L5R LCG Celebration Event

I can't believe I'm back here.  It feels like forever even if it's only been *checks calendar* nine years since my last Livejournal post.  Well, with the collapse of the clan forums, this seemed like the best place to post tournament reports now.  Here goes.

If you've never come along with me for one of these before, welcome.  I tend to write these a lot like Mommy-bloggers posting recipes, in that if all you care about is the recipe (or cards in this case) you're going to want to scroll for awhile until you see something that looks like an ingredient list.  If you follow the rest of it, you'll get a lot of background and story that doesn't have a damn thing to do with jambalaya, but you get to come on a little trip with me.  Either way, enjoy.

The Announcement
When FFG announced the cancellation of l5r, like most other players I was disappointed, if not completely surprised.  While I knew online would continue - for awhile at least - I had low hopes for in-person play resuming.  And much as I enjoy online play, the fun of the game has always been sitting across from friends and throwing cardboard at each other.  Online is for practice; I play in-person.

As such, I was extremely excited when Mark Armitage announced the L5r LCG Celebration Event, an in-person event at this store in Lebanon, New Hampshire to get players together in-person again.  It was pitched as a local event but guests were welcome.  I waited about a week to make sure locals got first crack at slots, and when Mark made a follow up post on Facebook I bit the bullet, bought some Amtrak tickets, and started making plans.  I also tried to rope some of my local players into making the journey with me, and was quickly joined by Solo (a.k.a. Dan Solo Austin), one of our local players who'd started to ascend just as the game ended, and one of two Community Management leads on the Emerald Legacy board.  Dan traveled to his first Worlds in 2019 and went 5-0 in the LCQ.  I'd just started to get to know him when the pandemic hit and I was very excited to be traveling with him.

We booked train tickets, a hotel, picked decks, and in about a month it was time to go.

The Trip
We headed out on Friday, a day before the Saturday tournament.  I chose Amtrak for a number of reasons.  The first is that I live in DC and Solo lives in Baltimore; the drive up to New Hampshire was estimated at nine hours, not counting stops.  That's a long drive, especially if the plan is to travel one day, play, and travel back the next.  Flying was going to be close to $600/person and the airport was still 15 miles away.  But Amtrak had a train that went right from DC to a town just four miles away with a hotel across the street from the station, and the tickets were only $100 each way.  Sold.

​Travel buddies.

I actually love rail travel.  My wife and I did a train trip to the Grand Canyon several years ago that, except for the part where I got mono and spent the trip horribly sick wondering if I was literally dying, as one of the top travel experiences of my life.  I enjoy the calm pace of travel, the freedom from having to pay attention to anything as in a car, the ability to eat and drink at leisure, to read, to play games, to watch the landscape change, and especially to go to the bathroom whenever I wish.  Solo and I chatted together for the first few hours, played some battlebox l5r (it's small enough we could play on the tray tables), and then I read most of the rest of the way.  One of the books I brought was Anäis Michell's Working on A Song: The Lyrics of Hadestown.  I'd recommend it for anyone interested in the musical or in exploring the writing, editing, and revision process of art.

From left to right:
Train platform in Springfield, MA.
Second view of train platorm in Springfield, MA.
Switching out electric locamotive for diesel in New Haven, CT.
View of a bridge from train in New Haven, CT.

Food on the train was good enough, about what you'd expect from a movie theater that has gone one step above hot dogs and popcorn.  I had a microwaved bowl of macaroni and cheese ($7.50) for lunch that was better than you'd expect from that description, and later a Coca Cola and a snack pack of pretzels and hummus ($6).

Amtrak's policy requires masks on the train unless one is actively eating or drinking (their emphasis), and for the most part the rules were followed and enforced, barring one couple on the trip home, which did make me feel pretty comfortable.

And we kept watching the world go by.

Eventually we arrived in White River Junction.  Overall the trip was scheduled to take ten hours and ended up taking ten and a half.  Not bad.  The platform had an old locamotive from the nineteenth century on display which still cast an imposing view next to our modern diesel.

Who wore it better?

The Hotel
Our reservations were for the Hotel Coolidge, a nineteenth century railway hotel that's stayed in business all these years.  It's very apparent that this is an older hotel - for example, it's clear that the in-suite bathrooms were a later edition, and the heat and water pressure reflect that.  AC is provided via window units.  Etc. - but is still pleasant for all of that.  Service was very good, and I did appreciate having actual room keys rather than key cards that my phone could erase.  We booked through Expedia and after taxes and fees we paid $150/night for a double.
Hotel lobby and two views of the bedroom.  Not pictured: tiny bathroom.

The hotel is located in the middle of downtown White River Junction (which is itself a very small area) with several restaurants and shops in walking distance.  It's literally across the street from the Amtrak station so very easy to get to if you're traveling by train.  I would definitely stay here again if I were passing through the area.

After checking in we unpacked (even if I'm only staying a brief while, whenever I travel if I'm staying more than one night, I like to unpack.  I don't mind living out of a duffle bag, but unpacking always makes me feel like I'm claiming the space and making it my home, if only for a short while.  It feels very ritualistic) and then set out to explore the town.  We found bulletin boards with notices for upcoming performances, none of which would work with out travel schedule unfortunately.  I was very sad to be missing Richard Thompson, one of my favorite folk singer-songwriters.  We found several intriguing restaurants, an outdoor theater, public art, and a dance party fundraiser.

For dinner we met up with David Gordon Bursesh, Rhiannon McCullough, and Brandon Lane.  None of them were playing this weekend but they made the trip up to see us and have dinner together.  As per Mark's recommendation, we had dinner at the Tuckerbox, a Turkish restaurant practically next door to our hotel.  The restaurant was actually Mark's recommendation and it was spot on.  He'd also recommended a particular waiter, Zach, who provided great recommendations and service.

Turkish Delight cocktail.

Now many of us know of Mark Armitage as "the nicest guy in l5r" and it's true but I'd never seen it firsthand like this.  When Solo and I were making our arrangements Mark reached out to one of the local players to get us a ride from the hotel to the store, so that we wouldn't have to use public transportation or Uber.  That was swell.  He recommended a great restaurant.  That's being a great host.  But what none of us knew until after dinner was that Mark had also called ahead to the restaurant and arranged to cover all of our drinks himself!  It was an incredibly kind and generous act and I'm very thankful to Mark for going out of his way to take care of us.

After a fantastic dinner, Solo and I walked around a bit more, then retired to the room.  We played one game of l5r on the room floor, me piloting his tournament deck and him running a strange Dragon deck.  Solo's deck was a Unicorn HMT deck using Khanbulak Benefactor and doing all kinds of tricks with her discount to not only play stuff for cheap/free but to get enormous boards that for some reason just kept attacking and persisting.  It was a really weird deck, at least from my perspective, but it worked.  I was impressed.

Eventually we turned in.  There were cards to play tomorrow.

Tournament Day
We got up, took turns in the shower, and headed back to Tuckerbox for breakfast.  The hotel gave a small voucher for it, but honestly after last night's dinner it didn't take much persuasion to go back.  In fact, we'd go back for breakfast each day and try a good portion of the breakfast menu.

Great food, beautiful place!

After breakfast we headed back to the room and got ready for the tournament.
Are we ready?

As previously stated, Mark had even arranged transportation for us.  We got a ride to the store from Local Hatamoto Nick Mason (TM).  I'd known Nick a bit from his work on The Meek Informant Podcast (they actually interviewed me and Arash two years ago as part of their deep dives into each clan) and I'd met him at Worlds 2019 when he signed my playmat.  We had a pleasant drive to the store, chatting mostly about how people had been keeping busy during the pandemic.

At the store we checked in.  Everyone was required to both wear masks for the entire event and present a vaccination card (physical or photo) to play, rules which were enforced.  Overall, I'd been pretty happy with protocols this trip.  There is no such thing as a risk-free public activity at the moment, but my impression was that everything was being done to minimize risk via reasonable precautions and protocols.
A classy joint.

The first hiccup of the tournament was that Mark couldn't make it.  All of this work and effort he put into put together his celerbation event and, due to a medical emergency, he couldn't be there.  I found out later that everyone was fine, but I felt bad he was going to miss out on his own event.  In spite of that, Mark recruited a backup Devin Bell as a backup TO and with Devin's help and the store's staff, the tournament still went off.

Part of the draw for the tournament was that Mark was blasting through all the accumulated promos and prize kits that had built up over the seasons.  The prize tables (note the plural) were enormous.  One table contained relatively common kit promos and anyone could have as many promos from it as they liked, free to take.  The other contained much rarer promos that were awarded after each round.  The structure was that after finishing a round, the loser got first pick from the rare table, then the winner got to pick.  Furthermore, there was a Box of Greed with even rarer cards in it, with blind draws being sold at $5 each (or three draws for $10), all funds going to the Stop AAPI Hate organization.  It was a good day for swag.

The "take whatever you want" table.

I am proud to say that I had my own donation to the rare table.  David Robotham helped me create a set of promo cards using the l5r cocktails I created with Kakita Kaori and he even helped me get them printed.  I was very pleased that they were picked up very quickly.  If you missed your chance to get them in New Hampshire, all I can say is there may be a way to get them at Gen Con this year...

After a tournamet, unsleeve the card and show it to your bartender.

Players filtered in.  Some were people I'd never met and some were folks I'd known but obviously hadn't seen in close to two years.  Some folks hadn't played since lockdown, while others were active online players.  A lot of folks were using proxies.  Everyone came with a good attitude.  This was going to be fun.

Okay, it's been about five pages and I still haven't talked about cards.  Let's get to those games.

Round 1
Solo - Unicorn - Hisu Mori Toride - Keeper of Void - Scorpion Splash
It's a long-standing joke that if you travel more than an hour with someone to a tournament, you'll end up matched together in the first round.  Well, it happened again.  Solo's initial flop looked good, but mine was stronger.  He got Chagatai, while I flipped two Togashi Mitsu's and had two Ki Alignments in hand.  He was first player so he bought chags and passed while I loaded up Mitsu.  Having piloted his deck the night before I knew its tricks and that wasn't going to go well for Solo.  He attacked with Fire.  I defended and had Mitsu play Hurricane Punches to build my hand and we passed out the round  On turn 2 I was first player while he flipped Moto Beastmaster, Khanbulak Benefactor on Wind's Path, and Ride at Dawn.  I did a naked pass to build fate (this was going to be my turn to buy attachemnts) and prevent the Ride from going off.  I attack, use the Ki Alignments, and Solo realizes he can't do anything.  His KB tricks won't work since I can just Void Fist her home before she'll give him his discounts, and that means his whole deck is turned off.  He concedes rather than draw it out.  This will end up being Solo's only loss of the day.
Results: Victory (1-0)

Round 2
Kyle Kress - Unicorn - Hisu Mori Toride - Keeper of Fire - Lion Splash
I'm normally pretty confident with this matchup, but this game would turn that around.  I get my worst flop of the weekend - not just in l5r but in every game.  I end up buying a Monastery Protector who face-plants into Endless Plains.  Kyle wrecks some of my provinces.  Turn two I get a Teacher of Empty Thought and I start building him up.  Kyle breaks Upholding without Shinjo Ambusher, then draws one off of Spoils of War.  I use Upholding to discard the Ambusher (maybe he'll hit Resto?) but I lose track of the other stuff in his hand... including the Unleash the Djinn.  In fact, my own Unleash the Djinn card (Unleash the Gin).  As a result when he attacks my third province I waste my Defend Your Honor on a Captive Audience.  He has a second, then plays UTD.  I'm not completely out of gas but it means he gets to my stronghold at the end of turn two rather than the start of turn three, so when he Cav Reserves in Tetsuko I'm out of fate.  Kyle will go on to go 4-0 in the Swiss so I don't feel too bad.
Results: Defeat (1-1)

We take a one hour lunch break, during which I grab some vegetarian chili from a food truck.  Solo talks a bit to everyone about Emerald Legacy introducing himself as Community Manager.  People seem interested.  We resume play.

Round 3
Derek McConnell - Dragon - High House of Light - Keeper of Earth - Phoenix Splash
I know Derek from before, and we actually played at the last Worlds.  That said, he plays around with different clans while I tend to be very Dragon-focused and I'm actually pretty confident about the mirror.  The flop changes that.  He gets first player and flops Mitsu while I have to make due with a Tranquil Philosopher.  He attacks but his Restoration of Balance and breaks it.  That bows him out; I counterattack and get my own break.  Turn two I flip Togshi Ichi but still not Mitsu, so I naked pass in order to build fate to build up a different tower than I'd planned.  I attack and Derek hits me with Fury; I counter with an unexpected Ready for Battle, break the province, then Disguise in Ichi for another break.  Turn three he's on my stronghold.  He plays cards and I rapid-fire three Defend Your Honor so that I can hit his Mitsu with Void First before he can get Ring fate.  His Mitsu dies at the end of the round and I get mine out at the start of turn four with a huge pile of fate for attachments.  He sinks all of his fate into a Yokuni whom I covert out of the stronhgold attack and he concedes.
Results: Victory (2-1)

Round 4
Local Hatamoto Nick Mason (TM) - Crane - Seven Folds Palace - Seeker of Air - Scorpion Splash
Turn one Mitsu.

Okay, I'll go deeper than that, but honestly that could be the whole report.  LHNM gets first player. He talked about getting a first turn Noble Sac on Mitsu in another game that day, so I know his deck can run tower kill and mulligan not for Ki Alignment or anything like that but just some armor pieces, and I'm rewarded by finding a Belief in the Little Teacher.  I flip double Mitsu's, he buys one character and passes (no Finger of Jade or Swell of Seafoam for me).  I buy my Mitsu, toss a fate on him, and Belief.  We both bid five and he attacks.  This is basically his one chance to win the game.  If he honors a character in the conflict and wins the Fire ring then he can dishonor Mitsu and use Noble Sac (assuming he has it) before I can use Belief.  If not, the game's probably over.  I throw everything I have into defending fire, and win the conflict.  Mitsu stays ordinary.  Next turn I'm able to break stuff, including a Teahouse, with impunity and break two provinces, losing none, and Mitsu is now honored with a bunch of other toys stuck on him, including a Finger of Jade.  He's untouchable.  LHNM concedes.
Results: Victory (3-1)

That's the end of Swiss.  Now I haven't talked about my deck yet, but here it is:

It's not terribly different than previous versions of my monk deck.  The big difference is the addition of Shoshi ni Kie (which may come out) and replacing In Service to My Lord with Ready for Battle, which honestly feels more like a sideways step than a downgrade.  With Swell, we don't really need more stands (hence why Shoshi may come out) so ISTML wasn't a huge loss, and RFB deals with the, "Oops, I got bowed" problems.  The deck is disgustingly reliable.  Not unbeatable (round two showed that) but reliable.

I think I'm done playing this deck.

Quite simply, the deck wasn't fun.  It did what it was supposed to do, which is to say it played a lot of cards, but for the most part it was just stacking numbers.  It was playing cards for the sake of playing cards, rarely because the cards themselves mattered, and it very quickly reached the point where my opponent couldn't do anything about it.  That didn't make for an interesting game, and it certainly didn't make for a fun one.  I'm glad Dragon has these tools, though obviously there's a power level that needs to be addressed.  I'll let wiser minds than my own try to figure out what those corrections are, but for now at least, I'm done.  There's other stuff I want to build and other things I want to play around with.  This morning I played a top 8 discord match and the deck fired exactly like it was supposed to.  I won that match but it was so disspiriting I don't want to play the top 4 with it.  After I post this, I'm going to concede.  Good luck to Comebackman and Togashi Kohml in the finals.

So back to New Hampshire.

I had the same thoughts. I went 3-1 with this deck and, after SoS, I was ranked second in the Swiss.  Did I really want to go on to the cut?  Did I want to be that out of town player who brings an oppressive, competitive deck to a casual local event and stomps all over it?  Was there some big prize for the champion I was desperate to win?  Did I need to prove this deck was competitive?  Was I even going to have fun?

The decision was pretty clear.  I dropped.  Let someone else have a chance.

The original final schedule was going to be

Myself vs. Drew Horgan (Lion)
Kyle (Unicorn vs. Solo (Unicorn)

Drew had been planning to play for twenty minutes and then concede to his opponnent (he had a hard deadline he needed to leave by) so presumably I'd have won that.  Solo would likely have beaten Kyle (more on that below) so finals would likely have been me vs. my local friend.  And given how round one went, I can make a guess how that game would have ended.  I was glad to walk away.  Instead, another player, James Huff, and I start a Shadowlands game.

Meanwhile the new semi is:
Kyle (Unicorn) vs. Jason Riendeau (Phoenix)
Solo (Unicorn) vs. Ian Oneail

Solo and Kyle both win their matches and sit down to the finals.

The final battle has begun!

Kyle is running a pretty traditional Unicorn HMT deck with Lion splash.  Makeshift War Camp appears to be the big boost he's getting from his splash.  Utaku Tetsuko is his RL card, which doesn't do much in the matchup.  Solo is focusing on getting extra use out of Khanbulak Benefactor, using her to get a lot of cheap/free attachments, turn Forgery into a free cancel, play Shadow Steed and Ring of Binding for free, make money off of Messenger of Misery, and other tricks like that.  None of the tricks are very strong but it very quickly adds up.

This whole board only cost seven fate!

It's a tough as nails game and very, very tight.  The game - and HMT vs. HMT game! - nearly goes to time, but in the even Solo pulls out the victory!  It's an exciting match and, for the second time that day, I wish I'd been streatming one of Solo's matches (his round four match against Durocher's Lion conquest deck was something spectacular to behold).

The store employees are being polite but trying to close up.  We get packed up as quickly as possible and again hitch a ride back to the hotel with Local Hatamoto Nick Mason, who is extra kind and returns to the hotel ten minutes later when I call him having forgotten my hat in his car.

That's all for cards, but read on if you want to hear more travel drama.

Once Upon a Time There Was a Railroad Line...
We get back to the hotel.  We're both famished and exhausted - I do a shot of bourbon - but before we can get food we get an e-mail from Amtrak.  Apparently our train home the next day has been canceled.  Hurricane Henri has shut down all train service north of New York City.  It takes about half an hour before we get connected to an Amtrak representative.  Eventually we're able to get rebooked for Monday.  I go down to the front desk and extend our stay at only a modest increase $10 increase.  I grumble about that but it's still cheaper than ubering to a different hotel.  We set out in search of dinner.

It turn sout that small, rural, Vermont towns don't have much of a late night dining scene.  We'd hoped to go to the great-looking BBQ place we saw the previous night but they're closed.  Eventually we head back to the hotel and the night manager recommends a local pizza place.  It's perfect.


We watch some episodes of The Simpsons on my Kindle (really wish I'd brought my laptop) and turn in.  Tomorrow we have a big day of... wait, what exactly are we going to do?

A Day of Leisure
With nowhere to go, nothing to do, and no rush to do it in, we meander.  We have a late breakfast at the Tuckerbox and take a walk around the town.  There are thunderstorm and flash flood warnings - all hurricane related - scheduled throughout the day so we don't want to get too far, and I haven't brought good walking shoes.

On the plus side: Solo met a doggo!

At breakfast we had a great local hot sauce that's actually made in-town.  Unfortunately they're closed on Sunday so we end up walking across the river.  We find a food co-op and while that particular sauce (Purple Hippo) isn't available, I pickup one of their bottles from a different line to take home (Black Bison).  Triple Berry, Ghost, and Scorpion peppers.  This should be fun.

To be fair, it's a very pretty river to walk across.

We check out some of the local shops, including a Turkish food and goods store run by the same folks that run the Tuckerbox.
Store, Spices, and Town

Storm clouds are starting to come in so we head back to the hotel.  Solo teaches me how to play Magic with the two Commander decks he brought.  I haven't played since about 1996 - twenty-five years, good God! - but he's a good teacher.  It's a fun way to spend the afternoon.  The storm still hasn't broken so we walk over to the BBQ place we couldn't get to last night: Big Fatty's BBQ.  I get burnt ends with slaw, he gets pulled beef nachos, and we split an order of pulled pork mac'n'cheese.  Everything is just as good as you'd want it to be.

Left: Pulled pork mac'n'cheese
Right: Pulled beef nachos

Storm still hasn't broken and but it's just starting to get some extremely light rain, so we take a little walk around town, then head back to the room.  Solo shows me some of his favorite animes and eventually we turn in.

Once Upon a Time There Was a Railroad Station...
The next morning we have our last breakfast at Tuckerbox.  The previous day we'd seen an amazing-looking purple drink and today I breakdown and get it: a mermaid lemonade.  It think the purple was lavender and it was delicious.

Have you ever wanted to know what purple tastes like?

We meander a bit.  Charge devices for the train.  Get drinks and bahn mi sandwiches to bring onboard, then head over to the station.
It was a good station

Solo made another friend.

The train was running fifteen minutes late but at least it came today.  We got onboard, found our seats, and settled in.  We were both tired from the weekend, so while we talked a bit - especially mentally replaying Solo's final - it was a much quiet trip, watching the world go by.

New York and Philadelphia from the train.

Swapping out our diesel locamotive for an electric one.

I did some more reading, finishing Marie Brenan's excellent The Night Parade of 100 Demons, and watching some downloaded episodes of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.  We got into DC about 10:30 PM, only half an hour late.  Solo and I hugged goodbye and departed, him to drive north to Baltimore (note for next year: have Solo pick up train in Baltimore rather than drive down to DC to ride back north), and myself to the Metro.  One transfer and a few stops later on the last train of the day, and my wife picked me up from the station.  I got in the door a bit after midnight.

Final Thoughts
I have to say, this was one of my favorite l5r experiences over the life of this game.  I got to travel with a friend, play some great games, meet new players and meet up with old friends, eat delicious food, read great books, and in general just enjoy myself.  Even with the delay and the forced extra day, I had a fantastic time.  I can't express my thanks to Mark for organizing the event, to Devin and Tony for stepping up to run, or to everyone who came out to see us and play games with us.

On the train Solo and I talked about our hopes for the future of the game.  I want Emerald Legacy to succeed.  I want the game to survive in this new incarnation, but part of the reason I took the time to make this trip was because of the fear that this might be my last chance to do so.  I don't think that'll happen, but if so, this was a great note to go out on.

GenCon Schedule

Prospective Schedule for 2012:

8:00 - SPA1233118 - Tai Chi
10:00 - SEM1229373 - Invitation to the Ball: A History of Ballroom Dance (note: I am running this event)
12:00 - SPA1229362 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Waltz (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
1:00 - SPA1229363 - Latin Dance for Beginners: Rumba (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
2:00 - LRP1230757 - Evil League of Evil Tryouts
7:00 - ENT1229381 - "Le Dorke d'Arthur: The Humpening"
9:00 - ENT1229371 - Glitter Guild Burlesque (geek-themed burlesque show)

10:00 - BGM1230586 - Last Night on Earth
12:00 - SPA1229366 - Ballroom Dance for Beginners: Tango (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
1:00 - SPA1229370 - Country Dancing for Beginners: Polka (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
2:00 - LRP1229801 - Raising the Imperial Standard (L5R)
8:00 - LRP1230760 - Peace of the Blade (7th Sea)

9:00 - SPA1234232 - Zumba with Sean
11:00 - SPA1229374 - Swing Dancing for Beginners: Jittberbug (single time swing) (note: Cristin and I are running this event)
12:00 - RPG1236849 - Technocrats on Ice (Mage: The Ascension)
4:00 - SPA1233897 - 70's/80's Dance
5:00 - SPA1229793 - Poi spinning for beginners
7:00 - SEM1229394 - Geek Psychology 101
9:00 - ENT1237593 - Gen Con Masquerade Ball

8:00 - RPG1229344 - Bureau 13: The Pittsburgh Ripper (d20 Modern)

Thoughts on Star Wars

Over a winter holiday I had the chance to read one of the most engaging books of literary criticism I've come across in some years, Star Wars on Trial. The book is edited by David Brin and features numerous essays about the inherent merits of the Star Wars franchise. In summary, it fires eight charges at Star Wars, then presents an essay in prosecution and defense of each charge. They are:

Charge #1: The Politics of Star Wars Are Anti-Democratic and Elitist.
Charge #2: While Claiming Mythic Significance, Star Wars Portrays No Admirable Religious or Ethical Beliefs.
Charge #3: Star Wars Novels Are Poor Subsitutes for Real Science Fiction and Are Driving Real SF off the Shelves.
Charge #4: Science Fiction Filmmaking Has Been Reduced by Star Wars to Poorly Written Special Effects Extravaganzas.
Charge #5: Star Wars Has Dumbed Down the Perception of Science Fiction in the Popular Imagination.
Charge #6: Star Wars Pretends to Be Science Fiction, but Is Really Fantasy.
Charge #7: Women in Star Wars Are Portrayed as Fundamentally Weak.
Charge #8: The Plot Holes and Logical Gaps in Star Wars Make It Ill-Suited for an Intelligent Viewer.

It's a fascinating read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Star Wars, bothered by Star Wars, or with an interest in how literary criticism can and should be applied to popular culture. I'm not going to get into the different charges at this point, but I enjoyed the book because it got me to look at the franchise in a fresh light, to reconsider the value of the prequels, and question the significance of the franchise and the messages we take away from it. One of the more interesting essays in the book questioned the morality of the Jedi based on the films and proposed that a very different story of the Jedi is told wen we look at the films alone, and in particular when we examine them in chronological order. I was intrigued enough that over a recent holiday with wyndstormhntrss we sat down and watched the six films, nearly back to back. The results were fascinating.

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Dance of the Day - Swing

Every year UPenn does Dancing With the Professors, which is like Dancing With the Stars but makes the obvious substitution. I participated for the first time this year, dancing with my mom (she's not a professor but she is university faculty). We got second place. She did a great job and I'm incredibly proud of her.


Oh, hello!

I'm not going to apologize for not posting in awhile. I can't decide if there are two reasons I haven't posted or if they're the same reason, but it's been because my life is pretty repetitive these days so there's not a lot to say about it, and because I'm so busy living it there's not much time to write about it.

The overwhelming majority of my time (I can't even say "free time") is spent in competition practice. After Rutgers Ruth and I decided to make a big push to break into silver, particularly with our smooth (American style ballroom). There are six main tactics we use when getting ready for competitions:

1) Practice
2) Repetition
3) Practice
4) Private lessons
5) Practice (focused on the private lesson material)
6) Extra practice

All the hard work paid off in our dancing. I watch videos of us dancing now and videos from last year and it looks much better. Is it where I want it to be? No, but it's improving. As I frequently say, "I don't need to be perfect, just better than yesterday." Every day.

We've done three competitions since the beginning of October, Princeton, Cornell, and DCDI. Results have been pretty positive, though not as strong as we'd hoped. Wynd was wonderful and not only attended Princeton (and watched us on livestream for DCDI) but videoed us there as well. Videos of the other comps were not a priority; given how close they were I figured the dancing would not be markedly different, though the UPenn team got a few videos of us at DCDI.

Princeton Bronze American Smooth
Princeton Bronze International Standard
Princeton Bronze American Rhythm
Princeton Bronze International Latin

DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Waltz
DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Tango
DCDI Bronze American Smooth: Viennese Waltz
DCDI Silver American Rhythm: Swing
DCDI Silver American Rhythm: Mambo


We didn't do as well as I'd hoped but we did about as well as I'd expected. We made finals in three of our smooth dances (waltz, tango, and foxtrot), which was the style we'd put most of our efforts in, as well as being my favorite style. We placed last in each of those finals (8th, 7th, and 6th respectively) but getting there was a huge accomplishment, especially since it was the first time Ruth and I had ever gotten to finals in smooth.

Rhythm was weird; we were eliminated in the first round in rumba, swing, and mambo. The last was truly surprising as our first time at a contested event in mambo we'd made the finals (DCDI 2010) and 7th overall. That said, when I saw the video later I had to agree with Wynd's assessment that our timing was off. Swing, normally our strongest of the rhythm dances, was a surprise but we saw areas to clean up in the video so we could come back stronger. Cha cha, however, we made it to the finals 5th place overall. Oddly enough, we danced the syllabus bolero - meaning open to all couples regardless of level - and placed 2nd overall, despite being the only bronze couple on the floor (oh, and 1st and 3rd place were gold).

Standard we got quarter-finals in waltz, semis in tango, and made finals and 5th place overall in foxtrot, but nothing in quickstep. Was a little surprised we did better in tango than waltz, as tango's one of our weaker dances, and was annoyed that we continued to suck at quickstep, but overall it was pretty satisfying. Latin we got semi-finals in all our dances, which I was very proud of given that Latin is my worst style.

Generally we were pretty happy with our results and very happy with our dancing, but wanted another shot. I'd been planning on competing at Cornell the next weekend with Lauren, and persuaded Ruth to come along so we could get another shot at those dances.


Earlier this year it had looked like Ruth would be moving to North Carolina for a job, and so I agreed to temporarily partner Lauren, another UPenn dancer, whose partner was abroad for the semester, in Latin and rhythm. When the job didn't happen, I not only wound up with two partners, but Lauren was adamant about dancing silver, and so we come to Cornell. I actually ended up only dancing with Ruth in bronze, as Lauren got sick and was unable to dance. That said, Ruth and I got the best results we'd ever gotten.

Waltz: 3rd place
Tango: quarter-finals
Foxtrot: 1st place

Cha Cha: 2nd place
Rumba: 3rd place
Swing: 5th place
Overall: 2nd place

Waltz: 5th place
Tango: quarter-finals
Quickstep: quarter-finals

Semi-finals in rumba, and jive, quarter-finals in cha cha and samba.

This was easily the best results we'd ever gotten and were a very positive indication, especially with last week's results, that we were ready for silver. Even the low scores tended to come from one specific judge who has never graded us well (we have numerous rounds where every judge except him marks us for call backs, and in smooth foxtrot nearly every judge marked us first place while he marked us last) indicating that our flaws are somewhat subjective. In addition, we got our first ever call back for quickstep. One more comp in bronze, we said, then move up.

DC Dancesport Inferno

I was thrilled with how we danced this comp, but the results were largely disappointing. On the plus side, Ruth and I reached finals in smooth Viennese waltz, a dance we'd always come in dead last before, and placed 7th in a field of over 56 couples. Most exciting to me, we danced in the west coast swing fun dance - an event open to all couples regardless of level - and beat out every one of them to get 1st place! This was Ruth's time competing west coast and we kicked ass, beating much higher level dancers. Woo!

On the downside, smooth we only got semi-finals in foxtrot and quarter-finals in waltz and tango, something we're still not sure how to reconcile with Cornell and Princeton. Standard we got our second call back ever in quickstep but still only got quarter-finals in waltz and tango, and eighth-finals in foxtrot and quickstep. Again, not sure how to reconcile that with the previous comps.

Things with Lauren went much better than I expected. In rhythm we reached semi-finals in cha cha/rumba multi-dance and swing/mambo multi-dance. Latin we got nothing in cha cha/rumba but eighth-finals in samba/jive. Not bad for my first time competing silver. Ruth had a TBA parter and had no Latin results or with rhythm cha cha/rumba but got to the finals in swing/mambo with 5th palce overall. It validated the idea that we're ready for silver in rhythm and we're talking about moving up for our next comp.

What Now?

Well, more practice, obviously. We're tentatively planning to try silver in smooth and rhythm at our next comp, though we're debating what competition that will be and when. We've started choreographing new routines, and we're just gonna keep plugging away.

Post 9/11 World

I've been listening to a Dan Carlin podcast series recently about the end of the Roman republic. One of the factors Carlin speculates contributed to the final end of the republic was that when Caesar took what was supposed to be temporary power he held it so long that an entire generation grew up under a dictator, never seeing how the republic was supposed to function. The autocracy was the norm as far as they were concerned and since life was good enough they had no reason to campaign for a restoration of liberty.

When Bin Laden was killed there was a story on NPR about college parties celebrating his death. Now we'll have the argument about whether it's ever appropriate to celebrate death another time, but the point is that the commentator was surprised that Bin Laden's death would mean so much to kids. After all, he said, they'd grown up with the war on terror so how much could this mean so much to them? The reporter said she'd asked the college kids that same question and they'd replied it meant more to them because they'd grown up with the war on terror. This was the end - or at least the beginning of the end - of a war that had gone on for over half their life.

All of this brings me around to the thoughts that have been circulating in my head lately, thoughts about what it means to grow up in a time of war, of suspended liberty, and what a return to normalcy really means. To those college kids, if the Patriot Act were reversed tomorrow it might be a cause for celebration but it would be a deviation from the norm, not a return to it. To my parents, on the other hand, it would mean a nominal restoration of American justice.

I, however, like several of you reading this, am caught in the middle. Not all of you, not even most of you. Very few in fact. You see, I was in my freshman year of college - barely into my first month - when 9/11 happened. Most of you are a few years younger or a few years older. You'd been adults for at least a year or were still teenagers. 9/11 was important for everyone, but for those of us born in 1983 it means something significant that I've never heard anyone speak about, not even once.

9/11 coincided with the dividing line between childhood and adulthood. In my case, they were only three months apart. I graduated high school, I turned 18, and now I was an adult ready to participate in this great republic I'd been primed for my entire childhood. I had a fantastic civic education. Say what I will about high school, Cheltenham had the best history teachers I've ever met. The best government teachers. A number of things had been impressed upon me, not the least of which was the concept of civic virtue, nor was I ignorant of the cost of liberty, historic challenges to freedom, or the high costs of maintaining a free society, costs that included blood as often as not.

I turned 18 in June, 2001. Three months later, before even the first election I could participate in, 9/11 happened and America changed. In October the Patriot Act was signed and the country I'd been taught about no longer existed. The rights that I'd come to not just praise but see as defining my country were now suspended. Now one can argue whether that America really existed - I'd argue that the beginning of the end really started with Roosevelt - but that's not the point: we'd been prepared for a future and now it was gone. It wasn't taken by the terrorists: they'd hurt us and threatened to destroy us, so we did it to ourselves first.

My generation was at the front of the line when it happened. Finally guaranteed participation in this society, just as we achieved our full citizenship it was yanked away.

Is it any wonder we're bitter? Is it any wonder we don't trust the government? We don't trust our leaders? We don't engage in civic demonstration or representative democracy? We don't expect anyone can fix the economy? Do you wonder why we don't expect there to be social security? Why we barely turn out for elections? We're too young to be cynical we're told. Bullshit. We're too old not to be and too young to be anything else.

Right now the legislature is in "emergency talks" to raise the debt limit and prevent a government default. The Republicans are cynically and manipulatively trying to pass a plan that will control how the default will spread so that they don't alienate seniors by allowing social security to dry up. The Democrats are doing their best to ignore the fact that the current fiscal situation actually is untenable. Both sides dither over numbers while ignoring two critical parts of the puzzle. One is that the military and military operations account for 40% of the budget, meaning that anyone who is serious about cutting the deficit must cut the military, and getting out of a prolonged guerrilla war is a good start. More important, however, is that America is not a budget.

America is not a budget. We are not a company. We are not a conglomeration, an incorporation, or a charter. America is an idea. America is a piece of paper. That piece of paper is bleeding.

America is not buildings and roads. It is not a miltary and guns. It is not a social security network or medicare plan or schools or cities or mountains or forests or anything else. These are things America has but not what it is. America is an idea, and that idea is freedom. That freedom hasn't existed for ten years.

Are you used to it? Do you think about it? Do you even notice it?

I do. Every damn day.

I can't not notice it.

Think about what it's like when you drive and you see a police car behind you. You're not speeding, you're obeying all traffic laws, but there he is. Perhaps he's not even following you, the officer's not even paying attention to you, but the car's route is coincidental with yours, at least for a stretch. Think of how it makes you nervous, of how much closer you watch the speedometer, how much more carefully you obey lights and traffic signals, how you studiously avoid your phone. I'm worse. When I was in high school and got my driver's license I had a Pennsylvania junior license. It restricted a lot of things for the first eighteen months you were licensed to drive or until you turned eighteen, whichever came first, which meant if you got your license after 16 1/2, you were probably going to get your actual license by aging out, not by passing the year and a half mark. Remember when 9/11 happened? Well just as I was coming off my junior license suddenly cops had a lot more power. I never left that sixteen year-old paranoia that the cops might report me to my parents, it just replaced parents with something else.

That happened with nearly every part of public life for my generation. We traded the supervision of our parents for the supervision of the government. We traded it right when we were supposed to be independent adults. And the worst part is that it was traded for us. Remember, the Patriot Act was passed before that first election we could participate in. We had no say in the officials who passed it, only disappointment in the officials we've elected who've maintained it.

I used to believe in America. Really, truly. I knew that I was naive, that America didn't work the way I'd been taught, but at least I would have a say in this country. At one point I'd even planned on military service and was on a list of three final candidates to attend the United States Naval Academy. I knew America was great, not because she had the best education or infrastructure or the biggest budget or any other metric of prosperity. I knew America was great because the idea of America was great. It was a two-hundred year old experiment in human potential and at last I was going to get to take part.

Then it was ripped away.

I remember being in shock, an almost fugue state, when the pictures of tortured Iraqi prisoners were released. I remember horror when our president refused to condemn torture. I remember disappointment when Obama stopped trying to shut down Guantanamo Bay. These were not things America participated in, I knew, but that America didn't exist anymore.

I've only just recently come to realize how significant it was that I was on the bring of that change. It affords a perspective on the path of this country that really can't be matched. I'm hardly a centrist - I'm a proud registered Republican yet I've never voted for one outside of a primary, and wrote in most of my votes to protest gerrymandering in the latest PA election - yet I manage to piss off both the left and the right in the rare situations when I can be persuaded to discuss politics. My political views are almost never politically-related, though they're doubtlessly politically-influenced, because the political institutions are meaningless. I watched them crumble. I watched them fall.

This year will be the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. No doubt it will be solemnly commemorated and the dead honored and mourned, both of which are as they should be. I also have no doubt there will be renewed protests on the Patriot Act, it's renewal, and what I suspect will be a demonstration in poor taste about the death of America intended as a reference to the Patriot Act. Take all of that according to your own belief. I will mourn the dead and I will attend what protests I can, especially if they involve more than a meaningless petition or changing my Facebook status. Yet what I will be mourning for, privately and save for this post, secretly, will be the adulthood lost to my generation. The potential we never tasted, the citizenship in a free country that we were promised as that dream was ripped from us.

We are America, or at least we once were.

We can do better.