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Month: September 2022

A Millennial Learns the Hard Way to Act Her Wage

A Millennial Learns the Hard Way to Act Her Wage

Recently we enjoyed the Netflix limited series Inventing Anna, based on the real-life story of a young woman who scammed New York high society for a good while during the 2010s. A lot of the show focuses on the high life – international travel, high-end hotels, designer clothes, expensive food and drink.

It reminded me of how movies from the 1930s were often about the well-to-do; everyone is in top hats and tails or fancy dresses with low cut backs, attending parties with ever flowing champagne. What Great Depression?

Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise is a delightful pre-Hayes code 1930s film about con artists travelling in high society.

Those movies were a form of escapism, and I got a similar vibe from this show, with its Millennials living like the Kardashians. But that’s not the norm for Millennials, right? Millennials are suffering in this economy, right? From watching Inventing Anna, you’d barely know – there are no gripes about student loans or the impossible cost of living, just young people living large. That’s why it struck me as a parallel to the films of the 1930s; it’s entertainment obsessing and focusing on the lives of the wealthy, while pushing the troubled nature of the economy out of sight.

It might not be fair to say that the titular character Anna was simply a con artist. Aileen and I had a discussion about this after we finished the show. In my opinion, she wasn’t a straight-up scammer in the Jimmy McGill sense. She was self-deluded and trying to accomplish something using sheer gumption and wishful thinking; she was trying to “fake it until you make it.” She was living way beyond her means while attempting to get a huge loan for a business venture, for which purpose she engaged in some technically fraudulent activities. She got caught because she exhausted her credit, and was charged with crimes, convicted and sentenced to prison (she has since been released).

But what if she had pulled off her scheme? What if she had somehow gotten the loan and started the business and made it profitable and joined high society for good, to the point that she had a cadre of fancy lawyers who could clean up her little bit of fraud behind her. Fait accompli. Then she just might have been another highly successful “art of the deal” type scammer. Like, you know, the guy who was President of the United States at the time.

My Man Godfrey is another 1930s film set in high society, which actually addresses class issues and The Great Depression.

Critiques of the show and of the magazine article on which it is based have tied the story to the class issues facing Millennials, as well as to the erosion of standards of truth and honesty that characterized the previous administration. Young adults today see the lives of the rich and famous plastered all over media, even while the chance at upward mobility is denied them, with economic opportunity available to fewer and fewer people as income inequality worsens. Why shouldn’t they do whatever it takes to make it?

Anna Sorokin had none of the qualifications for entering the world of fashionable socialites, but the lure of that lifestyle was irresistible to her. So she invented the qualifications; she created a “German heiress” persona and she attempted to insert herself into high society simply by acting like the people there do. What’s astonishing is that, for a few years at least, it worked. All she had to do to become a socialite was to act like one.

You might say that Sorokin didn’t act her wage, and for that paid a high price in reputation, and even lost her freedom (though I understand she got a handsome payout from the Netflix series production). What does it even mean to act your wage? This question leads me to the concept of “Hidden Rules of Class,” which I learned about in a workshop called “Bridges out of Poverty” that was held at one of my workplaces.

The concept of the hidden rules of economic class is that living in a particular socioeconomic class means having certain attitudes about and approaches to dealing with life’s basics. For example, with respect to money: when you live in poverty, money is simply something you need to survive. Easy come, easy go. But when you are middle class, money is something you have to manage – you have to tend it the way a farmer husbands livestock. When you are wealthy, money is now something to conserve. It’s more than a means to live, it’s a legacy.

If you’re wondering whether you are middle class or not, just ask yourself if you have to manage your money. If you have no savings or income surplus to work with and are just living hand to mouth, then, sorry, you are poor. But if you have the ability to live within your means, so long as you budget, and have enough leftover income after paying for necessities to plan how to use it – to save for big purchases or vacations (or retirement!) – then, congratulations, you are middle class. You might live in one of any number of tiers of the middle class, defined by the size of your house and the fanciness of your car and the cost of your vacations, but if you have to pay attention to your income and expenses, then you are middle class.

Only if you are truly in the wealthy class can you live like Anna Sorokin tried to live, casually travelling to anywhere on Earth and spending money on expensive luxuries without any thought. In that socioeconomic class, there is no concept of work-life balance, because you don’t work to live. You don’t go on vacation, you just live on the planet wherever you want, and naturally you choose pleasurable locations which for the middle class are occasional vacation destinations. You aren’t managing money at this point to get by, you are managing connections and exclusive memberships – your status is what you groom, not your account balances. The money takes care of itself.

That is how Anna lived, with incredible chutzpah, even though she wasn’t in the right class. And because she did it so naturally, she pulled it off – for awhile. It couldn’t last, of course, because there was no actual capital backing her up, just imaginary capital. I say she must have been self-deluded, because how else could she convince so many others of the reality of her delusional persona? Whether she realized it or not, she was taking advantage of the hidden rules of class to roleplay someone in the class she wished to be in, for as long as she could get away with it.

A Not So Fun Sandman Fact Check

A Not So Fun Sandman Fact Check

This post contains a mild spoiler about the Netflix series “The Sandman,” which we just started watching. If you don’t want a spoiler, don’t read any further! Stop now while there’s hope!

First I’ll just say that The Sandman on Netflix does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of Neil Gaiman’s comics, though I’m recalling that spirit through a very hazy fog of memory, since I read the comics decades ago. I am thoroughly enjoying the dark fantasy aesthetic of this new TV series, as well as the signature Gaiman storytelling style, which I would describe as forgivably clichéd.

While watching the first episode, I had a curious moment of synchronicity. One element of the story is the outbreak of “sleepy sickness,” or encephalitis lethargica, which occurred from roughly 1917-1927. In the fantasy show it is attributed to the imprisonment of Morpheus, the King of Dreams. Basically, if you mess with the immortal power behind sleep and dreams, you’re going to mess with people’s sleep cycles pretty hard.

My synchronicity experience was that I had literally just read an academic paper about this outbreak, earlier that same day. This article was examining historical evidence for sequelae (abnormal conditions resulting from a previous disease) to earlier pandemics which are similar to long COVID.

Here is a relevant quote:

The Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-1919) and Encephalitis Lethargica

The long-term neurological effects of the Spanish flu pandemic
of 1918 and 1919 included Parkinsonism, catatonia, and
“encephalitis lethargica”. The term encephalitis lethargica
was first used by the Austrian neurologist Constantin von
Economo in 1917 after he identified an increased number of
patients in Vienna with meningitis and delirium during the winters
of 1916 and 1917. In 1918, disorders that were similar
to encephalitis lethargica were reported elsewhere in Europe
and the United States, with a peak in cases in 1923 and a decline
over the course of the decade. Ravenholt and Foege
showed that in Seattle, Washington, clusters of deaths from
encephalitis lethargica significantly increased a year after the
winters of 1918 to 1922. Importantly, they also showed that
in American Samoa, which largely escaped the 1918 and 1919
influenza pandemic, there were very few cases of encephalitis
lethargica. In comparison, in Samoa (formerly known
as Western Samoa), where 8000 influenza deaths occurred,
there were 79 deaths due to encephalitis lethargica between
1919 and 1922.

In other words, sleepy sickness wasn’t the result of a supernatural mishap. It was “long Spanish influenza!”

It is understandable for this fantasy story to associate sleepy sickness with its main character’s fate, since there is such a strong thematic connection. But in reality, the disease is likely an effect of viral infection or exposure, a more mundane explanation but also one that is very relevant to us in these pandemic times.

There seems to be a wish or urge to put the COVID pandemic behind us, even though the virus is still circulating and still killing. The lesson of past pandemic sequelae is that the effects of COVID will be with us for years to come.

So You’re a Covidiot Now

So You’re a Covidiot Now

Early on during the pandemic I had these recurring dreams where I was out in public and then realized suddenly that neither I nor anyone around me was wearing a face mask. Shock and guilt would wash over me as I remembered that we were in a pandemic and that everyone was being irresponsible. What were we thinking?

Sometimes in these dreams I would be out walking around in a commercial district or in a city center; there would always be crowds. Frequently I would be at a gaming convention, sitting around a table with other gamers, setting up a board game. I was sure I missed the experience, and that’s where these dreams were coming from; we didn’t go to a board game convention after January 2020 for over two years. We went to one in Oaks, PA for one day this summer, and everyone (almost everyone) was wearing face masks.

And then we went to an annual con that I’ve been attending for over ten years, and spent four days in a hotel with a couple hundred people, most of whom were not wearing face masks. I mean, the pandemic is over, right? That’s what the President said.

My dreams turned out to be prophetic, as when we returned from the convention, I tested positive for COVID. I was feeling crappy on the Sunday drive back, but attributed it to burnout from all the marathon board gaming. When I still felt sick on Monday, I took the rapid antigen test and got the positive result.

I suppose it was inevitable, given how contagious the virus is, and given that we pretty much stopped the non-medical interventions. Not such a good idea, I guess. Luckily Aileen did not get sick, possibly because she had already caught COVID in May (when I was the one who dodged the bullet). This is just how it goes in Pandemic Phase II.

I’m not the only one who got sick at the con, either. Turns out it was a superspreader event! After all the tut-tutting I have done over people not following pandemic protocols, I got all casual and went and caught the bug. As the proverb says, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

So it’s not too bad. The worst symptom is tiredness and sleeping a lot. In the pre-corona era I would have just thought I had a bad cold and taken a couple of days off work and slept it off. The worst side effect of having COVID is being isolated from the family. No more dinner together or TV night.

I was able to get a prescription for PAXLOVID. I mean, quickly. I called my doctor’s office, and they set me up with a Zoom consultation that felt like a formality. “You tested positive and you have hypertension which is a risk factor – ok, I’ll send over a script…” Within a few hours I had the pills (a housemate picked them up since I am isolating).

So we’ll see how it goes; hopefully I will be back to “normal” soon. Back to normal but very conscious of what non-medical interventions can achieve. I think I will be spending a lot of time at home, nose to grindstone, for a couple of months. I’ll still be risking exposure since Aileen has to go out for her work. Time for our second boosters?

The Old Grognards Are Fading Away

The Old Grognards Are Fading Away

Grognard” is a word for an old soldier, but the term also has a special usage in gaming circles, meaning “Someone who enjoys playing older war-games or roleplaying games, or older versions of such games, when newer ones are available. [Example:] James is such a grognard, he only plays the original edition of Dungeons and Dragons.” I’m thinking about this term because I’ve been updating an old web 1.0 site that I still maintain which has some gaming content on it. As I’ve gone through the pages to clean up the content, I’ve discovered dead links which, from the structure of the URLs, clearly belong to the early days of the world wide web, and to an earlier generation of Internet users. That’s expected, since I set up the site twenty years ago. Often there are usernames embedded in the URLs of the dead links, and I have to wonder – what happened to those users? Did they move on to popular platforms, to social media? Did they just give up on updating their web sites and let them die off? Are they even alive any more?

I was updating my old site because I wanted to add some pages dedicated to a fantasy war game called Titan, which I used to play a lot back in the day. Both of the designers of this game, I have learned, are deceased. They would have been from the first generation of grognards, and they died too young. Their legacy lives on in the fan base surrounding their creation, but I have to wonder, how many of us fans are from the older generations, too? How many gamers from the younger generations are even aware of this old game’s existence, given all of the new games available today?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m grateful for the board game Renaissance that we live in today, with it’s incessant stream of new titles. I love trying out new games. But each wave of new board games can seem like a tidal flood, pushing the old games away. My little web site update project, revisiting an old game with an old style, has made me acutely aware that time is passing by the old ways. It’s left me with a wistful and nostalgic feeling. Will anyone miss us old grognards when we’ve all faded away?

Board Game Session Reports and Why I Like to Write Them

Board Game Session Reports and Why I Like to Write Them

I’ve mentioned the web site BoardGameGeek on this blog already. It’s a fantastic resource for board gamers, with a vast database of every board game ever created, past, present and future. By “future” I mean announced but not yet published titles, not that the web site has time travel capabilities!

It’s also an online community where board gamers review, discuss, clarify rules for, and share their experiences with board games. So as well as being as a resource for information about games, it is like a social media site for board gamers, albeit in the older forum-based format from the early web. If you go to my user profile, you can check out content I have uploaded, as well as see our entire board game collection.

One kind of content I really enjoy is the Session Report. This is a post linked to a board game (each board game has its own page and forums) that is about a session playing the game. Typically it would be about one play of the game, though I suppose one could write about playing the game multiple times in one report.

I like to write, and this format gives me a nice outlet. When I play a game, if it seems like a memorable time or if it brings to mind some point about strategy or etiquette, or any connection to anything for that matter, then I will think about how it could be written up as a session report. I usually try to get it written down within the next few days, before the memory has faded, and then I submit it on the BoardGameGeek site. It has to go through a period of moderation before actually appearing on the site, presumably to screen for irrelevant submissions.

Here’s an example of one kind of session report that I like to write, which tells a story. It’s like a little piece of fiction. This is actually the report with the most likes of any report I have written, and it’s based on a solo play of an adventure-style horror game:

This is another story format session report of a solo game, but it’s a play of a resource and development strategy board game, so some creative license is employed to turn it into a narrative:

Here’s another one that gets into a strategy discussion, with other uses contributing in the comments section. If you are not familiar with the game, it might not make much sense. This one is more useful for people who have played or want to play the specific game:

This one brings up a point about game etiquette, with other users weighing in on both sides of a question in the comments:

This is a report on a game played in the distant past! I dredged it up from long-term memory. I was delighted by the amount of engagement it got. I’m sure this is because so many users are from the older generation, like me. I plan a few more reports like this one:

I have written 36 or 37 Session Reports on BGG so far, which has earned me a Copper Session Reporter microbadge. When I get to 50, I will earn the Silver microbadge! The full list of Session Reports I have written is here:

I hope that people enjoy reading these reports as much I enjoy writing them.