The Josh Gad Test

A fun and easy personality test for citizens of the Internet

Everyone on the internet loves to take personality quizzes, and that’s why I’ve devised a simple and fun one that can determine what kind of person you are. It should take less than 30 minutes to complete, but will open new windows into your own self-awareness that could result in a lifetime’s worth of benefits!

The Josh Gad Test

Question 1:
Do you have a strong opinion, positive or negative, about actor, producer, and media personality Josh Gad?

Evaluation

That’s it, that’s the test. If you answered “no,” “not really,” or “who?” you have passed. If you answered “yes,” I’m afraid that you’ve failed. Please see me after class.

Disclaimer: friends and relatives of Mr Gad are obviously exempt from the test, as are entertainment industry professionals who have a vested interest in his career. If you fall into one of those categories, feel free to substitute Jason Segel.

Methodology

I am neither a trained nor licensed psychoanalyst, but I hit the epiphany that resulted in this test while watching the 2014 music video “Can You Do This” by Aloe Blacc. I’d intended just to listen to an Apple Music-ad-friendly pop hit from a few years ago, and enjoy some product placement for Beats headphones. I had completely forgotten the video’s framing device and its surprising reliance on the woman from The Big Bang Theory1Her name is Kelly Cuoco, and I honestly mean no disrespect when I say that I can never remember her name without looking it up. and Mr. Gad playing a newly married couple.

My first reaction was boy, that sure hasn’t aged well! My second reaction was, wait a second, where did that first reaction come from? I’d somehow internalized the idea that I’m not supposed to like Josh Gad, but it was as if the idea had been inserted into my brain, via post-hypnotic suggestion, or possible alien abduction.

I don’t actually have an opinion one way or the other about Mr. Gad. I love Olaf, of course, because everybody loves Olaf, and the two Frozen movies are perfectly charming, and they have exceptional voice talent across the board. I’ve seen very little of his other work, I have no idea of any political activism or charity work, and I know of him mainly through his numerous promotional appearances, where he plays an abrasive-but-inoffensively-hapless version of himself. I have no reason to dislike the man. (Or particularly like him, either — my irrational goodwill towards celebrities I will never meet is limited to a small group including Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda).

But wait, some people might be saying, wasn’t he in a movie in which he made a tunnel through the ground by shitting out dirt as he ate it? And that would be a fair point, except that the little boys to whom that movie was aggressively pandering just love stuff like that.2Also, I must point out, Mr. Gad most likely was not actually shitting out dirt during his performance. But I can’t fault the CG artists either, for performing the jobs they were assigned.

I’ve been trying to think back to what could’ve planted the idea that it wasn’t cool to like Josh Gad anymore. The only solid thing I can remember is a podcast I used to listen to, which was ostensibly just a few fans of Disney parks chatting about their favorite attractions. In one episode they were talking about a promo that Disney had shot to tease the opening of Galaxy’s Edge, in which Gad played his abrasive self trying to sneak past a guard into the new land. The hosts of this podcast were decidedly not fans. I remember them making several comments about how awful and cringe-worthy the bit was. It stood out in my mind because it had never occurred to me that anyone could have that strong an opinion against Josh Gad. The video had been pretty much on par with the usual level of corniness that’s in every Disney promo; they’re corny by design. So at the time, I just dismissed the grumbling as the kind of thing that people who live in LA say.

But it’s come back especially strong today, because I’ve spent the bulk of the day looking for new music online, and I’ve seen so many people producing so much creativity: music, music videos, short films, short documentaries, educational films, animation, and tutorials. And then I stopped and read Twitter for a bit, and it actually made me miss the level of discourse that I’d been seeing in YouTube comments.

For the first time in a long time, my reaction to Twitter wasn’t to notice how mean and destructive it is, but how empty it is.

I’m not making a bold claim when I say that Twitter is bad, but I tend to think of it as a stream of toxic garbage that’s occasionally punctuated by a bit of useful news, or a clever gag. Even dragging someone — when they deserve it — can require a bit of inspiration to word it exactly the right way. But now I’m just thinking of all the times I saw professional comedy writers, many of them people whose work I adore, tweet out variations of A fly just landed on Mike Pence because flies are attracted to shit. It’s made me remember all the times I agonized over a joke, worried that it wasn’t original enough or funny enough, and I want all that time back. I used to fret that Twitter was full of Mean Girls, but now I think it’s more accurate to say it’s full of hacks.I can’t even enjoy the takedowns of Trump & his supporters anymore, since they’re all so lazy. 3So many people amplify “The Lincoln Project” as if it were insightful, instead of just a bunch of people wanting a return to the glory days of Reagan and Bush and having enough money to spend on hacky videos.

Tonight on Twitter, many of the same people who’ve spent months insisting that “cancel culture doesn’t exist” are participating in threads about how much Chris Pratt sucks and trying to come up with political justifications for it, instead of just acknowledging it as pointless celebrity gossip. And if I feel like I’ve wasted too much of my precious time here on Earth reading it, what does that say about the people writing it?

Conclusion

Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what point I’m trying to make. It’s not just a simplistic plea that we should focus on “positivity,” or saying that Twitter sucks, although both are true to some degree. Maybe I’m saying just let people enjoy things? Be more conscious of the energy you’re putting out into the world? Learn to amplify the things you love and ignore the things you don’t? If you feel the need to justify what you’re saying as “punching up” vs “punching down,” maybe you should take a step back and wonder why you think of social engagement in terms of “punching?” If you have a choice between being cool or being kind, choose kindness or STFU?

I often become acutely aware that I’ve spent more times talking about things that other people have made, than making things myself. That’s not entirely bad, since engaging with art and entertainment is an important part of the process, and I’m most often trying to parse it myself rather than explain it to anyone else. But there’s always a point where it feels like I’m taking more from the world than I’m giving to it. I wish we all, myself included, could be more mindful of how much we gradually chip away at our own souls when we engage in seemingly harmless acts of pointless pettiness.

Meanwhile, 2020 is the year I’ve been more aware of my own mortality than ever before, and I still chose to spend 10 minutes of my time left making a YouTube thumbnail-style image of Josh Gad instead of being productive on my own projects, because I thought it would be mildly funny. So what the hell do I know?

Edited to Add

I wrote this last night and scheduled it to be posted this afternoon. I was unaware that a columnist for The New Yorker would be caught accidentally exposing himself on a Zoom conference call with coworkers. Resulting in a constant stream of variations on the same three obvious jokes,4I do have to admit that riffs on The New Yorker’s umlauts are kind of clever. “Zoom Dick” as a trending topic, and several accusations that it was intentional. So, hooray for humanity, I guess?

Semi-new Song Sundays: Dirty Projectors

Even before I found myself aged out of the most desirable demographics, I was never somebody who was up to date with new music. That’s partly why I’m so excited to have discovered and fallen in love with a song that was actually released this year! It’s “Overlord” by Dirty Projectors.

On the surface, it just seems like a really pretty, perfectly produced, but straightforward song. And the video (filmed in New York at the beginning of the year, pre-COVID) seems like a combination of New York City as dystopian sci-fi futurescape, and the hazy late 70s-early 80s Childrens Television Workshop film style that The Go! Team gets so right in their videos.

But the more I listen and watch and pay attention to the lyrics, the more sinister and meaningful it becomes. I read it as an indictment of all of us who lose our obligation to the rest of humanity, and see other people as abstracts, while we work towards our own comfort. The only time anyone makes eye contact with the audience is when the singer (Maia Friedman) faces us to say “Help me.”

I first heard the song last night via an NPR Tiny Desk Concert the band performed remotely. As much as like the studio version — from Windows Open, one of the EPs that Dirty Projectors is releasing this year — the version for Tiny Desk is my favorite. I realized after the fact that the format reminds me of Thru-You by Kutiman: although it’s an actual band separated by the pandemic, it has the feeling of a bunch of talented musicians being brought together to make something new.

Unsurprisingly, I’m in love with Dirty Projectors now, especially in its current lineup. My entry point was just last night “discovering” this song from 2018, “Break-Thru”:

It seems like it shouldn’t work, like it’s just on the verge of falling apart, with nothing but a hook, some odd synth sounds, and a falsetto chorus the only thing holding it all together. But it feels not just catchy but absolutely joyful. The effect of the video reminds me of a surreal version Snow White or Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, singing about falling in love to the friendly birds flying in through the window.1I’m only just now catching that I’d typed “birds flying into the window,” which is a much different image than “birds flying in through the window.” We regret the error.

Speaking of falling in love, I’m enjoying being able to discover a brand new band and having 15 years’ worth of their music available to explore. So much that I’m going to try to make it a weekly thing. Giving myself the goal of a weekly blog post will encourage me to look for new music even if I’m not in an exploring mood. I can almost guarantee that most of it won’t be “current,” just that it’s new to me, and I think it’s worth everyone else checking out.

Finally, here’s the embedded version of that wonderful Tiny Desk (Home) concert with Dirty Projectors:

Let Me Show You My Pokemans

Let me show you them

Today the YouTube algorithm, in Its Infinite Wisdom, recommended I watch a video of some guy opening a box of GameBoys he’d bought from Japan. I wouldn’t have thought anything of it, except as part of the excruciatingly dull unboxing process,1Yes I’m aware of the irony he checked all the battery compartments to look for signs of corrosion.

That made me jump up and run2(or at least the best I could approximate after six months stuck inside the house) to my closet, where a mysterious box sits underneath all the detritus that an American consumer-focused nerd has been able to accumulate over a few decades. Inside that box is a de facto collection of Nintendo handhelds ranging from the GameBoy Color to the 3DS. (I never owned an original GameBoy, and I can’t say I’m particularly interested in getting one at this point).

I say “de facto” since I’ve never intentionally been a collector of these things; I just worked at video game studios for a long time, and they just kind of accumulated. If you work in games and aren’t keeping up with what Nintendo is doing, you’re not doing it right.

When my fiancé got into Pokémon Go a while back, I told him I’d played one of the games years ago, and I might be able to help if the game ever started to rely on which types were strong or weak against other ones. That was when I rediscovered the mysterious box, and I realized that I hadn’t played one of the games years ago. I’d played all of them. I just kept pulling them out of the box, one after another, like a magician pulling handkerchiefs from his sleeve, or Mary Poppins pulling impossible quantities of tea sets and coat racks from her carpet bag.

I don’t have an active memory of playing these things; it’s something like the lost time after an alien abduction. It might as well have been another person playing these things, but still using my name each time. We must share the same brain, though, because I can’t remember a single damn thing from AP Calculus, but for some reason I know in my bones that you should use a grass or water type if you ever come up against a Geodude.

That guy didn’t know how to take care of electronics, though, since all the devices that used removable batteries still had them sitting inside. Fortunately, none of them were ruined or even slightly corroded. (My Sony PSP’s rechargeable battery is oddly swollen, like a tick, but fortunately those seem to still be available and reasonably priced).

Weirder than that, the DS’s rechargeable battery had still kept its charge. Even more surprising to me, the AAs left carelessly in the no-longer-quite-so-Arctic-white GameBoy Advance (in its original package!) still had enough of a charge for me to remember how bad I am at Super Mario Bros 3. I’m so used to treating electronic devices like Star Trek red shirts, ready for them to die at any moment, that it’s remarkable to see something that just turns on and works immediately, after so many years lying inert. There’s something to be said for making electronics durable enough for children prone to dropping them or trying to eat them. Maybe instead of ripping off Apple, device manufacturers should’ve been trying to rip off Fisher Price.3I am curious now how many of my every-other-iPhone-since-the-original can still be charged up and function.

Also in the box are all the games I de facto collected over the years. I don’t have a grand, Super Potato-worthy collection, but I’ve got my favorites: Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance I & II, a few Zeldas and Mario Brothers, various colors and gemstones worth of Pokémons, Pokémon Pinball with its built-in rumble pack, a Japanese import of Nintendogs and the American release, and Super Puzzle Fighter.4A hugely underrated game, and none of the various games that inspired it have the same magic as that one.

It’s kind of an odd feeling, seeing so many people for whom these games are profoundly nostalgic, and realizing I’ve just got them tossed in a box in the closet. The nostalgia they conjure for me is being in my late 20s or early 30s and buying them mainly to avoid the fear of missing out. I still could never bring myself to sell them. I wonder if, when it’s finally time for them to be donated to someone, they’ll still have any magic left in them.

What happens next

No, we can’t fix everything with one election. But I wish we were hearing more about how to keep this from ever happening again.

It’s been difficult for any signal about sane, adult, fair policies to make it through the noise of this election, but of course, that’s why the noise exists in the first place. More noise means voters are responding emotionally instead of intellectually, so there’s less opportunity for dissent.

Republicans have made it clear that they don’t care as much for making a case to voters to choose to vote Republican, so much as make them afraid to vote Democrat. (And they’d prefer it if blacks and Latinos didn’t vote at all). That’d be bad enough on its own, but they’ve degraded and dishonored the political process so much that it’s difficult for grown-up moderates and liberals to concentrate on practical policy matters, either.

I admit I haven’t paid that much attention to specifics of Biden’s platform, because the choice is literally, non-hyperbolically, the Democratic candidate, or the end of the United States of America. I believe Biden’s made good-faith attempts to emphasize policy, when he gets the chance. And the campaign is trying its best to make voters enthusiastic about voting for Biden instead of just voting against his opponent. But in practice, that gets lost when his opponent is just flinging his own shit around and it’s the only thing anyone can pay attention to.

Back in 2016, a lot of people believed that the US was essentially “too big to fail.” Even if a corrupt moron took over the executive branch, we had enough institutions in place to prevent it from becoming too catastrophic. I hope everyone has seen now what a huge mistake that was.

So I’m glad to see that the centrist-liberal platform that’s defined the Democratic party for the past couple of decades has been pushed slightly left, and they’re finally making an unequivocal stand for addressing climate change, women’s rights, fair immigration policy, and LGBT rights. And as much as I dislike many progressive politicians, it’d be foolish to deny that it’s only because progressives been so outspoken and so contentious that they’ve managed to push the Democrats away from becoming just “diet Republicans.”

But what I haven’t heard emphasized is a solid plan to keep this bullshit from ever happening again. Which is concerning. Thankfully, the Democrats seem to have gotten over their trepidation over telling it like it is, and they’re acknowledging that not only is this not normal, it’s catastrophic. They’re warning us about increasing authoritarianism. Defiance of checks and balances. Turning the judicial branch into a partisan mockery of justice. Gerrymandering. Voter suppression. Voter intimidation. National security threats. Dismantling and undermining our institutions for health and safety. Undermining and threatening free speech.

The only solution they offer: “vote.” I understand that voter turnout is crucial when voter apathy was the main reason we’re in the disaster we are now. But they’re simultaneously using the language of revolution and the language of peaceful transition. They’re saying the system is being destroyed from the inside, but also that the system is strong enough to stop the damage.

Why should we be content with a system in which the winner of the popular vote doesn’t win the Presidency?

What’s to stop another shithead like Mitch McConnell with no integrity from having an egregiously outsized influence over the entire government, like he has for the past eight years? Why does everyone just shrug and say there’s nothing to be done?

Why do we have a system in which one party can arbitrarily decide the blatantly partisan make-up of the judicial branch? Why aren’t more people actually involved drawing attention to the fact that the confirmation “hearings” were a sham?

We’re being shown all of these things to make us upset and angry, but we’re not given any real sense of a plan to stop them. We’re being assured that the system works, when it’s been painfully obvious from at least the beginning of the Obama administration that the system doesn’t work.1And, we should never forget, that for marginalized people and those living in poverty, the system has never worked. That suggests that the Democratic party doesn’t believe the system is broken, only that the wrong people are currently able to take advantage of it.

After seeing Senator Feinstein’s disgraceful and obsequious praise for Lindsey Graham over his sham confirmation hearings, and Speaker Pelosi’s frequent demonstrations of putting party over policy, I’m inclined to think that’s the case. They want us to be just worried enough for a Democratic sweep, but not worried enough to actually make systemic change.

I used to believe that most adults were more politically aware than I am. I believed that I could trust the people who were interested in politics to follow the day-to-day details, while I educated myself just enough to vote for the right people and then could go on about my business. That’s the promise of a representative democracy, after all. I would still love not to be worried about politics every single day — for instance, not having a shitty, pervy, do-nothing, partisan hack like Clarence Thomas threatening to keep me from being able to get married would be a nice reality to wake up to.

But now I’m convinced that 99% of the people who claim to have real insight into politics have no idea what the hell they’re talking about. If they were as tuned in as they claim to be, then we wouldn’t be in this mess. Pundits and self-described political analysts have spent the last decade marveling at a grifter’s preternatural ability to play 5th-dimensional chess against the media and the Democratic Party, even though it’s been abundantly clear since Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that he’s a classless moron. They talk about “red states” and “blue states” that don’t actually exist. They make bullshit claims about the “base” of Trump voters, even though we’ve seen repeatedly that his rallies have trouble filling school gymnasiums.

Most galling: they call it “showboating” or “gotcha questions” when people in the highest offices of power are asked the most fundamental of questions about our values as Americans, but are still unable to answer.2Amy Coney Barrett’s refusal to answer the most basic questions about voting rights and the peaceful transition of power were absolutely disgraceful and disqualifying. It’s not damning when a journalist or a representative asks a question about our most basic principles; it’s damning when a candidate or nominee is unable to give the trivially true answer to the question without trying to make it out to be “controversial” or “partisan.” Any pundits our journalists trying to make it sound like these basic questions about our values are irrelevant or naive are actually revealing themselves to be too cynical, too removed from the process, or too shielded from harm, to be competent at their jobs — they’re supposed to be translating the impersonal machinations of politics into a form that the rest of us can relate to, after all.

I’m so very much looking forward to stability and sanity. And I’m just as much looking forward to being able to leave politics to the “grown-ups” until it’s time for me to step up and take a direct role by making an educated vote. But the grown-ups sure as hell better have a plan for making that stability and sanity last for longer than just the next four years.

Draft Tweets

When you want to contribute to the normalization of bitterness and pointless nastiness for corporate profit, at least do it on your own terms

Twitter is, as I’ve often said before, garbage. Their gross hypocrisy saying that wishing death on someone was a violation of policy, after years ignoring harassment and abuse, is inexcusable. More personally inexcusable is the way they’ve still done nothing about closing the account of a deceased relative, after multiple requests.1I did reply to their automated email with an expletive-filled message asking why they couldn’t be bothered to do their fucking jobs, which surprisingly hasn’t expedited the process.

But I haven’t been able to keep from reading it. I’m still committed to keeping it read-only, so at the very least I’m not actively contributing to the garbage. But it’s been difficult, as an opinionated person who likes to hear himself talk. I did start using Micro.blog again, thinking it could be a good outlet for this, but I like the idea of keeping that unsullied by negativity.

I do have a blog, though! So here’s a compilation of some of the things I would have been saying on Twitter over the past couple of days:

  • Oh, you say you’re a fan of the fundamental freedoms protected by the Constitution, Judge Barrett? Name five.
  • I’ve seen nine movies about Jedi Knights, but before playing Jedi: Fallen Order, I never realized how much of the Jedi lifestyle revolved around wildly uncontrollable surfing.
  • The trend of people saying “folks” instead of just “people” is annoying AF and bothers me even more than “utilize” instead of “use.” To somebody who grew up in the south, saying “folks” sounds affected and condescending.
  • And as someone who read Tolkein, saying “queer folk” or “black folk” sounds not just affected, but it makes already marginalized people sound even more fey, alien, and homogenized.
  • I read one of the “Tales from the Haunted Mansion” books, knowing full well that it was “young adult,” but without realizing it was aimed at middle schoolers. But I can’t imagine a kid old enough to read this who wouldn’t find it insultingly pandering.
  • Just doing a Windows 10 system update hits me with an ad to install the Office 365 suite. Even worse, the button only lets me say “No, Thanks” instead of “Fuck off, you sleazy marketing chucklefucks”
  • Trying to use Chrome instead of Edge in Windows 10 is like trying to marbleize Janet in The Good Place. No less than 5 times it begged me not to do it. Does nobody at Microsoft when they got slammed for doing exactly this?
  • The new HomePod mini looks like a melon lol

Whew. Glad I could get all that out of my system. I’m sure looking back on this 5-10 years from now, it’ll totally seem good and worth posting.

Quit ’em if you smoke ’em!

Relapse all you want, brain. I’ll just quit again. I could do this all day.

2020 has been the worst year of my life. As it has been for millions of people. That’s one of the relentlessly awful things about the year: it won’t even let me be uniquely miserable. Oh, you think you’re sad? Get in line, buddy.

So after three or four years without smoking,1Without Instagram as a daily diary, I don’t know exactly how long ago anything was anymore. I’ve had a few relapses. A long one at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, when things were the worst. A one-pack bump in the road back when this year’s California wildfires first blew smoke into the East Bay. And now I’m in the middle of another relapse, again triggered by the wildfires that turned the skies in the Bay Area post-apocalyptic.

I don’t mention the wildfires because we were directly affected by them; we’re fortunate in that we’re completely safe. And obviously, I’d never equate a few days of reduced air quality to what people are going through after losing their homes or worse. But perversely, breathing in the smoke seeping through the windows always makes me want a cigarette. That raspy feeling in my throat that never goes away, the weird gurgling in my chest when I wake up with a coughing fit, the thin layer of ash that seems to cover everything and stick to my fingers: ah, I remember this, and I think I… miss it?

For about a week, I’ve been dreaming about smoking. Or more accurately: sometimes dreaming about smoking, and sometimes dreaming about whatever it is I tend to dream about but in which I’m playing the role of a person who smokes. The most alarming was having a standard-issue dream, suddenly noticing that I’d been smoking a cigarette, and thinking what the hell did you do?

I can’t blame everything on the smoke. Election anxiety, and general despair over the state of the country, have been particularly fierce over the past few weeks, and I hit a low point. At least a solid week with insomnia, no energy, no enthusiasm for anything, completely unable to concentrate on anything for more than 5 minutes at a time. Also, we watched an awful anime with a character who smoked a cigar throughout, and the next thing I knew, a switch in my brain had flipped and I was a smoker again.

As somebody who’s over-thought everything his entire life,2Although now that I think of it, is that really fair to say? the thing that never stops being weird is how anti-intellectual it is. I know that it’s gross, I know that I don’t need it. I know that my life is better in every conceivable way without it. I know that it doesn’t actually calm me. I know that it’s worse than a waste of money. I know that I can’t have just one or two; for me, it’s either nothing, or one every hour without fail. I know that it stains my mustache a repulsive shit-yellow-brown color. I know that I feel worse in the morning. I know that I hate the recurring cough. I know that in the middle of a pandemic for a respiratory virus, it’s the stupidest possible time to be doing it.

But even while I’m thinking that, my motor center has driven me to the 7-11 and has me paying for a new pack. It’s like the decision-making part of my brain communicates with the part of my brain that actually does things via automated customer support line. Thank you for your message. We appreciate you and value your input. While we fully intend to go buy cigarettes and start smoking them anyway, we’ll take your concerns under consideration. Please do not reply to the message.

The one positive is that I finally found something that helps me quit. I smoked for over 20 years, and I made several attempts over that time using nicotine patches, Wellbutrin, and my insufficient willpower, with nothing lasting more than three months. But finally, Chantix worked so well for me that I don’t even mind linking to a drug company’s website. No discernible side effects, and no need to quit cold turkey as with the patch. The first time I tried it, I’d heard it described as blocking the receptors that are activated by nicotine, so that you get no pleasure from it. That made me imagine some kind of A Clockwork Orange scenario, in which I’d find them nauseatingly repulsive, but that never really happened. Instead, it simply seems to just shut up the part of my brain that has me out buying cigarettes despite protests from every other part of my brain.

I’m also encouraged because I did manage to quit earlier in the year, after one pack, and with no assistance, and no setbacks. I think that simply knowing that I can quit and that I’ve done it before, for at least three years, helps a lot. 2020 may be a horrible year, but maybe it’s the year I can shed all of the toxic BS dragging me down.

I’ve seen conservative before, and this ain’t it

Words should mean things

Something that annoys the hell out of me: when people see the members of one political party1and it is only one political party blatantly ignoring standards and tradition2including “traditions” they made up out of political convenience to redefine how our government is supposed to work, for the purposes of perceived short-term gain, and still call that “conservative.”

Case in point: the “hearings”3scare quotes because the so-called “conservatives” are obviously just treating this as a formality right now to approve Amy Coney Barrett to a lifetime position on the Supreme Court. The whole process is, simply put, unfair. That’s not me talking as some California liberal; it’s fact. It’s objectively and incontrovertibly true. Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm Merrick Garland for eight months with the tepid excuse that it’s “tradition” not to confirm a lifetime appointment in an election year.

The only argument you could possibly make in good faith is that you believe the unfairness is justified for some reason. One example that I’ve seen is the idea that it’s dangerous to have all three branches of government controlled by one political party. I strongly disagree with that on principle, but even if I didn’t, anyone who thinks that the Democrats would become an unstoppable machine of progressive change if they took control of the executive, legislative, and judicial branch is someone who has obviously never seen how the Democrats operate in practice.

No doubt there are plenty of people who’d say that complaining about “fairness” in politics is naive, childish, or unrealistic. (Or if they didn’t say it outright, it would quickly become clear that it’s what they believe). This is why it’s not great to have the political conversation completely dominated by pundits and activists — they treat political issues either as a sport, or as something so crucial that being concerned about fairness is a luxury they don’t have. In either case, the objective isn’t to govern, but to win.

But if there’s any part of government in which it’s important to stop, take a step back, and consider the full implications of what’s happening, it’s with the judicial branch. That’s the entire reason the judicial branch exists in the first place. Genuine conservatives and liberals alike should all agree that the court should be non-partisan. The purpose of the court isn’t to further conservative policy or liberal policy, but fair policy. The reason for lifetime appointments is to make sure that justices aren’t subject to shifting party alliances. A real conservative would actually be pushing for a moderate or a liberal justice to replace Justice Ginsburg, to preserve the balance. Real conservatives should be disgusted that Kavanaugh was confirmed after his disgraceful meltdown(s).

If we think of it only in terms of a win for “our side” or “their side,” then we have ignored the entire reason the government is supposed to exist in the first place. That’s why, out of the ten billion things that disqualify Trump from being President, his frequent assertions from day one of his campaign that he was only president of the people who voted for him should be the most damning thing for actual conservatives. Even the ones who were able to overlook his thousands of lapses in character, his gross incompetence, and his blatant corruption. When he’s done so much that’s inexcusable and inhuman, it would seem like only caring about the red states would be the least important thing to complain about, but I’d argue that it’s the one thing that, in a nation of conscientious adults, should offend everyone.

(That’s also one of the reasons that the faux-progressives who throw a tantrum instead of voting for “another old white man” are so insufferably infuriating. They condescend to everyone else while failing to understand that centrism, tempered by active dissent, is essential to the democratic process. A democratic government has to represent even the shittiest and most selfish Republican, or else there’s no point in having a democracy at all).

I definitely understand that when we’re threatened with corrupt authoritarianism and blatant attempts to establish a theocracy, complaining about using the wrong word to describe Republicans is a non-argument that completely misses the point. But I’d insist that defining “us” vs “them” in terms of “conservative” and “liberal” is just falling for Republicans’ decades-long branding campaign. When the rest of us fall for it, it subtly changes the way that we think about the issues and about the people actively trying to subvert our democracy. We all know that branding is effective at shaping the way we think. Even though I’ve had almost 50 years of being shown, over and over and over again, that the Republican party has never truly been the party of fiscal responsibility and conservative economics, I still instinctively assume that Republicans are going to behave conservatively.

By shitting all over our institutions and branding it “conservative,” they’re trying to normalize anti-democratic, anti-American policies as if they were merely another valid part of the political spectrum. It’s like acting surprised and offended when the Slytherins reveal themselves to be evil, when they’ve got a fucking snake in their logo.4#NotAllSlytherins

It’s good that social media is being vocal about refusing to normalize corrupt behavior, and calling out the traditional media for trying to create false equivalencies and insist that “both sides” are playing politics. I just want to remind people that calling gross manipulation of our institutions “conservative” does nothing but help normalize it.

Welcome, Foolish Meeples

When hinges creak in doorless chambers… that is the time when nerds are present, talking about the Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits board game.

I’ve already mentioned I’m in the middle of a low-key obsession with Prospero Hall, a game design studio based in Seattle. The game that set me off was Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, a kaiju beat-em-up that I enjoyed so much that I immediately set off to 3D print a bunch of pieces for it. Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic bereft of Game Nights, I haven’t been able to resist getting all the Prospero Hall games I could get my hands on.

So when I found out they’d made The Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits, there was no point in my even pretending I’d wait to get a copy. It’s one of my top 5 Disney attractions, and the game is like a love letter to the ride, with every single detail and design element seemingly aimed directly at fans.

The Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits is a set collection/press-your-luck game, with the premise that the ghosts have, as the song says, come out to socialize. Each player gets a piece shaped like the bats on the end of the stanchions in the queue, and you can move between the seance room and the endless hallway. Cards representing the ghosts are placed around the board, each with a suit representing its room in the ride — the stretching room, portrait hall, ballroom, graveyard, attic (with grooms of the haunted bride), etc. You’re trying to collect ghost cards to build sets from the same suit, each with a Sushi Go-esque point value system. At the same time, you’re trying to avoid collecting too many haunt cards, which cost points at the end of the game. These are received mainly from crossing paths with the hitchhiking ghosts trying to follow you home.

A particularly clever element is that the endless hallway is represented by a rondel in the center of the board. In addition to moving from space to space, a player can rotate the piece any number of spaces, moving herself and any other players in the hallway. The only thing that feels even remotely like a missed opportunity in the entire game is the lack of doom buggies, but they’re here in spirit: riding on an infinite circular track, passing through all of the rooms of the mansion.

I’ve only played it once, but it’s fun and quick-moving. The time estimate on the box is 30 minutes, which seems about right. But there were plenty of opportunities for interesting decisions, so don’t assume that a short, licensed game is necessarily shallow.

Really, that’s exactly why I’m in love with Prospero Hall’s games at the moment, especially the ones made in conjunction with Funko Games. Frankly they’re better than licensed games have any right to be. Most of the time, especially with Disney licenses, publishers just lazily slap new artwork on top of a mass market game most people are already tired of playing: Clue, Life, Risk, or now even Catan. Prospero Hall seems to be making more interesting games based on licenses they love — if they don’t love them, they’re doing an awful good job of faking it.

Production values and art direction are impeccable. In Call of the Spirits, the ghost cards all have art that fans of the ride will recognize from paintings or animatronics. (There are some familiar paintings arranged on the outside of the box as well). There’s another nice surprise detail for Haunted Mansion fans in the box, that I didn’t take a photograph of to let players discover it on their own.

As I said, as a fan of the Haunted Mansion, there was no way that I wasn’t going to buy this game. But I think even non-fans should be impressed with what they’re doing here. They’re raising the bar not just for licensed games but for mass market games in general. The game mechanics here aren’t completely original, but it is a novel combination of some familiar mechanics, and there’s a good chance it’ll introduce players to a type of game they’ve never played before. 1Lords of Waterdeep, a licensed D&D game, was what made me love worker placement games more than any of the traditional choices for “best in genre.” Disney Villainous is the most accessible asymmetric game I’ve seen, and I still have yet to play anything else quite like it. I’d certainly rather play Call of the Spirits than Sushi Go, which is the most similar game I can think of.

I’ve only played the two-player variant, and much like with Godzilla: Tokyo Clash, I can already tell that the game’s probably more interesting with three or more. I think even if I didn’t love the Haunted Mansion, I’d have fun with this game. And even if this one weren’t for me, I’d be impressed that they’re working to make board games more accessible to more people, and better overall.

Crêpes of Wrath

Food Network chefs hate me for sharing this one weird trick

This video of Chef Jacques Pépin explaining how to make crêpes is a game changer. It’s simple, easy, only takes a few minutes, and the results are delicious. Turns out that if you want to learn how to make something, going to the person who is famous for making them is a good idea.

Even if you don’t feel like making them, it’s just fun to hear him say “crêpe” over and over again.

I’ve tried making them before, with recipes from Epicurious, Bon Apetit, Alton Brown via the Food Network, and various random let-me-tell-you-my-life-story-before-I-get-to-the-recipe blogs, and the results have ranged from “inedible” to “unremarkable and definitely not worth the effort.” The consensus online seems to be that making crepes requires a blender and at least a couple of hours, at which point you have to wonder who’s got that kind of time. Pépin’s method is so simple and straightforward that I can finally see the appeal.

The other cool thing about Pépin’s video is that it shows crepes can easy to make and easy to serve. For years there’s been such a proliferation of crepe restaurants around the Bay Area, that I just kind assumed you had to go crazy with bananas and strawberries and whipped cream and ham and cheese and greens, and if you’re not stuffing them with tons of food, are you even making crepes at all? But as it turns out, nothing but a spoonful of jelly and a sprinkle of sugar afterwards is beyond perfect.

I feel like Food Network and the proliferation of cooking shows created an arms race where home cooking had to make for interesting programming instead of good food. I like the idea of getting back to keeping it simple. Frankly, I think I got steered down a bad path by Alton Brown, who I finally realized is a lot better at being a TV personality than any kind of authority on food. The “multi-taskers” cult are free to come at me.

An important and dire warning: I can only endorse the recipe in the above video. The first time I tried it, it was super-easy and the results were fantastic. There’s at least one variant of an “official” Jacques Pépin recipe for crêpes going around that I’ve tried three times so far with no success. If it includes any vegetable or canola oil, the results come out less like crepes and more like those “movie magic” shows where a makeup artist is preparing a prosthetic. They’re rubbery and oily; you can see them in the pan just sweating oil.

I spend most of my time these days watching Disney & Universal YouTubers going through the parks, and everybody’s been raving about a new crepe stand that opened at Universal Studios. I get a craving every time I see them, so now I can sit back and pretend I’m in Orlando. All I’d need is a bunch of heat lamps and someone telling me over and over that I can’t ride anything because I’m too fat.1From eating crêpes.

Tomorrowland Trivia Authority

90% of me bragging about finally winning something, 10% reminiscing about Hipster Tomorrowland

If you like hearing recordings of people saying my name, then you should definitely check out episode 61 of the RetroWDW podcast! Because I’m a big big winner. Every episode, they do a contest called the Audio Rewind, where they play a sound clip from somewhere and sometime in Walt Disney World’s past, and you have to guess where it’s from.

After multiple failed attempts, I finally won one by identifying “Music Makers” by Esquivel, which used to play in the exit queue of Space Mountain. I’m especially happy about this one, since that addition had a big impact on me. It was part of the 1994 refurb of Tomorrowland, which as far as I’m concerned was a Golden Age for Imagineering.

They just nailed the tone. It’d been obvious for decades that Tomorrowland — in both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom — was never going to work as even a semi-realistic representation of the future, so the more sustainable direction was a retro-fantasy version. Disney had already been doing this with attractions like Horizons and World of Motion, but the most clever idea of the 94 refurb was that they didn’t limit it to just one version of “retro.” Instead of just going all-in on “steampunk” or “space age,” they combine elements of just about every popular futuristic fantasy from the late 1800s to the 1980s. Art Deco, 1920s modernism, mid-century modern, post war and Cold War, with lots and lots of neon.

Space Mountain’s new exit had an extended FedEx advertisement in the form of a long moving walkway past a series of dioramas about interplanetary deliveries. Including robot dogs on Mars, for some reason. At the time I had just “discovered” Esquivel via a compilation called Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music, and hearing it in Disney World made me feel like Disney and I were perfectly attuned to the zeitgeist of retro-cool.

This was around the same time Disneyland’s Space Mountain got a light tunnel on its lift hill and an on-ride soundtrack with Dick Dale doing a space-surf guitar version of Carnival of the Animals. The rest of Disneyland’s Tomorrowland refurb was… less that successful, but that was probably due to cost-cutting and short-sighted exec decisions instead of a lack of imagination. But the first time I rode that version of Space Mountain remains one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at a theme park.

Disney Parks will always have an element of dated corniness to them, but that’s not a criticism; it’s an important part of how they work. It part of what makes them feel safe and nostalgic. 1And why attempts to be scary and “edgy” like Alien Encounter, or mockingly self-aware like Tiki Room Under New Management, are always going to be a failure. Seeing and hearing the park playing something that I actually thought was cool felt like it was speaking to me directly for once.