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?

http://www.eonline.com/news/590557/watch-these-adorable-little-girls-drop-f-bombs-and-truth-bombs-to-promote-feminism

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.

http://www.jec.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?a=Files.Serve&File_id=2a1f8ad4-f649-4ad3-a742-268d946962db

And another that says it is real.

http://www.aauw.org/files/2014/03/The-Simple-Truth.pdf

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TR_YuDFIFI

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.

http://libcom.org/library/i-am-woman-human-marxist-feminist-critique-intersectionality-theory-eve-mitchell

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.

http://thisfeliciaday.tumblr.com/post/100700417809/the-only-thing-i-have-to-say-about-gamer-gate

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.

http://thinkprogress.org/culture/2014/10/23/3583347/felicia-day-gamergate/

Then there are the straight up no denials possible sexists in the tech industry.  

http://pando.com/2014/10/22/the-horrific-trickle-down-of-asshole-culture-at-a-company-like-uber/

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.

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.


http://www.clarionledger.com/story/news/2014/09/29/musicians-plan-benefit-concert-percy-sledge/16451169/

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.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Thank You, Patrick Macnee. Salud, John Steed!

Television has a long history of heroes from the virile Wyatt Earps of the 1950s to the rough hewn Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of today.  Yet few have ever been as cunning, classy and laissez faire as The Avenger John Steed.

While the series changes considerably in cast, tone and special efffects over the eight year run, John Steed is the single constant throughout.  As young boys, we all fell in love with his beautiful assistants, yet it was Steed who shaped our characters, who demonstated qualities that would serve us well as young men and older men.  He was polished, unfaiingly polite even when he took advantage of his assistant's skills, always the courteous companion.  Even when taken by their charms, he was ready to serve, ready to defend and never stood in their way or questioned their judgement.  He was in fact, the perfect gentleman.

This is a character almost impossible to find on television today and as we wind through the zeitgeist when everything about men's behavior toward women and others is being questioned, young boys would do well to emulate the ever bowlered John Steed.  If in fact the character of Steed owed his witty ripostes to his writers and his wardrobe to the best of British and French clothing designers, he owed his gentlemanly manners to the actor that portrayed him, Patrick Macnee.   While Macnee would go on to play other TV characters including the notorious Cylon Nebeli in the original Starship Gallactica, he is best remembered for his portrayal of John Steed.

As an older man, a Southerner, someone born in the counry to the country folk of Alabama, it seems right to thank Patrick Macnee for John Steed.  Art reaches further than we know and molds characters in ways and at distances often unknown to the artist.  Macnee showed us how a man could be both refined and a man of action, cunning and kind and that a woman must be treated as an equal and a partner.  If his diction was crisp, he was never condescending.  If his walk was slow, his back was straight.  And every person be they high born or the village drunk was accorded courtesy. 

This is what it is to be a well-bred man and whether it is a quality of birth in some or self-made character in others, it can be taught by example. If ths is a credit to Macnee's acting skills or to the evolution of the character, it little matters. Both achieve a perfection of an archetypal good man, admirable, to be respected, cherished and remembered.

So my hat is off to Patrick Macnee and wherever he is, let him know he taught well and for that many are grateful.  I wish there were more of him.

Salud, John Steed.  Thank you, Patrick Macnee.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Little Bird Whispers

A little bird whispers into the ear of a monster, Qaddiysh,
A secret that wounds the heart of darkness.

There is a light that cannot be unshone.
There is a love that cannot be undone.
Two sparks separated by a million years
Two hearts with a single rhythm
Can never be apart, can never be alone
Are ever one. Dark Angel, one.

Space pushes every point in heaven and earth
Time shares every cry in the pain of birth
Your strength, your will, your malefaction
Are swallowed without your satisfaction

What cannot be counted cannot be destroyed
Your impotent pleasure strikes into a void.

Though the fires you set rage across the fields
The corn still stands, the wheat still waves
The winds blow gentle, the hot sky yields
The rains that harvest's bounty saves.

Though demon legions you command to come from hell's dominion
To scar the faces now upturned with eyes firm fixed on heaven
I sit here on your shoulder freely singing that song given
By love to all from whom the light your presence now is driven.

len bullard - sept 17 2014

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