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Thee Too?

I’ve seen the MeToo flashes appearing and, to be honest, I’m astonished there aren’t more. But, that’s a telling thing. Even amidst this wave of confrontation, women are keeping quiet. Be it from privacy concerns, embarrassment, past trauma or fear of backlash, the participants are, I suspect, vastly outnumbered by the silent ones.

In a world where men have had a damn rude time for far too long, I’m expecting the trivialisation and normalisation to get in gear soon. Make no mistake, many men hide deep-seated beliefs about male superiority. It’s rather inevitable, as it’s what we’ve been presented with at every level from birth to now – unless we’ve had a wake-up call.

Now, let’s be clear. I’ve been part of the problem and made my excuses to myself over some egregious obsessive behaviour. (Yes, I’ve ‘come round’, apologised, and, quite rightly, lost friends.) This society is just starting to get over its infatuation with the creepy behaviours of rejected blokes trying to ‘prove’ their love. It can’t happen too soon. Maybe this will finally make it socially acceptable for that bloke’s real friends to slap him down and give him the telling off he so badly needs.

Sexual harassment is a subjective thing. Without common ground for behaviour norms, what can be banter on one side can be brutal on another. Those norms can come from within families, and many would argue they should. I would posit that basic manners and etiquette should also be taught at school. Nothing fancy, just a well-rounded balance to any malign influences that may be occurring in a child’s out-of-school environment.

Self-worth. Confidence. The most astonishing people I know of all sexes (don’t start, that’s a separate conversation) are those who know what they are, to a greater or lesser extent. They doubt themselves, they evidence consideration for others (if not compassion), they know that their selves, body and mind, are theirs and theirs alone, and their word is law regarding what you may and may not do with or to them on any level.

Respect every individual as just that. Pass no comment to another that you wouldn’t tolerate being given by a stranger to you or your loved ones. Male or female, makes no difference. This is the twenty-first century. Sexism is a hate crime that should be fought with the same rigour as all other forms of fanaticism.

You have nothing to prove to anyone except yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Your body, faith, erotica and soul are inviolate and anyone who would take advantage should stop at the word ‘no’. If they don’t and there’s no-one about to intervene – which people should do! Stop treating anything uncomfortable as someone else’s problem. Step up. Step in. – then you should be absolutely sure that there will be recourse to justice and severe punishment to be meted out.

I suspect the changes needed to achieve a balance will be slow: generational more than anything. I also suspect there’s more grim reveals to come. MeToo is long overdue. Here’s hoping it effects changes where it needs to.

Finally, I think Helen Mirren’s advice should be taught to girls early and often: “At 70 years old, if I could give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be to use the words ‘fuck off’ much more frequently.

 

 

 

 

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Posted by on October 17, 2017 in Daybook

 

It’s a Long Way from Alpha

It’s like I’m hardwired to bang on about how long I’ve played Magic the Gathering for. It irritates me intensely, so I extend an (ongoing) apology to all the long-suffering folk within hearing range. But, reaching 2.2 decades as an itinerant cardslinger prompted this article. After all, I should have picked up a few things worthy of regaling people with by now. Please note, I make no pretence, nor imply, any degree of excellence – I’ve just played a lot for a long while and have no intention of stopping.

Over twenty-two years, I’ve watched MTG go from a game that no-one had ever heard of (or would admit to) to a game with over twenty million players – that no-one has ever heard of (or will admit to). I have also seen a cohesive vision evolve over the last decade or so that has arguably saved the game at the cost of a few pieces of its soul.

Some elements of gameplay have been removed as they put off new players, and some have been removed patently to foster market value. This drive for simplification and market share is understandable – MTG is a profit-making entity, after all. That does not stop the storyteller side of me quietly mourning the attention to implicit detail that made this such a delightful platform to create with, back then.

Matching the simplification of the rules, it is notable that the plots and concepts behind the world builds are turning more commercial, as well as becoming averse to truly confrontational topics. However, like the rules changes I object to, I’m not going to dwell on the details. It’s only personal opinion, I’m not able to effect change, and I’m not going to stop playing. Therefore, any objections I have are moot.

However, the increase in popularity has allowed the game to attract better artists. Many pieces of art over the last few years have been excellent, with a couple crossing the line into absolutely breathtaking. This trend can only be applauded and is to be encouraged, because some of the early art was a bit ropey, to put it politely. It’s also good to see the fine artists who supported the game from early on reaping their just rewards.

So, rewind to early 1995. There’s a card game catches my attention. It’s called Magic: The Gathering. The term ‘magic’, to a pagan, carries many connotations. Someone back at MTG headquarters knew their lore very well, something that became clear in the quotes and usages of some of the cards. (To this day, I have never discovered who that was.) As a pagan and storyteller, the concept of having a medium to tell and play through a story of fantasy conflict whist reflecting some core values of magic into the real world was irresistible.

I got into the heart of the game and swiftly found the rules – at the time – were completely intuitive for me. Also, my love of the game allowed me to heartily advocate it’s wonders to all and sundry.

The budding tournament scene had only a vague appeal. The concept of limiting the pool of cards available simply didn’t work for me. However, if any of the group I played with had had the revenue to get more cards, I think my attitude may have developed in a different way. As it is, I remain a 60-count casual player to this day.

What those early days of being broke but wanting more cards taught me was that, at a pinch, any card can be used (with the exception of Sorrow’s Path) – you might not be happy with all of the cards, but being able to play is more important than aesthetics. As a group, we experimented with daft cards, had decks that took ages to turn lethal, and generally had a marvellous time with cards that would be ignored by affluent or ‘serious’ players.

A friend introduced me to the concept of ‘the combo’ – he used Howling Mine with Island Sanctuary, so he could still draw one card while activating the Island Sanctuary to prevent creatures without Flying or Islandwalk attacking him. That lesson in how some cards functionally ‘fit together’ was a turning point in my deck tech. Not just in developing combos, but in spotting which card was pivotal to a combo, or could prevent one working – a skill that remains handy to this day.

One afternoon, a gent wandered up and asked if he could join our keen group, who were ignoring the glorious countryside about the campsite to huddle round a couple of tables and get some cardslinging in. As he hadn’t brought his decks, we offered him the spares box. Twenty minutes later, our monstrous (and mainly rare card) decks were being slaughtered out of hand by a deck utilising Llanowar Elves, Mesa Pegasus, Swords to Plowshares, and Giant Growth. It was an eye-opening lesson in the application of simplicity and speed. It was also an early lesson in the fact that life gain, on its own, will not save you – or the opponent, in the case of Swords to Plowshares. Your life total is just another resource. (There is a view that if you finish a game with more than 1 life – 6 if you’re facing burn – you’ve been wasting a valuable resource.)

Years progressed and my lifestyle allowed me access to more cards. I swiftly found that being the only one in a playgroup with access to tiered cards was no fun for everyone else – which led to it being no fun for me. Eventually, my fortunes and everyone else’s flipped. Since then, my advantages have only lain in deck building and quality of play – which, let’s face it, is where they should be.

I spent twelve years as a level one judge, and probably established some sort of record for the lack of sanctioned tournaments judged. My initial qualification was done on a whim (like I said, the rules came naturally to me). I renewed with the introduction of classic rules (sixth edition) and carried on until some core elements of the game became counter-intuitive. After that, I didn’t renew. Judging is, in many ways, a calling. When it stops calling, it’s time to stop.

A few observations from the journey:

  • You can’t get a good control deck player below three life.
  • Mean control decks are no fun to play against.
  • Basic evasion (usually Flying) and consistent creature removal will win games.
  • Any deck that provokes an awkward silence from your opponents for more than a minute after you win should not be used very often.
  • Single-stack Planechase is the finest multiplayer option since the invention of multiplay.
  • Playing in any way at less than your best is an insult to you and your opponent.
  • Always RTFC (Read the F***ing Card). Apply twice if playing in a tournament.
  • Never blame your deck for your mistakes.
  • Never play a deck that you can’t enjoy losing with.
  • A day at a tournament requires extra deodorant and breath freshener as well as cards, drinks and food.
  • Never riffle shuffle someone else’s deck.
  • Whenever you shuffle your deck, remember to present it for your opponent to split. They may decline, but always make the offer.
  • Take that freebie. Never leave a card or goodie behind.
  • Every player is a card-hound. We’re never happier than when we’re plowing through an unexplored stack of cards.
  • Never be afraid to ask for help – or for a second opinion.
  • Be polite.
  • Play fair.
  • Have fun.

In all my time as a wandering cardslinger, only a couple of communities have inspired me with their welcoming spirit: that quintessential friendliness combined with players who act as ambassadors for the game by their sheer enthusiasm, all of which is backed by a decent level of knowledge. The first was the couple of years from 2006 spent duelling with Luke May’s group in Eastbourne.

The second is a games shop in my hometown: A&B Gaming. Learning and playing MTG can be an imposing task. Finding a haven where this can occur is always a special discovery. MTGO (Magic the Gathering Online) may be an invaluable resource for players, but I will always be an advocate for spending time playing this game face-to-face. Crazy moments and hilarious banter are only available when you can interact directly with a friendly crowd, able to pick up on moods and body language, getting into exchanging tips, deck tech, heroics and sarcasm.

Magic the Gathering is a marvellous game that has been lauded for increasing the vocabulary and social skills of those who play it, has provoked outbreaks of peace amongst those with no common ground bar what they stand on, and can make you lifelong friends that you wouldn’t otherwise have met.

So, if you see some Magic: the Gathering cards and they ‘call’ to you, give in. Play a little. Good things happen.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2017 in Life & Self

 

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The Misrule of Law

Amazon has just been fined 250 million Euros (plus interest) for tax dodging within the EU between 2006-2014.

They’ll probably pay it out of petty cash.

Laws require penalties for contravening them. If the punishment is harmless to the criminal, how can a law be enforced?

A long time ago, I heard a joke by a comedian named Emo Philips: “When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised, the Lord doesn’t work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me.

It’s a neat example of a very old adage: “‘Tis easier to seek forgiveness than to seek permission.

But when that very sentiment has become the de facto operating mode of everyone from beggars to prime ministers, then the rule of law has separated from justice. When you can blame a deity/society/minority for failings of honesty, compassion, and government, it becomes easy to accept that everything going wrong is someone else’s responsibility.

Which is a lie.

Bad things happen because good people do nothing to stop them. Yes, I accept that in a few cases, the bad thing would happen anyway. But, in a majority of cases, the bad thing happened slowly, you saw it coming, you ignored the warnings, you might even have ridiculed those who tried to warn you, and – most damning – you didn’t really care as long as the bad thing didn’t affect you. You clicked to put your name next to a disapproving emoticon and signed a couple of online petitions, but, deep down, you know you actually did nothing, and it doesn’t bother you. Everyone else does the same, after all.

Hiding in the herd. We’ve all done it at some point in our lives. None of us are blameless. Too busy, too distracted, too important.

Too late.

You’re living in the world made by your indifference. I hope you like it, because – to my view – the change that’s coming is going to ruin this cosy little existence and you only have yourselves to blame.

Yourselves. To. Blame.

A quote from Riddick says it better than I can: “Leave God out of this. He wants no part of what happens next.

 

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2017 in Daybook

 

A Little Man in the Biggest House

I puzzled over Donald Trump’s lack of condemnation in his comments on the recent Nazi incidents, then I set them in context.

There is one thing Donald will never endanger: his craving for power. It is a common theme that runs through his meandering speeches, his vacillitation, his provocation and prevarication. If he gets vague, it’s only becuase he thinks that taking a stance will threaten his acquisition of more power.

The world has been largely fooled into thinking the man is an idiot who bought the presidency. I disagree. He’s a power-addicted maniac who should be considered a threat to us all.

Donald Trump is a tyrant seeking a grand tyranny. He wants a world to rule. To that end, everything and everyone about him are expendable. If he needs to start a war, he will incite one. From the current situation, I’d guess at a civil war to move America closer to being a totalitarian nation (or any form of rule that makes him less accountable).

He wants to be Kim Jong-il. That appeals to him. But he reckons he could do it better. To get as close as he can, he’ll collaborate with anyone he thinks can get him more power, and to hell with anyone who thought he was on their side if that faction no longer offers him access to more power.

I await the day when Trump openly deifies himself… I think he’s heading for that far gone.

If no-one stops him, the Life President of the Confederate States of Earth will reach to conquer the heavens in the beliefs of those who survive amidst the ashes of the world he instigated.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Let Angel’s Wings Be Still

As she approaches those gates.
An elderly woman –
With a beatific smile,
Butterflies on her shoulders,
Rainbows in her hair,
Flowers blooming in her wake –
And dragons at her back.

Fare thee well, mother.
May your God be as worthy
As you always believed.

Turn away, my brothers –
Your vigil is done.

Mum.
At peace, at last.
11/07/17

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Daybook

 

Surreal in the Rain

While I’m usually stoic about being caught in the rain, poor timing and a phenomenal cloudburst drove me into a shop doorway on the way home late last night.

Watching a deserted pedestrian precinct, rain hammering down, I was surprised to be joined by a fox (who was substantially less bedraggled than myself, the suave so-and-so). As we stood on opposite sides of the alcove, backs to the doors, we alternated our gazes between each other and the rain.

Standing there, the world about us silent but for the torrent of descending water, we were both caught unawares by a seagull walking past, muttering those little conversational squawks they utter when solving a problem. Fox and I watched in mystification as the bird trotted away down the precinct, turned a corner and disappeared from view, still nattering.

Within minutes, the rain had eased to a mere downpour. Fox and I set off to complete our respective journeys.

Surreal times, kids. Surreal times. You all keep well.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2017 in Daybook

 

This is not a Civilisation

I see a world locked in games of control, from offering a child a treat in exchange for its compliance to the grandiose pandering to the masses that underpins election campaign promises.

How can there be progress when bribery is the unacknowledged cornerstone of our value systems? How can there be community when profit comes before compassion? Where losing money is considered the ultimate crime, risk and value assessments become hollow and lives become nothing but another resource.

Everyone is scrabbling for their piece of the ‘prize’, be it from pathological greed, need for acceptance, misguided belief, or simply the means to care for their family. Goals are used to justify means. Which is accepted, because those goals reinforce a wilful blindness to the problems that beset this society. Problems that are only raised into the general awareness when they can be used as a goad to modify people’s goals – or their blindness.

Fear. Fear and greed. Fear of the unknown, greed for the latest gadget, fear of the stranger, greed for status, fear of the differing opinion. The implicit threat that is felt when someone disagrees with the majority. The cults of celebrities and men of ‘god’ – both living in luxury off the donations of their congregations, many desperate to share in the ‘magic’ that might change their fortunes.

We live in a world of wonders, yet are still tribesfolk huddled around our televisual altars, letting technopriests dictate our lives, because we are scared of the dark. Yet, they are more terrified of change than us.

This is not a civilisation.

This is stagnation for the benefit of the few. But, there are no conspiracies. There is, however, a communal interest in maintaining the status quo, and maybe a few have gone to ridiculous lengths that have proven to be vulgar, loud and ultimately unnecessary. Society has become complicit in its own deception – to the point where it will turn viciously on any who attract attention to that fact.

And if you aren’t born into that few, you will never join them by being more ruthless or working harder than those about you. There is no admission, just the illusion of the possibility to keep you focussed to the point of missing the point.

The warnings of history have been ignored or even used as blueprints. While good people stood apathetic, fear and greed triumphed. Now, evil will serve its own ends with less restraints and this ‘civilisation’ will have to live with – or perish from – the consequences.

 

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

 
 
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