!) three blogs. One is about life in a small town, one is about our pets, Dexter and Nora, and one is a book review site

A friend who has some particularly astute observations about an astonishing number of things is available here.

Another friend writes about various things, mostly zombie and crappy-movie-related, here.

I read quite a few blogs of people I don't actually know but are worth reading, and I'll eventually post them on the sidebar as I get around to it. 

I'll get cracking on something halfway interesting shortly. Or not. We'll see.