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Ben Lehman

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Seven Topics [Feb. 8th, 2012|03:27 pm]
Ben Lehman
This blog has lain fallow of late: I've been blogging over at benlehman.wordpress.com , but this looked fun: seven topics. Comment and I will give you seven topics of your own.

1. Your Amber game.

Run by amberite, Blood Lines is a pretty cool Amber game which, using some odd canon tweaks, manages to both exist within a (mostly) canonical timeline and provide the PCs with a fresh, new multiverse that they are the unqualified masters of. This is a pretty cool tightrope to walk, and so far it's worked out wonderfully. It is also neat for me because the primary concern of the players (and thus a lot of the characters) seems to be about exploration of this universe with a hefty side-dose of thematic content, rather than gaining marginal advantage. Often in Amber people pursue stuff because it gives their character a leg up on the others, in this case, we are pretty much of equal mind that we do things because we think that they're cool and interesting. So basically a lot of it is we get together and geek out about philosophy of infinite worlds, and so on.

One of the interesting things about the game is that it is, for me, resurrecting a play style which I haven't done since college, featuring both long sessions with a lot of in-character play and also the intentional building of a "fandom" of material around the game (for instance I've been designing the board games played in the worlds that my character spends a lot of his time in, and also invented a genre of poetry for one of the worlds... another player has been carefully crafting a cross-over universe with "My Little Pony," several people have been making soundtracks, etc.) It's more fun than I remember, for I think several reasons: the quality of play is generally higher, I think; we're less bashful about explicitly getting players on the same page with each other; I'm only doing this with one game, not several; there's no sense that this is universally "the right way" to play but rather that we're playing this way because it is interesting. So that's been a cool experience. I imagine in a year or so I will start to be able to process it into game design.

2. A game design thing you're into right now.

I'm in the middle of writing an essay for anyway called something like "in praise of the non-fiction: roleplaying as memoir." The thesis is basically that the primary constituent of the role-playing experience is not the fictional content of play, but they players and their interactions. This is referenced in Forge theory but, due to the structure and concerns of that theory, isn't really explored beyond "don't be a dick" in Ron's formulation and "being a dick means different things in different contexts" in Meg's. I'm beginning to look at it as a wholly positive thing, and trying to craft games as group experiences in communication, reflection, and self-expression rather than as fiction generators.

My John Woolman game is a first stab at expressing this theory in terms of game design. The fiction generated by it is, specifically in some instances, not dramatic. It is specifically quite day-to-day. But the hope is that the game will allow players some opportunity of understanding and communicating about slavery, politics, grace, forgiveness, and atonement.

3. What's good to eat in Portland?

JC Rice Noodle has the best chow fun I've ever had. Including in China.

4. A history thing you've recently discovered.

John Woolman mentioned above is pretty amazing. He nearly single-handedly, in the 18th century, convinced a major US denomination (the Quakers) to not only liberate their slaves, not only pay them back wages, but to become major political supporters of abolition as well as material supporters of the underground railroad and similar movements. Some astonishing things about Woolman: he managed this through individually convincing slave owners that slavery was wrong, rather than by force of arms or force of law; he got right the question of slave's wages, something which eludes mainstream America to this day; he raised the point that not only slaves, but also slave owners, were diminished by the institution of slavery, something which eludes many to this day; he was, by all accounts, an amazing and decent person to everyone he met.

Knowing that people this good can exist in the world somehow gives me comfort. Even though I know I will never be able to do that much good, I feel better for a world where it is possible to be that good.

5. A thought on recent politics.

Just talking with Jake about this: It is amazing to me the degree to which changing one's mind has become a hallmark of insincerity in American politics. To be clear: I believe that insincerity in politicians is a serious problem, and that the structure of our system (with primary and general elections) makes insincerity a worse problem than it would be otherwise. But the idea that someone changing their mind is somehow indicative of insincerity is bizarre: in fact, it seems to be the opposite of true. A person who changes their mind on important issues may be sincere or insincere. But someone who, despite changes in facts and situations, never changes their mind, is clearly and irrefutably insincere, because no human actually works like that.

6. The last awesome thing you've baked/cooked.

I've been making a lot of pasta with boiled cauliflower sauce. It's really easy, tasty, and provides a huge amount of vegetables in with your cheap starches.

1 large head cauliflower
1 tin anchovies or anchovy paste to taste
Red pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, chopped
scant 1/4 cup olive oil
half bunch flat-leafed (Italian) parsley, chopped
1 lb pasta, ideally shaped pasta such as penne

parm cheese to taste on the side.

Boil water. Remove stems and leaves from cauliflower and chop in half. Boil 20-35 minutes, until very tender when pricked.
Meanwhile, put olive oil, anchovies, and red pepper in a skillet under lowest possible heat. Mash anchovies with the back of a wooden spoon and stir infrequently until they have wholly dissolved into the oil. Turn heat to medium low, add garlic. Cook on low heat until the garlic is pale gold, then reduce hit to minimum.
When cauliflower is done, remove from water, add to skillet. Using a potato masher or fork, mash the cauliflower as fine as possible, stirring with anchovy-oil mixture. If a finer texture is needed, add a cup of pasta water and boil it off. Keep warm.
Meanwhile, add pasta to water. Cook until done.
Mix pasta, mashed cauliflower, and parsley in pan. Serve hot, with cheese on the side.

7. Any good manga you've been reading?
Nope, sadly. :(

From: yeloson
2012-02-09 12:26 am (UTC)
It is amazing to me the degree to which changing one's mind has become a hallmark of insincerity in American politics

I think a major part of the problem is media and general punditry refuses to acknowledge the difference between:

- Changing one's mind in light of new thoughts/evidence/philosophy
- Changing one's mind out of immediate political pressure
- Changing one's mind back and forth depending on what's most convenient for the moment.

The latter two are worth calling out, the first is worth commending at least in a general sense.

Any 7 you want to toss me?
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[User Picture]From: benlehman
2012-02-09 01:14 am (UTC)
Oh, jeez, this is not easy.

1) Thoughts on identity as "geek" or "nerd" as identity labels? Both for yourself, and the general politics.
2) If you could introduce one food item into mainstream American cuisine, what would it be and why?
3) Most weird part of anatomy.
4) Why the interest in Islam? Any interest in converting?
5) Do you have a desire to leave behind a legacy? If so, what? If not, why not?
6) Question you have not been asked yet, which you were hoping for.
7) Answer to 6)
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[User Picture]From: benlehman
2012-02-09 02:18 am (UTC)
Yes, although I would speak up in favor of #2 (changing one's mind out of immediate political pressure.) Sometimes it is good for representatives to bow to the will of their constituents. This has often been a very positive force in the marriage equality struggle, for instance.

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From: yeloson
2012-02-09 02:35 am (UTC)
While it is good, it's still worth pointing out the whys and the hows of the change and not allowing it to pass unmarked that it was not on the politician's own initiative.
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[User Picture]From: kleenestar
2012-02-09 12:46 am (UTC)
I need some help getting back to blogging, so, yes, give me topics!!
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[User Picture]From: benlehman
2012-02-09 01:03 am (UTC)
1) It's 100 years in the future. You're a professor in the "interactive and instructional art" (read: games) department, teaching a 300 or 400-level criticism seminar. What topic are you covering? What's the syllabus?

2) From a Jewish perspective, how can we approach the modern Israeli state? Not in terms of abstract ideas, necessarily, but in terms of how Israel's society, culture, and international relations have turned out, and continue to turn out.

3) Book recommendations? One entertaining, one academic.

4) For whatever reason, you find that you have to relocate to a foreign country, permanently. Where and why?

5) How's the thesis coming?

6) Any interesting game-theoretical stuff that's come up with you recently, not necessarily related to any active projects, just things that have crossed your mind?

7) Next time I'm in NYC, will I be able to extract you for a trip to the Halal Xi'annese restaurant?
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[User Picture]From: kitsuchan
2012-02-11 05:22 pm (UTC)
Actually, it's not the Xian restaurant that's halal, it's the Lanzhou pulled noodles place.
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[User Picture]From: benlehman
2012-02-12 12:12 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: metalfatigue0
2012-02-09 01:10 pm (UTC)
I wish to challenge you. You barely know me. Can you come up with seven interesting topics for me?
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[User Picture]From: benlehman
2012-02-09 09:10 pm (UTC)
1) I primarily know you from AmberCon NW. Why fly across the country just to hole up in a hotel and play games?

2) I hand you Bliss Stage, as a property, to do as you wish. What do you do, and why? No fair immediately handing it off.

3) Outside of playing RPGs, do you have other kinds of creative expression, what are they?

4) What's your favorite pie. Why?

5) If you were trying to give advice to someone who wanted to learn computer programming, where would you start?

6) Why do you live where you live? If you could live somewhere else, where would it be?

7) Any pets? Why or why not?
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[User Picture]From: metalfatigue0
2012-02-10 02:01 am (UTC)
Answers here.
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[User Picture]From: benlehman
2012-02-10 11:42 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: kitsuchan
2012-02-11 05:21 pm (UTC)
I also need an impetus to get back to LJ.
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[User Picture]From: benlehman
2012-02-12 12:52 am (UTC)
Weren't you going full DW?

This is actually harder than the ones above, for Seth, because I know you a little too well.

1) Make a cogent argument about who's the best kitty. Cite sources.

2) What are a few things (more than two, less than eight) that non-historian Americans should absolutely know about history, but usually don't?

3) You have been chosen as an adviser to the new Chinese emperor. Recommendations?
(if your only recommendation is "find better advisers" you may be executed.)

4) Good new music? Bad new music?

5) Through bizarre circumstances, you end up with a professorship of East Asian History (or whatever is appropriate) at Chicago. Teaching an intro course, you are surprised to see your younger self as one of your students. Keeping in mind that you're her professor and not a personal confidant, what advice do you give her?

6) What have you been cooking lately? What do you want to cook, but don't have time / resources for?

7) What should I have asked about? (just say the question, don't answer it.)
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[User Picture]From: amberite
2012-02-13 12:17 am (UTC)
It makes me so happy that Blood Lines makes you so happy! I really need to put up the website so that we can share our cruft with the Internet at large.

I don't know if I have time to answer seven topics of my own right now.
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[User Picture]From: mtfierce
2012-02-13 06:42 am (UTC)
Hrm. I'd happily take seven topics. [I say, "Happily" because it means more procrastination on those other things I'm not doing.]
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