Sunday, October 28, 2018

The Strangest Game of Scrabble in My Life

One of the few games I play on my phone is Scrabble. It's been a favourite of mine since childhood. I'm pretty good - my scores, especially on the phone, tend to be routinely over 400 points, and I have been over 600 points - both on the phone and in physical games - on more than one occasion. I don't usually play with other people, since I'm not that big on connecting with strangers online these days, and don't want to annoy my friends by beating them too badly. Sometimes I do play against Erika, when and if she doesn't mind my winning - usually if we're stuck waiting for a ferry or something, but occasionally while we're in bed, passing a phone back and forth.

Last night we played the strangest game of Scrabble in my life. My app, which is old, has been malfunctioning for awhile: when you pass the phone and start your turn, you can see the letters of the previous player still on your board. You have to press some button on the game like "pass," for example, then cancel the pass option, in order for your own letters to revert to you; a normal game can then be played. But my already faulty app got transferred to a new phone yesterday, and we ended up with new problems manifesting themselves: now the other person's letters, for example, sometimes wouldn't go away if you tried the trick mentioned above. Sometimes you'd be in the process of playing them and suddenly your letters would revert unexpectedly, of their own accord, but sometimes you'd end up playing the letters of the other person (and getting points for the word); at such times, when Erika was playing with my letters for her turn, her letters would sometimes appear for me, so we were essentially swapping identities. Finally, and best of all, as an added, "bonus" malfunction, the Q appeared twice - was played once, then re-appeared on someone's board, then disappeared again; and the Z, of which there is also only one tile, appeared twice, and WAS ALLOWED TO BE PLAYED TWICE. This is an actual photo Erika took of my phone screen: note the Za/ Zags and the Words/Waltz, each using a different virtual Z:

I must say, this malfunctioning Scrabble - arbitrarily changing your letters mid-play, switching our identities, and suddenly providing extra copies of high-value letters - was pretty entertaining to play. We had no input into how or when the game would change its rules, so we had to continually adapt to new and chaotic circumstances - just like in life!  There may be a fun idea here for game developers: for people who routinely play straightforward, rule-governed board games on their phones, create a new app called "Break My App," that completely gnarls the rules the game operates by, introduces random rule-changes and malfunctions that the game player must then figure out and adjust to: "What happened there? How do we play the game now?"

The only trick is, it can make figuring out who won challenging. (For the record, it seemed like the lack of predictable rules put Erika at an advantage last night; she won, though it may be because occasionally the game assigned her my points!). 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Unleash the Archers: A Brittney Slayes interview and a couple of outtakes

I did a big email interview with Brittney Slayes, apropos of tonight's show at the Rickshaw and Unleash the Archers' new album. 

I left out a couple of questions from that piece, however - they seemed digressive, and/or my questions seemed, after she answered them, to have been unnecessary, the wrong ones to have asked, or they just didn't easily fit into the flow of the piece. 

I also gotta apologize to guitarists Andrew Kingsley and Grant Truesdell and drummer Scott Buchanan - I was aware that I had not used their names in the piece, and had hoped at the very least that I could stick them in the caption, but that isn't always in my control! Fantastic musicianship on the album, which I don't do justice to in the interview - though anyone wanting a taste of the playing might want to start here

All that said, here are a couple of outtakes:

A: Just wondering – were you a Dio fan? (He’s sort of the king of myth-based metal lyrics by me). Ever see him live? Ever interact with him?

B: Yes I am definitely a big fan of Dio, his lyrical style is super inspirational for me. Every song tells a story! Unfortunately I never got to see him live nor meet him though, one of my bigger regrets in life for sure!

A: Curious if you have an opinion on this, but why do people who get into myth seem often to swing to the right, politically? Is there something about fascism and myth that go together hand in hand? Do fascists just love to exploit myth to their own ends, or is there something in the deep waters of myth, with stories of heroes and battles, that is inherently fascist?

B: Perhaps the fact that myth lends itself to open interpretation allows right-leaning persons to mold them into devices for furthering their political agendas, using them as points of reference for what to and what not to do in accordance with their views and opinions. All things can be twisted and interpreted to reflect a particular ideology, in my opinion, which is one of the reasons I found studying history to be so interesting. In one of my songs I wrote “History can only be written by the victors” because that is what we were taught to be the truth. Every text book, every memoir, every pamphlet is twisted by bias and opinion, nothing is really fact, especially concerning myth and history. Everything we have and know of the past was written by someone that had a particular reason for recording it, some bias, so you can take anything you read and use it to push your agenda, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to listen or consider it to be ‘truth’ just because it’s been passed down through the ages.

A: Also curious if you ever read Nietzsche or reference him in your lyrics...?

B: No reference to Nietzsche, although his ideologies are fun to debate I try to avoid any and all suggestion of political, ideological or sociological leanings in my music.
A: Trivial question, but do you (or the band) have favourite movies? Favourite books?

B: Favourite movies: Willow, Fifth Element, Interstellar (in that order)

Favourite books: The Black Company series by Glen Cook, the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds, The Passage series by Justin Cronin.

Thanks, Brittney - see you tonight! 

Sunday, October 07, 2018

No Dead Boys for me! (But you should go!)

Just a little announcement: I will not be at the Dead Boys, November 10th at Pat's Pub. I have Other Plans That I Will Not Change on that weekend, I have just recalled. I take consolation in knowing that two smaller punks can probably fit in Pat's in the space I would have taken up; plus those of you who would rather not run into me at gigs can take heart and buy tickets accordingly. I congratulate the event organizer (whose initials are also DB!) for pulling this off - getting a last minute gig booked for the band when he saw they were coming as close as Bellingham. I applaud, too, his choice of opening acts: I don't know the Gung-Hos (though holy shit, I kinda want to; they seem pretty musically appropriate for this show) but having the Alien Boys on a bill with the Dead Boys is an inspired gesture. By the by, I only just figured out that the Alien Boys are PROBABLY NAMED FOR A SONG BY THE WIPERS! - speaking of American punk prototype bands out there. I dunno if I will be able to do more press for this but we'll see. Now go buy your tickets while you still can.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Gerry Hannah writes again

It's nice to see a passionate (yet reasonable/ rational) new piece of writing from Gerry Hannah. He blogs pretty infrequently - his previous post was from before Justin Trudeau was elected - and he hasn't been coming round with the New Questioning Coyote Brigade lately (his roots-oriented rock band, which offered twangier arrangements of Subhumans classics, songs from his neglected but excellent solo album Coming Home - which I interviewed him about here as well as the occasional surprise cover; last I saw them, the Byrds' "Wasn't Born to Follow" was in his set, and he was talking about a reworking of Steppenwolf's "The Ostrich," which was a song I actually didn't know. I've since bought a few of those more political Steppenwolf albums and appreciate the tip).

I have about fifteen minutes before I have to get in the shower to get ready for work, so I don't have much time to contribute to the discussion, but the thing that hit home the most for me in the article was the section dealing with racism, in which Gerry talks about trying to have a reasonable argument with someone on Facebook in response to an article entitled "Don't Kid Yourself, All White People Are Racists." Gerry writes:
I found the second half of the headline disturbing and I said so. My comment went like this: All people are racist. In other words; all people have racist tendencies. The difference is that some folks acknowledge it, accept that it’s undesirable and work to change it, while others don’t—regardless of their race. I went on to say, that I don’t believe in what I called “racial essentialism”. By racial essentialism, I meant the attributing of a wholly subjective, negative quality, to a particular race. And I pointed out that this reminded me of early separatist feminism, when men in the Left were unequivocally told that “all men are rapists”. I said it’s time to move beyond such unhelpful rhetoric.

Amen - though a friend of mine points out that Gerry may be trying to "reason with a fever," here, which will probably be the best turn of phrase I've heard all day. But his writing brought to mind a very striking, if brief, discussion that I had with some people on Facebook myself (it actually involved someone Gerry may or may not be familiar with, if he paid attention to the later incarnations of Tunnel Canary; the new vocalist for the band Mya Mayhem, was one of the responders, though she posts under a different name on Facebook. She was part of a large article I did during the time of these reunions, so I'd interacted with her before, though had had no cause to disagree with her).

In any case, someone had posted an article - I think dealing with Black Lives Matter; hell, it might have been the same article Gerry  mentions - that argued, "essentially" - I will try to do justice to it, though I may fail - that because white people existed at the top of a historical hierarchy, using racism to put and keep people of colour down, and benefitting from this injustice, only they could be racist. It was impossible for people of colour to be racist against white people, the way the concept was being defined, because people of colour - whatever they might say about white people, were punching up, so to speak - they were addressing the long history of systemic injustice, so whatever they might say about white people, it wasn't actually "about" race; it was about the systemic, historical injustice, which they had been on the receiving end of. So they could say whatever they liked.

I did a deep double-take. It seemed like an interesting move, but a deeply dodgy one, and it brought to mind all sorts of prejudices that I've encountered over the years, having lived in Japan, and worked with ESL students over the years, that I had chalked up as non-white racism, ranging from a Japanese confiding in me that they thought black people were scary to a Brazilian student (who I guess technically was white but his accent and darker complexion would have marked him as a racial other in North America) trying to engage me in discussion about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which he'd read in translation). Or what about Jews saying nasty things about Arabs? Or what about Arabs saying nasty things about Jews? Would groups who weren't white saying prejudicial things about groups that were also not white not count as racism? I had always understood racism as a behaviour that people from any group could partake in, by overgeneralizing negatively about another group, white or not.

Understand: I actually agreed with some of what the original poster was saying - it IS a different thing for someone from an oppressed minority, from someone who has been on the receiving end of systemic injustice, to make an overgeneralization. For example, when a pissed-off Japanese accused me of "having won the war" at a bar, referring to America's victory in World War II, which he held me, as a white person, responsible for, I didn't get all hostile and indignant (I believe I retorted, "won the war? I was born in 1968!" - but I didn't hold it against the guy, actually; it happens he was a prick, in other ways, but that particular bit of  prickishess was kind of understandable and interesting to encounter). For another example, when Robert Fisk was nearly beaten to death by rock-wielding Afghan villagers, as a representative of the enemy race, he was quite able to forgive them; he understood where they were coming from. Racial hatred IS a different thing when it's coming from victims towards perceived victimizers. I had no problem with that. But it's still racism, and it seemed really, really dubious to try to define "racism" as something that only white people could do to non-whites.

Or for instance - and this was the story I actually posted on the Facebook page - what about me? I explained in a brief post that when I was in Japan, I briefly explored the dating scene; I was somewhat shy and tentative at the time - I was kinda awkward with women from the same culture, and even less certain of myself in a totally different one - but at one point, I put an ad in an English-language magazine, saying I wanted to date Japanese women. I got two responses very quickly: both from Japanese men, writing nasty notes telling me that they didn't want foreigners dating their women and that I should take my evil white ways home. Yankee Go Home, essentially.  I can't quote exactly - it was 20 years ago, almost - but surely such notes (I wrote on Facebook) counted as racism.

Mya answered - quite reasonably, though my mind reeled at her response - that because what I encountered was not SYSTEMIC, but isolated incidents - it was bigotry, not racism. Racism could only exist in the context of systemic injustice.

I out Mya here because hell, maybe she could explain this further (I have no issue with her). I continued the discussion by saying that seemed like an odd act of hair-splitting to me, and that I was quite comfortable thinking of racism that someone from any group could do to someone from any other group, by overgeneralizing in a negative way; it didn't seem necessary to me to re-define the concept. It might be more forgiveable and understandable if someone was punching up, but it didn't make it less racist.

That's when one of her friends weighed in - someone whose name I had forgotten, save that it was on the hippy-dippy side, like "Cheerful Unicorn" or "Whispering Rainbow" or something like that - to wave their finger and say that one does not "explore" relationships with people of colour, and that if that was my attitude, I deserved what I got.

At which point I exited the argument. It was, in fact, an interesting argument, and it would have been nice to pursue it, but it seemed like in fact, the point was not to have an intelligent discussion about anything, but to build in-groups by waging war against out-groups, such as the one I was clearly a member of. Well, whatever: fuck these people, I thought.

Anyhow, that's what Gerry's piece made me think about, but there's a lot more to it than that, so go read his original post, linked above. Nice to see you writing again, Gerry! (Any new music coming out?).