Sunday, April 12, 2015

When In Doubt, Lay Out

The morning news is awash in the teasing that today Secretary Clinton will announce her candidacy for "the nation's highest office" along with the expected scree on a "historic candidate" because she is a woman. That is right. It will be historic. Many events are historic, in fact every event is. But the future is not made of anticipating how it will look in the future. The future is made of picking goals and achieving them as well as one can achieve them. There is nothing about being a woman that better suits her to being President. That is all cotton candy politics, the color and swirl of a taste of sugar that has no substance. One doesn't have to look further than next month's bills to know what the issues are, or to look at the massive trash piles in our oceans filled with cotton candy containers to understand what is in our future.

I've been a fan of Hillary Clinton since the Tammy Wynette answer. I have no doubt that she is qualified, capable and can make an excellent President. On the other hand, I am a white southern male and gasp, I live in Alabama. So in today's narrative, I am in the villain class, the hand picked, consensus driven makers of all that is evil and wrong in the world. It isn't so but what is perceived is believed and that is politics as practiced in the age of insubstantial consumption. I am also a musician and in music we have a guideline for communicating musically: when in doubt, lay out. And that is possibly what I should do, in fact, what men should do in this election. It isn't about us and we have no candidates who represent us because they need us to be their zanies, puppet fools for the bigger fool to converse with, to mirror and then make the punch line possible to the delight of the kings and their courts.

Let the women have this one, gentlemen. As long as they are serving cotton candy we can be sure this is a circus and after the elephants have been marched around the ring, pooped on the grass and trumpeted from the whip, after the clown cars depart their tents will be folded and the farmland where they played out their tired acts will be spoiled for the planting, ruined and in need of fresh sod. Unless something changes this piece has a furious beginning, a loud middle and is all rhythm on two chords, a Bo Diddley, a single riff and while you can dance to it the musicians only know when it stops because it stops.

Lay out and tend your own garden. That way when the circus leaves town you'll still have a basement stocked and something to trade for coffee.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

ZUS, aka, the No-Go Zones in France and the Ongoing Debates About the Rise of Islamic Jihad

There is much discussion of the so-called no-go zones in France. Favorable press describes these as "sensitive urban zones" which is poli-speak for areas designated for special investments in urban renewal. Non-favorable press describes neighborhoods where state authority has weakened and is being supplanted by local clerics and others who wish to live under Sharia law regardless of the State authority.

I do not know who is right. I've no first hand experience and the world press is every media is now so pervasively stage managed knowing who or what to believe without first hand experience has become a crap shoot. However, the approach to so-called bad neighborhoods in the US has a history and theories one referred to as "fixing the broken windows". 

This approach is in some disrepute but that is how those who believe money applied gets the results desired. Sometimes the desire is more mysterious and if so, the results are uncertain.   A seldom noted effect of the US Model Cities projects (urban renewal in the 60s) was the clearing of large parts of the original zones to repurpose the property thus requiring the relocation of the original area to a better neighborhood. In other words, it is a complex endeavor and in such many motives predicate many goals. Caveat emptor.

What is certain is there will be no change from a ZUS if the community to which it is applied does not cooperate or are otherwise dispersed.The fact of the Muslim who saved the Jews in the kosher store is a testimony to human decency and courage. The more powerful lesson in my opinion is the fact that a Muslim was an employee of a Jewish shop owner. By hiring him, the owner saved their lives as well because he didn't let the fact of the man being Muslim stop him from hiring a good man. Of such wisdom is good karma made.

We can take endless treks into the relevancies or irrelevancies of people's prejudices and use those to avoid looking directly at the fact of sworn jihad. If that lets some feel better, then feel better. But the fact of sworn jihad by individuals predicates many kinds of response and only some of them require recognizing sworn jihad is a Muslim oath. The rest are about learning to live together.

For that to succeed, US experience, a place where that challenge has been met again and again with much success and some failure, is the more the people work together, play together and worship each according to their own belief and practice while ensuring the right of all not of their faith to do as well is the paradigm that works. What worked in the US however may not work the same in this instance because a minimum of three religions are involved. In the South the fact of common Christianity helped to build a community. It gave the Bham Church bombing a context that illuminated hate as none other could.

This is not the case today in Europe.  Europe must confront not only the fact of multi-culturalism but also the responsibility to be both unafraid and wise enough to hire the clerk who takes the money for services to a kosher business and uses it to build a family free by virtue of peace to learn about their neighbors.   And the business person who hires them must take the profits of the laborer to do the same.   Everyone is not Charlie.   Everyone lives in the basement of a church be it in a poor neighborhood or the finest flat in Paris.

It seems to me that to enable the fact of worship to add strength, real respect, understanding and appreciation of the spiritual life of those not of one's own faith must be a cornerstone of cititizenship and education. We do not need teachers that rail against one or all religions because religion will not be managed or eliminated by such negative emotions. We need teachers and leaders who can honestly and earnestly reveal the great common beauty of these human acts that have as their common goal the well-being of the family of man.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Gamergate, Feminism and Getting the Right Numbers

In high school I read a book called Games People Play.  As science goes, it was weak pop psychology but I vaguely remember two of the games described, rapo and hurrah.   In rapo a person is the aggressor but as soon as that is noted they immediately become a victim and then start the game of hurrah, a game where a mob piles on to the person who noted the person playing victim.   This is what is going on in web activism in some corners these days.   It has become mob rule and that is how the web has operated in far too many social justice campaigns.   Aggressors start culture wars to advance a social agenda then claim to be victims.   They may have a just cause but means matter.

Before getting into the meat, one note: if you are sending emails, tweets or passenger pigeons to other people threatening violence, you are committing a crime and in this wall to wall, 24 x 7, bathroom to boardroom surveillance state, you can expect a knock at the door and you deserve it.   If there is one unarguable issue above all, it is this: violence is a matter of humanism and against the law.  Threats and violent actions are unacceptable.  There is a considerable body of writing on that aspect of Gamergate.  Read it and be well-informed.

The point of this article is Gamergate illuminates what web activism too often comes down to: Spy Vs Spy. The same strategies played by all sides for power, not fairness, superiority not equality. As from the very inception of the web, they are played in the cause of social justice.

So Microsoft hires Danah Boyd and sets her loose on openness in technical systems and the party goes on despite the fact that in technology, change that does not improve form, fit or function is fashion, and usually for profit. This is how we got the WWW and then traded away privacy, security and local culture. And so it goes.

Here is a campaign message that makes me ask a different question: is this video an example of feminist activism or child abuse?

As a parent, if my child were used that way I'd be taking heads regardless of the message or cause.  Means matter and that video doesn't inspire me to look at the message.  It obscures it in the offensive content then says we can't be offended.

So.... fuck that.    We're adults and we protect children.  And feminism takes a bruising kick to the head by it's own boot heel.

That the video is on a page next to a picture of Renee Zellwigger showing off her "new look" and being celebrated for it by the Hollywood press could not be more ironic  or a better example of how hypocritical the web press is on the topic of feminism.   It's ALL click bait.  Web activism is a mess of "crossed streams" and as Egon said, "Don't cross the streams."

It seems that Gamergate will be seized on as a cause to promote the need for feminism at a time when feminism in the West is at an all time weak point. This may or may not be justified as the gamer community can't be said to be representative of the world at large.

There is wide variation across the globe in conditions that justify feminism as a call to action.. If a woman lives in Pakistan, for example or India or Saudi, feminism may be the difference between life and death. In Southern California or London England, much less so.  In Iran a woman who killed a man that she accused or rape was hung.  Unless she did that defending herself during the act, it is likely she would face serious jail time in the US.  Is that good law?    It is situational and generalizing can have side effects in systems of precedent or case law.   Justices stay up nights.

I think it important to have some perspective of locale or this topic devolves into Spy vs Spy, Men Bad Women Good, your side sucks but we don't, etc. And it is too important to let that happen. Memes so shrill as to be offensive even to supporters will surely weaken the discourse.

The statistics rolled out are in dispute. For example there is a study published by the US Senate that disputes the claim of a 23 per cent salary gap.

And another that says it is real.

And a video that says the favorite statistics are all myths:

Who to believe? 

If you have the time, here is a Marxist theorist's approach to the theories about the identity politics.   Have a glass of wine first.   This is hard reading.

A more useful question is not what does equal pay mean but how does one quantify equal work. It isn't as easy as citing job classifications but that may be all that can be done.  The Hudson Group study cited above does exactly that and the difference is around 9 percent, not 23. Who is right?   That takes reasoned research where the answer is not assumed before the question is asked.

Yet asking that question of Ronny Cox, a famous character actor elicited harassment and harrangue from him. Vile stuff.   And when the famous do that rather than have a reasoned answer, the gaming of the conversation is way over the top.   So I unfollow them.   Not a problem on Facebook but an example of how strange things have become.

There are disputes based on FBI incident reporting that the rape count is as high as claimed. However, anyone famiiar with NIBRS and UCR knows these are not the right source for those numbers but I don't know what is. The claims are wildly varying and there is too much personal anecdote taking.

If we have learned one thing from media-driven cause du jour events lately it is wait until there are hard forensics before burning down the village.   We cannot simply pile on and assume the social justice activist has a valid cause.   Perceptions fool us.  The common knowledge can be dead wrong.  A reasonable scepticism is reasonable.  We need a cold sober professional assessment of rape statistics. Even one is too many but as gas on a fire, this one needs real numbers.

As Monica Lewinsky has been opining as Patient Zero, the web is a marvelous tool for shattering and ruining lives.     Feminism has heroes but also foolish examples who became victims of their own foolish actions in the eyes of mobs.   She kept the dress, shared the infidelity and let the dogs out.   If we are to be reasonable, perhaps we shouldn't be so willing to sacrifice a 22 year old to a political agenda disguised as a social justice cause.   It was a private event between consenting adults.  In my opinion, not my circus, not my monkeys as they say.  On the other hand, it is not clear what her current campaign is about.   If it is that the web is a very large amplifier of whatever is cited most frequently by the most people at the greatest amplitude, then she is right.  And the lesson is?

"Mama told me not to come.  That's not the way to have fun."

Gamergate finally elicited a response from the Queen Geek, Felicia Day. I'm a fan of her writing. When she wants to be funny, she is. This piece is sad because as someone who has profited by being the role model of online female gamers, this piece has the feel of a first class passenger rowing away from the Titanic realizing that the gaiety has ended and though she survives, the deck on which she danced carefree is forever gone.

Yet as in the great sea tragedy, she never once asks if perhaps game content might have something to do with the raw ferocity of Gamergate.   She doesn't seem to be capable of questioning, just expressing fear.  That's a pity because for some reason we do expect an elevated concern of our celebrities although as with Cox, I'm not sure why.  They are actors, not scientists.   And that is a clue that who we elevate to prominence in conversations on matters of importance should be able to reason as much as emote.  

Here unfortunately the hard right has a point:  Hollywood and the entertainment community don't of necessity have a better seat at the show or a wiser point of view.   They have opinions just as the rest of us do.  The size of their fan base is the tool of those who may simply use them.   Once again, these are mob politics not reasoned debate.  As soon as she published her opinion, she was doxed (malicious publication of personal details such as address, phone number; a favorite tactic of web hacktivists such as anonymous).   And it sucks.  It is also a nasty problem of being a celebrity.   She did speak up and that is laudable but because she made her reputation as a famous geeky gamer, loves the games, perhaps she took some responsibility however shallow and it is the best she has.   I am sceptical about her surprise as the author of those Guild episodes where she pummels a Wil Wheaton clone for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  In other words, Felicia Day has always known about the sexist side of gaming and has parodied it for fame and fortune.  Now she is afraid.   Wow.

Some try to have a conversation about real and well-documented problems of women in other cultures but will often be shouted down by a person representing yet another social justice cause, then remonstrated by a member of the original group of victims.

Social activists on the web have become like web standards:  there are so many to choose from.

Then there are the no-denials-possible sexists.

This is where posts and remarks and moves made in and out of tech companies are straight up Title VII events that should and must get a response.  I've seen too many Title VII actions in tech companies come to nothing because the guy OR the girl making the complaint was guilty but couldn't be touched.   And yes, both genders use Title VII for power and a quick ride up the ladder.   If you work in the office world be it old school brick or neo-startup, young or old, guy or gal, become very familiar with Title VII.  It is precedent based and really bad law but it is what we have to protect ourselves so learn how it works, what doesn't work and what to be careful about.  

Title VII is a Human Resources nightmare and managers fear it because it rips across business units like a seismic fault and does lasting damage.   So accept the responsibility to understand the implications and everyone will be better off, but don't expect it to be automatic.   A Title VII complaint can kick off six months of the office cubes shaking and grinding.   Caveat vendor.

Feminism is not a minority cause as was the case with gay marriage or treatment of racial minorities. Women ARE the majority. They have the power of the vote and can make that work for them. Or they can be made to work for others who adopt feminism as a mantle of social justice but who only seek power for its own sake and have no intention of changing much past the election. We do well to be wary because we have been and continue to be fooled again.

Games are simply product.  Feminism should be taken more seriously and it may not be the case that we can say which is more important without being attacked.  The vitriol of a Ronny Cox or the fearfulness of a Felicia Day can't be the ponies we cling to.   We must take the riders off the horses if the race is to be adjudicated fairly.

Feminism is important. If those statistics are valid, we have a lot of change to make but we cannot make it based on false assertions, premises and questioned statistics. And we can't do it without each other. It simply won't work. And playing games for points will destroy any credibility this issue has and rot any change required in the box. If the cause isn't important, let it die in the soup. If it is, turn down the heat before it boils over and is ruined for a generation.

Yet instead some feminists are working up a mighty steam, calling it humor but their approach is what it is:  hate in service of power, belittlement in service of superiority.

Men are asked to approve.   It is not surprising some don't and many others consider it yet another reason to dismiss feminism.  

After all, the last laugh is the laugh that is heard just before things get hairy.   We've a long history of hate movements.   They are seldom composed of the majority of any particular group but they are the loudest and they provide the excuse to look the other way or dismiss a legitimate cause.

Look at this video. In my opinion, this is feminism: humanism with a woman's face, a woman's heart and a woman's achievements not simply for other women, but humanity.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Urge for Going

This song was on my solo play lists for all the early years I was a performer in the local clubs and restaurants.   I'd learned it from the cover by George Hamilton IV on a 45 my family owned.   I wouldn't know about Joni Mitchell for some years to come.  It was the evocative haunting imagery that captured me and remained with me.

A few days ago I decided to cover it with friend, RickVan Nostrand.   A song of the season so to speak.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Percy Sledge and The Jackson County All Honky Band

Even on the D-list as a player your path will occasionally cross with the B-list and A-list famous.  Over the years I've met and worked with some rather famous people not because I am or should be but because it is a business where sometimes one is hired to fill a space and if one can reasonably do that, one does,

That is how I played a gig in a pick-up band for Percy Sledge.   I am reminded of this because today in Sheffield, a historic plaque was erected on the spot where Percy recorded his hit, When A Man Loves A Woman.   Percy attended, members of the Muscle Shoals elite were there and a concert to help him pay his bills is being held.   The Tribe looks after its own when they can't help themselves and A-list or D-list, they do what they do best:  put on a show.  And that's a grace of being a musician.

But that's not the story of the Jackson County All Honky Band.   This is.

Without naming names, the club owner, a courtly Italian fellow, hired a local lady who played minimal keyboard and sang to hire other musicians to be his backup band at a one night stand. Some of the people hired are names locally so I won't name names.    Most are dead and one is dangerous.

Most had never played together before and had been given lyrics with single letter chord changes, and few had ever heard any Percy excepf for WAMLAW. The songs as a lot of soul is seemed simple but it's all in the rhythm and if you don't know it, you can't fake it.    Me,  I can play Bach but in those days I did not boogie so I was a space filler because another musician backed out or wouldn't work the gig for the scratch offered.   The Other Guitar player who recruited me said it would be easy, he'd show me the licks and off we headed to Scottsboro, a city famous for selling lost airline suitcases full of other people's clothes and a miscarriage of justice still talked about whenever someone wants to play the race card on PBS.

We got together the afternoon of the show for the half hour of rehearsal Percy allowed. As usual he rolled up in a limo-of-sorts driven by his nephew, a rather quietly intense kid.  He looked at us and asked "Do YOU know MY music?"   We all smiled and said we did.  We didn't but this is entertainment and entertainment is about faking it even if you aren't making it.   We played the hit ok and then he got to the rest of his thirty minute set. At one point he turned around, looked at us and laughed a deep serious laugh.  I figured we would all be fired on the spot.. Then he said, "How long have y'all played together?" The other guitar player who was actually a rather good player said, "About 45 minutes. We're the Jackson County All Honky Band." Percy laughed out loud and said, "I thought so."  He just smiled and headed back to the limo with his nephew. 

The show was way way underattended.   In a room meant to hold a thousand plus, maybe a hundred people came.  We waited an extra half hour but then they turned on all the disco lights and Percy led us through the fog of our pasty whiteness.   It could have been worse except for two black gals who danced the daring dance and every time he hit a long high note, they screamed like they were having the ultimate expression of female fecundity. "AHHHHH!!!! PERRRRCY!!" The band sucked bad and the nephew dressed as Percy was in a fine tux, stood on the side looking at me like he was going to personally take me out back and teach me the beat one beating at a time. 

You had to give Percy credit; he sang, he sweated, and occasionally looked over his shoulder at the band with a look of pain, as if he could summon with his own personal magic soul some semblance of a beat he could stand on from a band that was as pale as the moon above.  He was relentless.  He gave it all he had for fifteen minutes then he ended the show.  

The courtly Italian dude was obviously losing his shirt but Percy was going to be paid regardless. One of the band members was crabbing because he expected his wife whom he brought as a backup singer to be paid. The manager told the other guitar player to get him out of there quick.   In music circles, that is a let-off, meaning if we did as we were told, we were off the hook and the Italian would square it with his backers.  Not a meeting one wants to go to, best to do as asked and we did.

Percy was being real polite and nice because he could see we were ... embarassed and said some nice and totally untrue things about our playing.   The Other Guitar Player thanked Percy, grabbed me and said "Let's split, pronto". And we did,   tails tucked and pedal to the metal all the way back to Mad County.

Percy Sledge is a real professional and a legend.  My guess is none of that evening registered and he forgot it all on the drive home through the cool green hills of North Alabama.   I don't want to run into his nephew these decades later because I still can't play soul worth a beating.

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