Take a stand for justice

Tiffany,

I have a bit of a confession to make – I am addicted to Youtube. I am totally fascinated by this social media outlet. If you want to find educational videos on any given topic, you can find it on Youtube. Or, if you want a cute British guy reading the book Twighlight, you can find that too. Maybe you like videos of cute cats or of babies doing silly things – are those a few of your favorite things? Fear not, you can find them on Youtube. With Youtube, people have taken the art of video creation to new and uncharted territories.

With that said, I often find myself saying ‘there’s three minutes of my life wasted’ after watching videos on Youtube. Most of them are dreadful, but occasionally a video will come along that will spark my interest and keep me coming back for more. And, more often than not I will make my Facebook friends suffer with the videos that I enjoy.

Today I came across a video called Surprise Party – it’s the latest Youtube viral video. All told, I am not sure I think the video is as hilarious as some people are making it out to be, but I must admit there is a certain charm to it: low production values coupled with a hot guy making fun of a Saturday Night live clip does have a certain appeal to it.

However, my main reason for posting this is because I was shocked and horrified by many of the comments I read in response to this video. Every gay-bashing word or phrase you could think of has been thrown at this man. Many of the comments simply read ‘Are you gay?’ or ‘gayyyyyy’.

As I read more and more of these hateful comments I started to think of the string of gay-related suicides we have experienced over the last couple of weeks. My blood began to boil. Where the hell are the priorities of these people who are bullying Craigery Morgan, the creator of this video? Have we not learned anything from these tragic deaths? Have we no shame?

The time is now for bystander intervention. I challenge all of you to call out gay-bashing when you see it. Respond to the bullying comments on this Youtube video and take a stand. I don’t care if you like the video, or hate it. That isn’t the point. No longer can we idly sit by and ignore hate and ignorance.

Take a stand for justice. Thank you.

Share

Advertisements

It Gets Better and Better!

Tiffany,

I was really excited today when I read this article in The Advocate. Apparently, the It Gets Better project has become so popular, that their Youtube site has been maxed out on video submissions. This is fantastic news!

Keep up the good work everyone,

Tad

Share

It Gets Better

Tiffany,

No doubt you are just as saddened as I am by the number of reported gay-related suicides that have occurred the past couple of weeks. My hope is that news of these deaths will wake people up and shake the apathy from their brains. People need to realize that being a gay youth in our culture can be very challenging – and they need do something about it.

To a certain degree, this is already happening. Within the GLBTQ community there has been an upsurge of activism. One project I am particularly fond of is the It Gets Better Project which was spearheaded by Dan Savage. The mission of the project is help youth see a future for themselves beyond the present moment.

The project calls upon the entire GLBTQ community to submit videos to the project that share personal stories about how life can get better. If Tiffany and I can gain access to a video camera, we would love to shoot our own video. In the meantime, one of the most touching stories I have seen so far is Tim Gunn’s.

Check out It’s Gets Better and The Trevor Project for more information on how you can help. Thank you.

Share

P90X – Bring it!

Tiffany,

In the straight world, it’s acceptable for men to be out of shape, sports-watching, beer-bellied tools. We even make furniture for these lazy bastards. Have you seen the sofas that have cup holders and built in remote controls? Many of them even recline. Are we so lazy that we have to have special cup holders in our furniture? Apparently, the answer is yes.

In the gay universe, the picture of what a man should look like is often very different. Sure, we do have the ‘bear’ community is that is all about excessive body hair and leather, but then there are the rest of us. Most magazines that cater to gay men are full of advertisements featuring some smooth half-naked man with washboard abs and a butt you could bounce a quarter off of. This doesn’t upset me. Images of men with firm athletic bodies are the norm in our culture. Rush Limbaugh need not apply.

The point is that society sends mixed messages as to what we should look like. As a result, many of us have had to deal with body image issues. For me, it started at a young age. I was always the puny little kid in school who was asked to play ‘skins’ during a game of dodge ball with those hard red rubber balls. I was always picked last on every team challenge in PE class. I had the grace and speed of a turtle and very little strength to boot. I was the kid that got hit by the baseball because I was too afraid to get out of the way. On a good day, I kept the bench warm for the other players.

But now, all these years later, it’s my turn. I have just completed my first round of P90X and have started my second. I am the fucking alpha dog now and nothing is going to stop me! No red rubber balls, no playground bullies – nothing. I can punch and kick like it’s nobody’s business. I can even show a Yogi a thing or two with my moves. So, while the bullies of yesteryear are drinking and eating fatty foods while they sit on their sofas complete with cup holders and built-in remote, I am now in the best shape I have ever been in. I’m takin’ back the power and it feels really good.

I will be blogging periodically on my P90X progress. If you are also on the program – especially if you were a geeky gay kid, let’s work together to ensure our success. And Tiffany, I know you’ve been wanting to try the program, so now is your chance!

Bring it!

Share

Civilization 5: Build an empire to stand the test of time?

Tiffany,

I can still remember the day that I purchased my first computer. It was a very happy day, indeed! It was a white Packard Bell with a 386 processor, 120 megabytes of memory and two floppy disc drives. The fan was louder than hell and the machine took forever to load up, but I loved it dearly. Of course, having a computer meant that I had to purchase computer games to play. One day, my mom and I took a trip into Portland to do some shopping. We ended up at Lloyd Center, one of the city’s shopping centers. I was on a mission to find accessories for my computer, and find them, I did!

As I perused the shelves of the game store looking for a game, I came across Sid Meier’s Civilization. I carefully examined the box and read every bit of text on both the front and back covers – I was especially careful to make sure that the game would run on my system. Tiffany, you might not know this about me, but I tend to look at items I want to purchase multiple times before I actually decide to purchase it. And, this was no different. I must have looked at the game at least three times before my mom and I were ready to leave the mall. But, on the way out to the car I had a shopping bag in hand with Civilization tucked inside waiting to be played.

Box art for the original Civilization

When I got into the car, the first thing I did was unwrap the game. Back in those days, computer games came in insanely huge boxes. So, unwrapping them actually took a bit of effort. The first thing I noticed in the box was the game manual. It was easily over 100 pages long and at that moment the words of the store clerk who sold me game came to mind: make sure you have some time to dedicate to this game, because you’re going to need it! He wasn’t kidding.

We lived about an hour and half away from Portland, so on the way home I had plenty of time to read through the manual in the car. The more I read, the more excited I was to play this new game. And, when I finally got to play Civilization, it did not disappoint. My experience playing Civilization sparked a romance with PC gaming that has lasted more years than I care to disclose.

I have played every version of Civilization that has been released. I have enjoyed some more than others, but each new iteration of the game has sparked my love of the series and rekindles my romance with PC games in general. So, it was no surprise to me that on the day Civilization V was released, I greedily snatched up a copy. Tiffany, that was after we had lunch together and went shopping, remember?

Civilization V box art

When I opened up Civ V, I was taken back to the day I opened the original Civilization game. Unlike the original game, Civilization V didn’t have any game manual whatsoever. Nothing. A fold out map of the technologies you can research was included, but I’ve never found those very useful. Who has the time and space to unfold a poster-sized technology tree for a video game? And, would you really want to? What would your neighbors think? It’s just not sexy.

No friends, this isn't sexy either.

Now, the death of the video game manual is nothing new, but for a gamer who has been an avid supporter of this series since its inception, it feels like I am being cheated. After all, no game is so simple as to not need a manual. And, for first-time players, providing a game manual is the least the developers could do. Besides, I feel like not including a game manual is just cheap ploy to get me to purchase a cheesy strategy guide. Yeah, well, I am not buying it.

But, enough about manuals – on to the game. My intent here is not to provide a comprehensive review of the game. Rather, I wish to share some general observations on some of the game features and mechanics. Hopefully my observations will spur a conversation in the comments section (hint, hint). Civilization V has made a number of changes to the series – some good, some not so good. The first, and most obvious change players will find is that they have changed the grid on the map from square tiles to hexagons. This allows more freedom of movement with your units and adds a level of strategy to the military component of the game.

Furthermore, they have instituted a new system that only allows players to occupy one military unit per tile (1UPT). This prevents players from amassing huge armies (or ‘stacks of doom’ as they are often called) on one tile. This system is a great idea in theory, but in game terms it’s not all that great. While the new 1UPT system adds a chess-like strategy component to the military game, the computer AI is unable to use the system effectively. In fact, I have found military conquest in Civ V to be easier than in previous versions of the game. This is highly unfortunate given that Civ V tends to focus more on the military aspect of the game and drives players down a path of playing a military conquest  game, rather than a cultural or diplomatic game.

Indeed, what is culture Comic Book Guy? Civ V has me wondering.

Civ V’s military strategy also disappoints in that any land unit now has the ability to transform itself into a boat and sail around the world. There is no more need to build troop transports in order to move units across the ocean. To this, all I have to say is WTF? In previous versions of Civ, it used to be fun to back up and corner enemy units along the coastline. Now, that level of strategy is obsolete since any unit is ‘more than meets the eye’ and can transform into boats faster than you can say ‘Autobots, transform!’.

I'm a cannon, now I'm a boat! Wait, now I am Optimus Prime!

Graphically, there have been a number of changes to the game as well. I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the game’s graphics, but the game is much more stylized than any of its predecessors. For that, I have to give the game props. The game takes on an art-deco feel and for the most part, the style works well for the series – and being a gay guy who likes old Hollywood, I can dig it. The actual game map is a bit of a disappointment, however. Colors are muted, textures such as trees that were once animated 3-D objects in Civ IV are now painted and lifeless. Roads and railroads also render poorly and don’t flow in a logical fashion. Furthermore, cities that are built near water tiles will often place buildings on water tiles. In one game, I had a city build a colosseum in the middle of the ocean. It was like having Lex Luthor and his cronies at the Hall of Doom lurking right outside my city waiting to spring a surprise attack. So, while I approve of the art-deco approach, the game has a number of graphical bugs that are simply unacceptable for a world-class franchise like Civilization.

I think I speak for myself, don't you?

In conjunction with the art-deco graphical style, Civ V has created a more streamlined user interface (UI) that I want to like, but ultimately find myself continually frustrated with. While I appreciate their attempts to not overload the player with too much data, the developers have ended up providing the player with not nearly enough information. For example, statistics on rival civilizations are almost impossible to find and city management is over-simplified to the point of not being enjoyable. Managing your budget, happiness and production have are now mostly automated or largely dependent upon what city improvement you build.  However, it’s not always clear exactly how these new mechanics work. Additionally, trying to access information on what world wonders have been built, what rival civilizations think of you, and what the top cities of the world are have been completely eliminated from the game. That’s like, so not cool, man!

There are a number of other issues I could discuss, but the last one I will mention is diplomacy. In short, the diplomatic functions included in the game don’t seem to work, and some diplomatic functions are strangely absent. For example, you can no longer trade technologies with rival civilizations. This particular function was one I often use as a player because it’s a great way to bolster up weaker rival civilizations when they are threatened by larger, more powerful ones. Further, in Civ V I have gone to war with many civilizations who will, on the turn following a peace treaty with me, ask to form a pact of cooperation with me. That’s like if Gargamel were to one day suddenly have a change of heart and become best friends with the Smurfs. It simply isn’t going to happen.

No, really! I want to be friends now, seriously!!

All told, I think Civ V has a long road ahead. While it does incorporate some unique changes to the game, it fails to deliver on some very basic levels. While the new hex system, military combat system, and streamlined UI all have potential to make Civ V a great gaming experience, those features simply fail to deliver a gaming experience that is fun, interactive, and sustainable. Additionally, diplomacy and interactions with rival civilizations is simply an unenjoyable experience. Negotiations with civilizations are rarely satisfactory and players never know what the long-term consequences of those negotiations are.

Hey Civ developers, did you hire Obama to program your AI? Just curious.

I have been keeping a close eye on the forums over at Civfanatics. It appears that Civ V has polarized the Civilization fanbase in a number of ways and that I am not the only one left scratching my head in disbelief. Many seem to love it, and many, like myself, are not yet sold. The potential here is great, but I can’t help feel like the game, in its current state, is incomplete. So although my love of the series continues to be strong, I must admit I am disappointed.

Undoubtedly there will be patches and expansion packs to come. With that in mind, in what direction should Civilization V go next?

Update: Steam just finished downloading the latest patch the game. Can’t wait to see what’s new!

Share

OMD and the meaning of music; part 2

Tiffany,

When we last left our hero, (me) I was just getting ready to listen to ‘History of Modern’, the new OMD album, for the very first time. I had my headphones on and a fresh cup of coffee in hand. For this blog entry, I had planned on writing a track by track review of the album, but I have found the process incredibly difficult to do. Instead, I’ve decided to share some general thoughts and impressions.

Of course, it goes without saying that my biggest fear in buying this album is that it would suck. Let’s be honest, how often do our favorite bands from our youth tend to get worse with age? Even worse, how many of them don’t seem to recognize that fact? I am still recovering from the atrocity that is Duran Duran’s worst selling record of all time, Red Carpet Massacre. Duran Duran goes ‘urban’? I think not. Anyway, I wondered if after 14 years, would OMD still be able to make good music?

The first day I listened to ‘History of Modern’ I listened to it over and over again – each time listening more and more closely to each track, each arrangement and every note. The more I listened, the happier I became that my old friend had not only returned, but had returned in top form. Truth be told, ‘History of Modern’ ranks highly among the other albums in OMD’s glorious discography. In fact, it’s arguably their best album since ‘Architecture and Morality’ was released in the early ’80s. That’s saying a lot.

History of Modern promo shot of OMD's Paul Humphreys and Andy McCluskey

‘History of Modern’ opens with a raw, energetic number called ‘New Babies: New Toys‘. After I listened to this song, any doubts I had about OMD still being able to write and record quality music quickly disappeared. It blends edgy guitars and buzzing synth melody that knocks your socks off. It’s a side of OMD that is rarely seen, but it’s a fucking fantastic side! In my opinion, it should be a single – it’s simply that good.

Paul Humphreys

What I like most about this album is that OMD are true to their roots, but the album is very modern – this is not completely about nostalgia. This is not 1982 take two. At times, the album is experimental with songs like ‘New Holy Ground‘ that use the sound of a woman walking in heels as the beat, and the gorgeous, eight-minute long ‘The Right Side?‘. At other times with songs like ‘The Future, the Past and Forever After‘ and ‘Sister Marie Says‘ the album is just the damn good, unapologetic pop music that OMD is known for.

Andy McCluskey

Andy McCluskey

For me, one of the things I love most about OMD is their use of choir oohs and aahs. I simply melt at what these men can do with a choir sample. And, in that respect, ‘History of Modern’ doesn’t disappoint, either. OMD’s use of choirs on this album is in many ways more inventive and beautiful than on any of their previous releases. For proof of this, one need look no further than ‘History of Modern (part 2)‘ and ‘The Right Side?’; both are simply stunning pieces of art.

OMD

All told, the new OMD album is a triumphant return for one of the most innovative bands in the electronic music movement. They are a band that has played an enormously important role in my life. They inspire, they rekindle fond memories of friends and my grandfather, and I will always be indebted to them. Welcome back, friends!

OMD and the meaning of music; part 1

Tiffany,

I talked a little bit last week about the release of the new OMD album, ‘History of Modern’, but would like to spend a bit more time talking about OMD today.

The music of OMD has played a number of important roles in my life over the years. For me, OMD is not so much about music as it is about an entire experience. I will do my best to explain what I mean by that in this post. I mentioned before that I first fell in love with OMD when the movie ‘Pretty in Pink‘ came out. Their song ‘If you leave’ was one of the standout tracks on the movie’s soundtrack, and was a huge radio hit here in America. For some reason, I remember riding the bus home from school with that song playing on the radio. I thought to myself that ‘If you leave’ was one of the coolest songs I had ever heard. To this day, I still think that is true – it’s a prefect pop song.

OMD's 'If you leave'

I later reconnected with the band around 1993 when they released their ‘Liberator‘ album. That particular record is not one of my OMD favorites, but it was good enough to rekindle my romance with the band. At that point, I began to purchase any and all OMD records I didn’t already have. Finding the album ‘Pacific Age’ turned out to be a particular challenge given that the album had been deleted by the record company. But, on a weekend home from college I was dumbfounded when I found it searching in a discount bin at a K-Mart of all places. Probably the only think K-Mart has been good for…well, that and Martha Stewart!

When I was on campus at the University of Portland, I spent many Saturday afternoons at my favorite record store in Portland (2nd Ave Records) searching through boxes and boxes of LPs and CDs trying to find rare or imported OMD albums. My heart would leap with joy when I would find something new. I must admit that there was an element of rivalry in this, too. My friend Joel and I both loved the same bands and we would often try to ‘one up’ each other with our latest finds. In fact, the rivalry was such that the staff at 2nd Ave Records began to recognize me as ‘that OMD guy’. I would like to think my enthusiasm for the band was charming to them.

OMD's 'Everyday' - One of many 2nd Ave finds!

It was also during this time that I remember hanging out one day in Portland with two of my old best friends from High School; Jacob and Josh. We were blasting OMD’s ‘Dollar Girl’ in Jacob’s car as we cruised down the avenue. Jacob and Josh didn’t really like the same kind of music as me, but they let me have my moment and I loved it: the bass was pumping and we didn’t have a care in the world. Sadly, a few short months later, Jacob unexpectedly passed away. I will always remember that time in his car together as one of my fondest memories. To this day, I often think of him and Josh when I listen to that song.

In 1996 I took a vacation to visit my grandparents in Long Beach California (my birthplace, by the way). This was shortly after my father had passed away. One day, my grandfather and I spent our time record shopping together. He was big fan of classical music, movie soundtracks and being a Scot, traditional Scottish music. We went to many music stores on our journey, having long conversations about music as we went from shop to shop. He took my interest in music more seriously than anyone else. And, as luck would have it, that day in the Virgin Megastore in Newport turned out to be a goldmine of finds for me. There, sitting in the import bin was a copy of OMD’s latest album ‘Universal‘. I eagerly snatched it up along with copies of the album’s debut single ‘Walking on the Milky Way’ and couldn’t wait to get back to my grandparents house to hear the new album. Little did I know at the time that ‘Universal’ would be OMD’s last album until this year’s ‘History of Modern’.

OMD's 'Universal'

I was devastated when OMD retired after Universal failed to generate the commercial buzz the band had hoped for. I had not realized just how important they had become to me. I was a young guy trying to figure himself out: who was I? Was I gay? What did I believe in? Was it ok to be me? Why did my father have to die? I didn’t know the answers to any of those questions. But, I all knew was that when I put on an OMD record all my problems melted away. All I felt was music – glorious music!

Even though OMD had retired, I continued my hunt for rare OMD material and continued to play their records with just as much passion. I felt like I had won the lottery when I purchased a deleted copy of OMD’s single ‘Sailing on the Seven Seas’ because the word ‘Orchestral’ had been misspelled as ‘Orchstral’ on the spine of the CD. I treated each new purchase as prized possession and I cherished every new b-side track I found as if it were a rare gemstone.

Front Cover of OMD's Ltd. Edition CD single 'Sailing on the Seven Seas'

In the meantime, I began writing my own electronic music on my computer. I would sit in the dark and listen to OMD songs over and over again and ask myself ‘how the hell did they do THAT?’ and then do my best to figure it out on my computer. For years I have been tinkering away at my computer trying to write an OMD song but always failing. Whenever I sit down to write, OMD is always in the back of my head and I am always trying to emulate them. I will never write anything as good as OMD, I am simply not that talented; but, I sure do enjoy trying.

During 2005 when it was announced that OMD would be reuniting, I was a like a compass near north. At that time, the band expected only to tour together, not write. But, words can not describe the emotion I felt when I heard the band had decided to return to the studio and write a new record. It was as if a long lost friend who had helped me through some really tough times was returning.

The day the album finally arrived, I told my partner that I would be spending the majority of the day listening to the album. There would be no talking, there would be no phone calls, there would be no interruptions whatsoever. And, I was damn serious! My day was for OMD, and nobody else but OMD. First, I unwrapped the box, and took pictures during the process. I carefully removed the LPs, examined the gate-fold artwork, and then made my way to the CD, carefully unwrapping the shrink wrap. I practically sprinted to my computer to download the tracks to my i-Tunes library so I could begin listening. To prepare, I grabbed a fresh cup of coffee, put my headphones on and eagerly awaited to push the play button…

OMD's History of Modern box set

The end, Part 1

Share