Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Simple Pleasures in America

Hello friends.

I'd like you to listen to a song. 

I know there's some problematic language in it but I hope you can see past it and through to  the message.




We are entering uncertain times. Various outlets have reminded us not to forget who we are in the coming years. Me? I want to think about the simple pleasures.

For me it's finding a parking spot on my first try.

It's cooking a new recipe and having my wife enjoy it.

It's watching my cousin follow in my footsteps and work at the same summer camp I attended and worked at.

It's watching my students light up when I ask about their work.

If you listened to the song and read the post please reply to me on Twitter @nerdtothecore and tell me one of your simple pleasures.



Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bad Cop/Bad Cop Matters

The election forced my hand. Writing has helped me come to terms with the maelstrom of feelings I experience on a daily basis. Which means I get to empty my vault of ideas. I had an outline of this post but I never put pen to paper.

I was in a quagmire. Not Sorry by Bad Cop/Bad Cop is an album that sank its teeth into my brain and shouted "Listen to me on repeat!" I've dutifully obeyed that command for almost three weeks now. The 2015 record is infectious with its tight rhythms and hooks. It's a perfect realization of pop-punk. But I gave up writing about it because all my takes came back to a key element: Bad Cop/Bad Cop is a band of women.

I gave up because it felt reductive. It should not matter in the grand scheme of things that this fucking fantastic record is written and recorded by four women as opposed to four men or a mixed group. It took the election for me to come to my senses and see that the composition matters but at the same time it doesn't.

Let's take the song "Cheers!". It's one of those perfect pop-punk tunes. At just over four minutes it is a quintessential "I am doing a shitty job of getting over you" song. As a former bartender the imagery is pitch perfect. But the artistry is just unbelievable. Watch the video:


There's a moment after the ladies launch into chorus for the first time. The brief rest of "this one's to chase" is such a technically savvy move that it gives me shivers every time. 

Of course then they launch into a second refrain where we just graced with the bass. In a moment evocative of the Mad Caddies Linh carries the song forward and we get to watch Stacey dance. Let me tell you something - when the band looks like they're having a good time it's hard not to smile right along with them. Of course the way Jennie goes into the lyric "cheap shots" is so heartbreakingly perfect that it makes me want to down some well bourbon just for the burn. And all the while Myra is keeping perfect time until we end the song with some shout along vocals. 

The song is perfection.

How about a contrast? Punk often prides itself on being progressive in its values. Equality is a hallmark and one that should be pushed to the forefront. That being said representation is lacking. Take a listen to the Have Nots' "Louisville Slugger": 


The song is important in its message against domestic violence and that of supporting women. However it still has a reductive stance of white male protectors coming to the rescue of white women. I still like the song but the more I listen to it the more problems I find. Because it says that the only answer to this is violence. 

It isn't about rescue it's about revenge.

Bad Cop/Bad Cop tackles the same subject in "Sugarcane" 


There are similar messages - "I'll use a fucking hammer on his face" is not subtle. What "Sugarcane" does that "Louisville Slugger" does not is that it emphasizes the self worth of the main character rather than focus on the revenge against the abuser. The shift in the focus makes this a story about a woman instead of one about her friend seeking retribution. 

Again the song is a four chord wonder played at not-quite-breakneck pace. At under three minutes "Sugarcane" has the blood of No Use for a Name and Teenage Bottlerocket running through its veins. 

There are other awesome tracks - "Joey Lawrence" instantly belongs in my "woah-oh" hall of fame while "The 'Wood" takes on gentrification in a neat package. However I want to close on the track that encouraged me to revisit the review. "Support" is a fist raising anthem designed to close out sets and leave the crowd wanting more. We need this song now more than ever.


You're with us or against us
It's yes or no
You're silence is defense 
of the status quo
If you support me
Then come and join me
We're on our own



Monday, November 14, 2016

An Obstacle

It's Monday. A new week has started. I spent most of yesterday struggling to write an article. I write about the card game Magic and I never realized what a privilege it has been to do so. I do not just mean the fact that I can trade my words for some capital but rather the mindset required to be able to devote time and energy to a hobby.

To something in the grand scheme of thing does not matter.

It was not until yesterday, wracked by guilt and fear, that I realized that not only is it a privilege to write but it is precisely because I am privileged that I have shared my words.

My words have not been those of the oppressed or downtrodden. They were words of enjoyment and diversion. This week I had a hard time focusing on anything as I started to contemplate the next four years in America.

I somehow finished my work, realizing that maybe the article will provide a brief respite for others like me. 

My mind has been my greatest impediment these days. I try to focus on tasks but I fear the future. I hate where my mind goes but it always lands on those words:

"Never forget."

Has American forgotten? 

No; so many never knew.

As my mind is wont to do it wanders. I imagine a time eight years ago where those on the other side of the aisle had just lost an election. I stop myself - thinking of them as the "other side" will not help us move forward, but neither will ignoring their opposition.

Another obstacle.

What is different about these two times? Is our fear any more real?

This is the problem of focusing on feelings and not facts. Eight years ago a candidate some people did not like was elected but that same candidate did not overtly go after citizens and their way of life.

Today I choked up on the phone, calling organizations imploring them to never forget.

And again, hope. Maybe American won't forget. Maybe this time it will be different and the structure will protect us. It is this hope I cling to. It is with this hope that every day when I ask people "Is it time to leave?" that the answer will forever remain no.


Friday, November 11, 2016

My Grandfather, the Ass

I got married at the tail end of March 2015. My father's father was not able to attend as he was in failing health. He passed away a few weeks later and thankfully we were able to focus on the wedding as a salve. 

My grandfather was a veteran of two wars. He got a military funeral in a cold April rain. My family still has the flag and the plaque, proudly displayed with President Obama's signature.

In the following months I learned exactly what an unabashed asshole my grandfather was. He and my grandmother never planned to grow old and had no retirement. Instead of selling a home they simply defaulted on their mortgage and moved out. He promised to repay my father's student loans. It was a nice promise until the collection agents called my dad.

He was kind but acerbic. I loved him and thought he was progressive since he embraced my aunt when she came out and let my dad work as a bus boy in an illegal gay bar in the 60s. I later learned my aunt's relationship with my grandparents was terse and functional. 

My mom has said of my father's parents that they had kids because that's what you did, not because they wanted to raise a family.

Like I said, kind of an asshole.

But today I can't help but think he saved my sister's life and I wish he was around to save my cousin's.

My grandfather was a Corp Man in the Navy. I had no idea what that was until I asked. I learned he was a field medic. During World War II and Korea my grandfather was on the front lines and he saved men. He saw a lot of men die.

He never talked about it.

The stories he would share are the ones from his first tour of duty. His boat once had to rescue a provisions ship. The result was they all had to eat ice cream for a week. That's a great story to tell children, right?

He never talked about Korea. He felt swindled. He joined the Reserves to hang out with his drinking buddies when war broke out. He had a family and was not happy. He did his duty. He saved men.

He saw some shit. 

When my sister was contemplating how to pay for medical school she had considered the army. Grandpa heard and he was not having it. He talked her out of it.

My sister is now a doctor. I'm pretty sure Grandpa saved her life.

My cousin is getting close to graduating high school. He's being raised by my other aunt as a single mother. Later in life my grandparents moved in with them and our grandfather became a stabilizing force in my cousin's life. 

At my sister's wedding this past weekend I asked my aunt my cousin still wanted my help with the college process. She somberly replied he wanted to join the Navy.

I have to be an asshole now and I will do so gladly.

I love you Grandpa. I miss you.

But I'm really happy you died under Obama so that we didn't have to destroy the recognition of your service.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Questions

We got some sleep.

Yesterday my wife and I texted more than usual. We discussed the mood at our places of employment and what to have for dinner. One thing we agreed upon was that we were both exhausted.

Ravioli, red sauce, red wine, and catching up on television shows. Last night was a pure escape. We laughed and it felt good. We slept and it felt better.

I'm still processing the impact of the election. I have no illusion that change will come. But I don't do well with unknowns so I go into the next few months with a knot in my stomach every day.


It has been especially hard for me to keep off of Twitter. I create content and connect with a community all through the platform. While Twitter is wonderful and in some ways a comfort it has been nothing of the sort since the election was called. 


I still check it way too often. I check it looking for an answer. 

I check it in the hope that a leader has emerged that will help guide us to the next election.

There is a movement forming - I can see that - but there are so many questions. So much blame.

How did this happen? What did the Democrats do right? What did they do wrong?

Did they do anything wrong? They won the popular vote after all.

Should we sympathize with the other side and work with them or rise up as a defiant force?

What can I do to protect my friends who do not have privilege?

What can I do to protect my family when we become the target?

Will we make it?


These questions do not have answers yet. There have already been too many words written over these and more. I am writing this to give myself direction. I hope it helps.

I will continue to use my position of privilege as someone who inhabits a white male body to help those who do not have the same status as me.

I will look for ways to get involved and give my time and resources when I can.

I will care.

I do not look to members of the Democratic Party who have said they will do their job with any disdain today. When one side has gone eight years by being an obstruction I look to the other to be a beacon of how things should be done on the job. That being said I find the final phrase of Sanders' statement to be telling. 

I stand with the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. 

The truth is that there is no one answer. We of course want one because our world has been driven into a binary world view when in fact we are multitudes. 

One day there will be a textbook that describes what happened and it will be insufficient. Maybe the more advanced edition will go into details. The cause of the Civil War was slavery. The cause of the Civil War was the result of industry. Both are true and neither are false.

There is not one answer.

There is not one answer on how to move forward but to everyone on the same side of the aisle as me I say let's get it all out of our system.

Let's ask the questions and have discourse and learn. Let's argue with each other today and the other side tomorrow. Let us find our voices.

We are multitudes, but we can also be one. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Hope

I've been trying to put my finger on this feeling. 

It is the familiar dull ache. Exhausted but can't sleep. Trudge through the day, defeated, but coming to terms with the future. 

Loss is not the right word. I've lost people and will lose more and it is not that.

The last time I felt this way I was 17 years old. I was in my Brooklyn high school. It was September 11, 2001.

I remember walking home in a haze - there were no busses - as ashes still fell. I worried about my sister, stuck in the Bronx and my father, working on Long Island. I got nervous about seeing my mom again anytime soon since she worked in the northernmost borough but then I remembered she wore her old running shoes that day. True to form she walked home.

I cried to her. I cried because it was unknown and because I feared a draft. I wanted to go to college and do something with my life and I saw the upcoming conflict as an event that could take that path away. 

But I didn't get drafted. I did not go to war. Somehow I healed. Somehow in February of 2002 I got on a plane and went to look at a college that I'd later attend as a graduate student. 

The election is not 9/11 but it is no less a fork in the road. I, perhaps naively, believed that the country would continue along the progressive agenda that aligned with my ideals. If history teaches anything it is that we will find that road at some point.

I will be okay. And I will use my privilege as a platform to do what I can for those who may not be okay. If you are able to please do the same. 

I hope that in five months I'm okay getting on a plane again. 

In the words of Kurt Vonnegut, "God damn it, you've got to be kind."

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cardhoarder's Pauper Challenge

Tonight Cardhoarder is starting its Pauper Challenge. Sixteen different streamers will battle in two separate groups of 8 in Round Robin style. After these rounds, the top two from each group will advance to a Top 4 single elimination playoff. This is the first streamed Pauper competition of note so I thought I would take some time to break down the different pools and potential matchups. Decks, players, and schedule can be found here.




Group A


Robert Stan, UB Control: I have this as the seventh best deck in the pool. Dimir Control tends to be Teachings based and while this deck has traded that package for more answers it seems poorly positioned against its field. I have a hard time seeing Echoing Decay doing work and while Soul Manipulation is a great card, having four on top of four Exclude is overkill especially against quicker decks. With no other Gurmag Angler decks, Doom Blade is well positioned in this pool.


Max Longitude, Stompy: I rank Max as the fourth best deck in the group. The two Izzet Blitz decks could prove problematic but at the same time he could get the jump on Murasa Tron and UB Control. Stompy has an edge over Freed Combo thanks to maindeck Vines of the Vastwood and its ability to win with Groundswell. Jeskai is a toss up.


Jeff Hoogland, Murasa Tron: I may be biased but I have Hoogland’s deck as number one in this field (and possibly the competition). Murasa Tron has a decent matchup with all the decks in the pool with Blitz and Stompy being on the tougher end. Hoogland has moved to include copies of Chainer’s Edict which goes a long way in keeping Nivix Cyclops and friends in check.


Paul Pires and Tim Sussino, Izzet Blitz: I have these as the second and third best decks in Group A. I give Paul and edge due to the extra Pyroblast in his sideboard (but I like Tim’s mana a bit more). These decks are fast enough to win before Freed, Dimir, and Tron can come online and have consistently given the removal light Stompy deck fits. Jeskai is again, a toss up, but if Blitz can survive the first few turns with a threat it can often punch through.


Romario Neto. Jeskai Midrange: So it is no secret I dislike Jeskai and I have it as the fifth best deck in this group. I just do not see a ton of good matchups in this pool - it has no MBC to try and out-value and only one random creature deck to try and beat with removal. Maybe it swaps places with Freed Combo but even then I can see that match coming down to who draws the better openers two out of three games.


Ben Petrino, WB Rebels: Sorry Ben, you have my pick for the eighth best deck. Rebels are at their best against a field that is slow and grindy where it can stick a threat. While Jeskai is slow, it has removal for your threats. Murasa Tron may be grindy but it has a better end game. I have a hard time seeing a scenario where this deck makes it to the elimination rounds. The saving grace is four copies of Circle of Protection: Red against Blitz, but with Flaring Pain it may simply be too slow.


Jay Capone, Freed Combo: Freed is one of those decks that is great when it’s unexpected, but given the field it has to fight through I am less than hopeful. Jay cut a lot of redundancy from the deck (like Wind Zendikon) and is not running Valakut Invoker, tutorable by Drift of Phantasms, as an elegant win condition. Freed is fragile and with zero copies of Moment’s Peace may simply not have enough time against the aggressive strategies.



Group B


Dave Sea, Dimir Delver: A fairly stock list I have Dave’s deck as the fourth best in this group. This pool is soft to a resolved threat and Gurmag Angler with countermagic backup is a strong game plan. The deck may struggle with Mono-Black Control, Elves, and Teachings but at the same time could easily ignore these problems. I have it ahead of Elves thanks the presence of two MBC decks with maindeck board wipes, but think Dave will struggle against Elves.


Kevin Gomez, Elves: Speaking of Elves, Kevin’s deck is missing its natural prey in Delver. Elves normally struggles against MBC and I don’t expect this trend to stop in the Challenge. Teachings may be problematic with it’s copies of Evincar’s Justice but Elves can produce a lot of power quickly. I do wish he had a way to “go big” in the sideboard but I can’t really complain with the deck presented.


MTGBlogger and Andrew Parnell, Mono-Black Control: I have these as the first and second best decks in the group (the lists are identical) and the group is rather vulnerable to a deck that can just attempt card advantage every turn. A paucity of blue decks means that the disruption from MBC may be good enough in those matchups and chaining together copies of Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a great way to win. Three Anglers is greedy, but I doubt it will hurt these two much.

EDIT: I inadvertently left this entry out
Kevin Poncelet, Acid Trip: I am not a fan of Acid Trip in abstract. To me it is a slow plodding deck that really takes until turn four to start doing anything. However it is uniquely well positioned in this field. While Dave and Ian have the tools to stop Kevin from getting his ball rolling, I'd only classify Kevin Gomez's Elves as being able to produce too many threats to handle. The MBC matchups look like coinflips with only two copies of Reality Acid.


Scott Gerhardt, Rebel Tron: The sixth best deck in Group B, Scott’s deck has the same problems as Ben’s except it is in a field with three decks with maindeck board wipes. I’m not sure this deck will be able to get the jump on opponents if it only has five untapped white sources for turn one. I see a lot of awkward draws for Scott in this tournament.


Pay the Toll, GB Sac: If you know me you know how much I love Carrion Feeder. My feelings for the card make what I am about to say that much harder: I have this as the worst deck in Group B. With only four sacrifice outlets this deck incredibly soft to Edict effects, of which there are many in this pool. Nine untapped lands is far too few for a deck with so many one drops and I worry that this deck will get run over before it can even generate its first bit of value.


Ian, UB Teachings: I do not love how Teachings decks are built these days. Ian does not skimp on finishers and that is one reason I have this list as the third best in Group B (behind the two MBC builds). Instead of relying on Accumulated Knowledge for card advantage Ian has Mulldrifter and Deep Analysis so he can actually draw cards. His copies of Doom Blade are worse than Robert’s but Wretched Banquet could be great against Dave. Kevin may prove problematic but I think that comes down to the die roll. The fact that Ian has tons of card draw main makes his matchups against MBC easier but I am concerned with the lack of creature specific counters to leverage against Gray Merchant.



There you have it, my take on the 16 decks in Cardhoarder’s Pauper Challenge. My only question is - where’s the Delver? It’s not as if that deck would dominate the field, but did no one want to play Spellstutter Sprite? Really?