Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit Strategies and the Post-Factual Democracy

Like a spouse on the morning after a night of heavy drinking, or perhaps a nasty domestic tiff, many Britons are today awakening to the realisation that things are irrevocably different now.

British voters have decided by a thin margin of 52% - 48% to Leave the European Union, an association that has persisted in one form or another since the end of the Second World War, a conflict the likes of which the EU was created specifically to prevent.

A war between Britain and one of the 27 remaining signatories of the Maastricht Treaty doesn't seem any less unlikely today than it did yesterday, but the repercussions and reverberations of the decision to Leave are both pronounced and far-reaching:
  • The British pound has dropped below the level it plummeted to during the global meltdown in 2008 to a thirty-year low.
  • The world's stock markets are in the turmoil of a sell-off as bankers and investors are caught flat footed by an exit vote after commissioning polls that suggested the Remain vote was in ascendancy.
  • London's reputation as a global financial capital is now being called into question as many banks, investment houses and other financial institutions openly contemplate moving to the continent, taking an estimated 40,000 jobs with them.
  • British Prime Minister David Cameron, a Remain supporter of questionable effectiveness, has announced he will resign by October, adding a transition of power at best or a power struggle at worst to the current upheaval.
  • Residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, but will be dragged out due to voters in England (outside of London at least). Now Scottish independence activists are anticipating yet another referendum on leaving the UK, and Sinn Fein is using Brexit as a possible catalyst for a border vote and the re-unification of Ireland; the Leave victory could potentially lead to the dissolution of the UK.
  • Far-right parties in both Netherlands and France are now calling for their own referendums and an opportunity to leave, placing the viability of the EU itself at risk.

Why did it happen? Speculation is easy at this point, but there are many who see the Brexit vote as being entirely preventable, the result of a campaign promise by now-resigning British PM David Cameron. This opening, largely designed to silence the far-right UK Independence Party (UKIP) as well as Eurosceptics within his own party, was effectively exploited by Leave advocate and former London mayor Boris Johnson, presumably as a back door into 10 Downing Street.

The how is a bit trickier, but there are few who will deny that the Leave campaign leveraged not only the appeal of economic independence, but also growing fears against immigration, and some degree of straight-up xenophobia. This is not to say that everyone who voted to Leave is a racist, but when you are being cheered on by groups like UKIP in England and the National Front in France, it's time to re-evaluate your associations. In England at least, there certainly seems to be a direct correlation between casting a vote to Leave, and either being above the age of 50 or living outside of an urban area.

Then there are those who discovered, to their shock and horror, that the 'protest votes' they cast in favour of leaving (but assuming all the while that the 'Remain' side would ultimately triumph) has resulted in a tipping of the scales that will end up with their country actually, you know, leaving.

While the rest of the world has woken up to find things greatly unsettled, Britons have awoken to find nearly everything they own being worth less, and having far fewer opportunities to work and travel without restriction than they did previously. This commenter on the Financial Post website summed it up eloquently:
“A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically disregarded, and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term. They have merely swapped one distant and unreachable elite for another. Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors. Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Michael Gove said, ‘The British people are sick of experts,’ he was right. But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has led to anything other than bigotry?”  Nicholas

As a Canadian, the Brexit vote concerns me primarily in terms of just how unsettled it leaves Europe, both politically and economically, and the economic repercussions for the entire globe (including revisiting a multitude of trade agreements with the EU that assumed British membership).

An even greater concern for me personally is that possibility that if we are living in a 'post-factual democracy', then a similar scenario could end up playing out in the American presidential election this November.

Both the Leave and the Trump campaigns use hatred and divisiveness to motivate voters to act in their supposed self-interest; to return to a supposed 'glory days' that, except for a privileged few, never actually existed. Trump supporters, borne up by his tough talk and his assurances that he will 'Make America Great Again', are willing to ignore facts like his having no policy knowledge, or that his business successes are grossly overstated.

This pool of boosters has grown over time, taking Trump from being a sideshow, to being a credible spoiler, to being a serious contender and now the presumptive nominee. Throughout this process, a distressing number of people opposed to The Donald have refused to take him seriously; why should they? They have the facts on their sides. He'll drop out of the race any day now.

Annnny day now.


But as November draws closer, their laughter has become less derisive and more nervous, as the spectre of an actual Trump presidency becomes more and more discernible every day. His acolytes shrug off proven criticisms, saying he will hire the expertise he needs, run America like a business and negotiate his way to success with America's trading partners as well as its enemies. As he pivots his campaign to undermine trust in Hillary Clinton as a crooked career politician, his legitimacy shows no signs of relenting.

And meanwhile, Trump is heralding the Brexit vote as a 'great thing' and describing the people he's seen as 'going wild' about 'taking their country back'. This, despite currently being in Scotland, which had, in fact, voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU.

I'm hoping and praying that on November 9th, our southern neighbours don't find themselves waking up with electoral hangover symptoms or voter's remorse, pondering the consequences of a Trump White House.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Joy of Toil

"A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink, and take satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God." Ecclesiastes 2:24 
There is little I like to do more on the weekend than to catch up on all the nothin' I meant to do during the week but never got around to. The unread books, unfinished models, uninhabited hammocks, or incomplete videogames call to me in a polyphonic siren's song of abdicated responsibilities.

Now, obviously my domestic situation precludes my actually indulging such proclivities, but even so, this past weekend was one of the most enjoyable in ages.

We got a little bit of a lie-in on Saturday, after which I got up and made steak and eggs out of the last chunks of tenderloin from last year's Costco stocks, only recently re-discovered during the defrosting of the deep freeze.

A big breakfast was in order; a busy day lay ahead with an atypical amount of physical labour in store. After languishing on the patio all winter and through the spring, this was our last chance to move our fix-em-up tent trailer into the garage prior to our Churchill pilgrimage at the end of the month.

After getting the garage arranged, we came up with a plan, with me lifting the hitch, Glory would manage the blocks holding the tongue jack, while Audrey and Fenya pushed from the opposite side. Working in concert, we got it off the patio, onto the gentle slope of the back lawn, and into the alley, stopping to rest my hands a couple of times, while Glory dutifully replaced the blocks.

From the alley, the real work began: shoving the trailer up the significant incline into the garage, with about 4 inches clearance to either side. Glory had to work double duty, managing both the heavy wooden blocks and the plastic wheel chocks needed to keep the trailer from rolling back on us when we stopped to realign, while Fenya helped us narrowly avoid clipping one side of the doorway.

Soon enough, we had the trailer safely ensconced in the garage, with no damage done to the vehicle, its shelter, or its carbon-unit propulsion system. It was nice to have a big job out of the way, but the best part was doing it with the girls. Despite it being an onerous, arduous task, they were eager to help, fully participating, giving ideas, staying high-spirited, and working like donkeys because we all were.

Now that the patio was clear, other jobs loomed: sweeping all the spruce needles away, bringing out and cleaning off the table and chairs, retrieving the glass tabletop from the basement and the seat cushions from the garage rafters. When that was sorted, Audrey and Fenya cleaned up the front yard and garden while Glory and I muscled $50 worth of bottles and cans into the Flex and hauled them off to the depot.

With that done, I had just enough energy left to start soaking a set of cedar planks for barbecue season, and with dinner started, at last I was able to feel I had earned a relaxing evening. I played a bit of The Last of Us on the PS3, drinking a gin & tonic while the chicken strips cooked, then Fenya toddled off to dinner with a friend while the rest of us watched Ant-Man on Netflix.

Sunday got off to an even better start, with Audrey making a Father's Day bacon and eggs breakfast, and the girls gifting me with all manner of BBQ paraphernalia, plus a beautiful mug and the Historical Events version of Timeline. That afternoon we finally played the copy of 7 Wonders we got a couple of Christmases back and really enjoyed it.

We wrapped up the evening at Soda Jerks, a first time treat for the girls, and $6 Grown Up (i.e. boozy) milkshakes for Audrey and I. Fenya tried to egg me on to eating The Doris, a challenge burger that costs $30 but gets you a t-shirt if you finish it, but I demurred in favour of a cherry bourbon milkshake instead.  All in all, a perfect weekend.

And yet, looking back at games played and meals enjoyed, I take the most pleasure at moving that stupid trailer. What sense does that make?

It makes more sense when you look at this past weekend less as the starting of summer, and more as the finishing of a school year. And Fenya's final one, at that.

I know myself too well and see my mistakes too clearly to feel I've earned any sort of world's greatest dad trophy (or mug; mine today says 'Father' in a Gaelic font and has an Irish blessing on the obverse), but knowing that your daughters not only get along but work well together, that they don't shy away from work because it is dirty or tiring, is probably the best kind of Father's Day gift a fellow could ask for.

Monday, June 13, 2016

G&G XI: Parting Thoughts

The jerseys are thematic; please don't actually challenge us to a sport.
Of course, we didn't just hand out the Circus Maximus trophy and trundle off to beddie-byes; we squeezed in a couple games of Timeline to draw things out a little bit...

The steepest difficulty increase over time  is probably Timeline.

Next year's swag may include branded reading glasses.

And Totty, ever the magnanimous host, produced a bottle of extra-suave rum for a nightcap.

That is some smooth demon rum right there.

And that pretty much ended it.

Well, except that after I dropped Rob off at the airport and Island Mike at his sister's place, I swung back to Belongamick to clean up, and Pete, Mike and I ended up getting in some Ticket to Ride. We also played a game of Flick 'Em Up!, that crokinole gunfight game.

Sheriff Pete lines up his shot. That's why I say 'hey man; nice shot.'

Then, it was really over, at least for this year.

In many ways though, the overarching question is not why we feel compelled to draw things out as much as we can, but rather, why we bother in the first place. After all, we are all busy fellows, many of us with with families, some of us with significant business responsibilities, and none of us in danger of becoming bored anytime soon.

So why dedicate the better part of a week for the simple opportunity to play all manner of increasingly ridiculous games and perhaps drink? After all, can't both those things be done in a casino, to a greater or lesser extent?

Hat tip to Kyle at Imaginary Wars for putting this insightful image in his blog!
Part of it is undoubtedly due to the games. Even though boardgaming is growing by leaps and bounds in North America, a lot of the games we enjoy are undoubtedly going to appear inaccessible to many folks. Some of them are very nichey, or require an affectation for fantasy, science fiction or history that many do not share. Some of us live in an area where, while they may have made acquaintances of one sort or another, haven't yet met the specific varietal of nerd interested in this sort of thing.

The far, far, greater part of it though, is the people.

It takes a certain kind of person to listen patiently to an argument about the relative cover benefits afforded by an inverted cereal bowl standing in for a bunker, or the comparative maneuverability of 25th century spacecraft.

Not everyone is willing to sit at a crowded table and prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that they can't name an animal sound before their opponent can shout out a South American novelist.

If you haven't warbled your way through a song in Rock Band well outside your vocal range, your mouth dry, throat cracking, for no better reason than it being your turn to stand up for the side in a Battle of the Bands, you might call yourself a man, but I don't know how you can prove it.

There are a decidedly scant number of individuals willing to endure the agony of a misdirected elbow to the gonads with such grace and aplomb.

There are even fewer who will accept a rule reference given on the fly but only discovered to be erroneous after the fact with good humor, and accompanied by the sincere belief that it was their own responsibility to know the rules, nobody else's.

And on, and on, et cetera, ad infinitum.

It is, by any reasonable or esoteric measure, an extraordinary group of individuals. At supper on Saturday night, I couldn't resist the urge to reflect on this a bit, and read aloud something I had come across the week before in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eight Dimension by Earl Mac Rauch. It is a piece where the book's pulpy narrator, Reno of Memphis, is describing downtime amongst those hard-rocking scientists and adventurers, the Hong Kong Cavaliers (emphasis mine):

"Keep me in the picture," he [Buckaroo] said.
"The minute I hear," I replied, tipping my glass as Pinky shoved a tape in the cassette player and to an infectious syncopated beat we fell to talking among ourselves of less urgent matters.
As unofficial annalist of the group, I am often asked what such times are like, when we are alone. The truth is neither newsworthy nor particularly out of the ordinary. What do friends do when they are together? What do they talk about?
The truth is, of course, nothing and everything. We have no festering feuds or simmering rivalries, though that may disappoint some to hear. On the other hand, neither are we saints. Maudlin with drink, we talk of women, gangster chieftains, music, and weapons with the easy familiarity of men who have gone on stage and gone through battle together. Some cloistered critics have accused us of having a myopic view of the world, living out the sorts of adventures that other men hold only as fantasies. I would retort that it is our view of the world which brought us together in the first place, and whether or not it is a correct view is an issue historians will decide.

Not a great picture, but great guys, to be sure.
Our adventures are imaginary and our risks negligible, but our commitment to each other and our time together is no less real, even eleven years in.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

G&G XI Day 4: TIE Pilots and Charioteers

Thanks to Rock Band`s success and late night, the final day of G&G XI failed to get off to an early start, but this has now become its own sort of tradition, and didn't upset anyone overmuch. Interstitial games were played, and after everyone was mobile, a massive X-Wing Miniatures game began to unfold.

The upside of X-Wing to many who play it is the ability to field a unit of beautifully detailed, instantly recognizable spaceships with no need at all to build or paint them. The game itself uses a template system to keep movement consistent, and a system of opposed rolls using a simple but versatile set of symbols instead of numbers to make combat swift.

A little late on the 'break and attack', boss!

Game setup, however, can be a bit drawn out. Scott had been called out that morning to help coach his children's lacrosse team in a tournament, and would not be back until around 3:00. By 1:00, we had been unpacking and preparing and laying out for the better part of an hour, and the actual scenario rules hadn't even been set yet. I turned to Earl, dutifully unpacking the cards, counters, chits and dials needed for the battle and said, "On the plus side, I don't think Scotty is going to miss much..."

Scott wandered in midway through the movement phase of turn 1, about 2 hours later.

A ponderous Y-wing is just what the doctor ordered today!

It's a system very few of us are familiar with, but again, the elegant mechanics make it very easy to pick up. In truth, the system is simply not made for quite as many ships as we had in action. There were almost 20 ships in total, including not only the Millennium Falcon and Boba Fett's Slave 1, but also Darth Vader and two of his wingmen, Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, and most of the other named pilots from the still-controversial Death Star attack (yes, even Porkins).

They totally don/t see us with our lights switched off.

The goal was to destroy half of the ships of the opposing side, so our Imperial forces elected to ignore the Millennium Falcon as too tough a nut to crack, and instead tried to play an oblique line, using the massive Corellian freighter to block line of sight to the Rebel scum on the rightmost side of the fight.

A (literally) winning lineup of classic starfighters.

Alas, our early gains quickly turned to ashes in our mouths, and the Rebels superior pilotry won them the day. As a competitor I was obviously disappointed, but felt the victory of good was probably inevitable in any case.

Six years in and those flimsy whips are STILL HANGING IN THERE!!

Before sitting down to supper, we got everything set up for the final marquee event; the Circus Maximus trophy race. This venerable Avalon Hill racing and fighting game has been an integral part of this get-together since (ca.) G&G II, and even more so when we scaled everything up with miniatures and a massive track at G&G V. Far superior to the shifty paper counters of yesteryear!

Whip away, just stop yelling 'give the past the slip' every damn time, would ya?

After having supped, with our lanes assigned and chariots kitted out, we at last sounded the horn and lashed our (miniature, metal) horses into a frenzy.

Starting positions.

There is nothing necessarily preventing a competitor from treating Circus Maximus as just another race, with speed, precision and just the right amount of risk going into the corners, In truth though, the game is designed for a tremendous degree of contact, whether crashing into your opponent's horses to weaken them, or attaching scythes to your wheels in order to do even more damage, whether to wheels or steeds. You can even use your whip on the other drivers, but this has resulted in an inordinate amount of whips being yanked by the lashee, and leaving the lasher no means at all of motivating his propulsion, and has thus fallen out of favour in recent years.

Just look at Jeff, concocting his devious race plan.

In any event, we made the choice some years back to allow everyone to take a medium chariot at no extra cost, in order to encourage a little more mixing up, as our earliest races were - dare I say it - almost stately affairs. Most contact occurred by accident, and even having your driver smeared against the infield wall was typically a matter of "Sorry about that old chap!" "My fault entirely, think nothing of it!" Well, not quite, but it was genteel, to be sure.

Race marshal Totty oversees the action.
This year saw charioteers charging at their opponents' teams on the very first straightaway, which left some of the less combative drivers rather nonplussed. The real shock came when Jeff announced that he was attacking another racer's horses with a heavy chariot.

Island Mike ponders a corner.
I don't recall hearing any actual gasps, but there were some oaths of consternation that involved carnal verbs, and others expressing fecal incredulity. In a drastic departure from form, Jeff had opted to take a slightly slower team in favour of a chariot capable of dishing out grievous amounts of harm to one's wheels or horses, and displayed absolutely no qualms about using them as designed. Well, why would he? (This was a tough year on the ponies, with 5 horses being killed overall. Even more surprising, not a single chariot was wrecked.)

The first straightaway.
Jeff only made a handful of attacks over the course of the game, but even when he did no harm due to the driver evading him, it slowed his competitors down. And in those cases where he did some damage to the horses, those 2-4 points of movement would make their effect known turn after turn; in a 12 turn game, 3 points of damage done at the halfway point would add up to nearly 20 squares of movement, in a game where the difference between first and second place might be 6 spaces!

Yes, Jeff only made a handful of attacks-he hardly needed to do more! In retrospect, it was an even more brilliant play from a psychological perspective, as competing charioteers took pains not to make themselves too tempting a target or to incur his wrath.

And in the end, that is how Jeff became the first of us G&Geeks to win the Circus Maximus trophy 4 times, and did it with a heavy chariot, to boot!

I would bet my last sesterce though, that next year's race will see more than one heavy chariot, and even more aggressive charioteers.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

G&G XI Day 3: Stellar Trackers and Stratocasters

Friday afternoon saw us playing our fourth annual game of A Call To Arms: Star Fleet Battles, certainly the longest name of any of our marquee events. ACTASFB uses an elegant set of game mechanics, but the greater part of our joy is just how danged good the game looks, especially when played on the custom mat Earl commissioned his artist friend Jeff Shyluk to make.

Scavengers of the Harp Nebula!
After last year's provocative 'every man/Klingon for himself' scenario, we returned to a team-based venture this time, with the Federation and Klingon Empire battling over the survival pods from that bloody conflict. Five counters were placed along an oblique line representing the fabled Neutral Zone, and whichever team took the most off the board would be declared the winner.

"Sir, they are aft of us now, and shields have no facing in this game..."

Normally moving and firing alternates between sides, but in order to speed things up, we used a set of 8 Star Trek-themed Uno cards and proceeded in numeric order from them. This not only prevents intra-team debate as to who exactly should be given the privilege of moving last (a distinct advantage in this game!), but also keeps late movers from getting too smug about firing first, as that gets randomized too.

"I know port is left, it's just hard to tell when the ships are upside down!"

Both Mikes, Jeff and I formed the Klingon squadron, while Earl, Rob, Pete, and Scott made up the Federation. Pete even came appropriately dressed!

Captain X. Pendable, reporting for duty!

A shocking development.

Our plan to concentrate fire on the middle of the line while tractor-beaming the central objective counter seemed sound enough, but even the reinforced front shielding of my D7 Battlecruiser, Vengeance, were insufficient against the crushing firepower of Constitution-class heavy cruisers, and I was destroyed on the second turn of the game, my precious cargo left drifting amongst my own wreckage.

A cunning plan is no match for cruel dice...
Vengeance, Klang's Wrath and Bat'leth Galactica.
In the end, the Federation was victorious, but hardly unscathed, and the losers were left to drown their sorrows in Klingon warnog. Coincidentally, both teetotallers were on the Federation side, so you don't think that could mean...? No, I won't countenance it!

The weapons dice are fickle, as they always seem to be.

Warnog is traditionally served in the largest vessel available.
The game was interrupted briefly while we took our traditional outing to a comic book movie, and this year X-Men: Apocalypse (my review here) got us out of Mike's house and into the sumptuous luxury of the VIP Cinema for a while. Upon returning and sorting out our stellar conflict, we moved into another traditional event: Rock Band.

Jeff had recently purchased Rock Band 4 for his PlayStation 4, and we added the expense of a new library of songs to the event , with each of us selecting 5 from the 2000+ they have on offer.

"The vocalist picks the song, and the instruments play along..."

We try to keep a modicum of competition alive at this stage of the event, but Bluetooth limits forced us to cap participation at three musicians per side, it simply became fun for fun's sake.

The Master at work.
Really, as a means of getting a bunch of middle-aged straight guys to do karaoke, Rock Band did exactly what it was supposed to, and a handful of us played late into the night.