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Feb. 13th, 2013

All Games Are Sandbox Games

This post by Adrian Chmielarz accusing gamers of being trolls is ridiculous.

All games are essentially sandbox games of some sort. All games consist at bottom of some set of more or less absolute rules creating an environment in which the player or players interact with the game entities in some way. There may be an ending, there may be several endings, there may be a 'win' state. Or not. It doesn't matter. The game environment may require a computer or console to be created. Or not. It doesn't matter. The question is always and only - is the interaction with the game worth the player's time?

This is obviously highly subjective - not everyone enjoys chess, CoD, Go, Nethack, Monopoly, GTA, badminton, Galatea, battleships, Minecraft or whatever. But those that do, do. It's possible but actually quite difficult to create a game that is truly linear, but why bother? It's always possible for the gamer to create a metagame within the existing rules. Arguably, the set of metagames created by the game rules *is* the game. It isn't always what the game creator might expect. Nor should it be.

Outside the computing environment, rules are much more mutable: gamers routinely bend or alter them as they see fit for the sake of a better or even different game. Quite apart from variants like Suicide Chess, chessplayers have for centuries evened the stakes between much stronger and much weaker players by having the stronger player start with fewer pieces, or be required to wear a blindfold; Go players have a similar mechanism. But even without altering the ostensible rules, the main metagame in both Go and chess is about delving into and memorising as much as possible of the wealth of existing analysis - learning openings, middlegame strategies and endings. That's not in the rules anywhere. But it's where the game is.

Exploring the set of metagames created by the game rules is the definition of gameplay. When playing a racing game I'll always at some point try and go off-track or go round the course backwards, firstly to see if I can (many earlier racers simply wouldn't let you) and secondly to see what happens when I do. The Nethack DevTeam is well aware of this - this is why they Think Of Everything (do they? Really? Go find out...) and this is why Nethack is so enduringly good. This Pacifist Doom video is a testament to what a good game that was. See also any number of speedruns, or things like Freeman's Mind, or the entirety of machinima - here the metagame becomes 'watching other people play the game'. This kind of thing predates computers - serious chess and Go players use notation to play through sets of games played by others going back centuries.

Game creators who aren't thinking about the set of metagames created by their game rules might make a good game. But only by accident.

originally a comment on the thread discussing Chmielarz's post at Metafilter

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Nov. 17th, 2012

Why I Am No Longer A Zionist

I'm a nice Jewish boy from North West London. I was brought up in a family that was never particularly religious – we belonged to a Reform synagogue, not an Orthodox one - but where my Jewish identity was considered extremely important, and where support for Israel was an absolute given. Not blanket, unquestioning support, but support nonetheless.

As a teenager I was heavily involved in RSY-Netzer, the Zionist Jewish youth movement affiliated with the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain. In 1987, at the age of 16, I spent a summer in Israel with RSY, and two years later took a gap-year there. Half that year was spent on Kibbutz Lotan, one of the two Reform Synagogue affiliated kibbutzim, and the other half was spent on a course known colloquially as 'Machon', at the Institute For Youth Leaders From Abroad in Jerusalem, run by an arm of the Israeli state known as the Jewish Agency. On Machon, along with dozens of other young Jews of my own age from a range of different Zionist youth movements, I received training in youth leadership skills, Jewish history, and what is known in Hebrew as 'hasbarah'. Hasbarah literally means 'explaining', but it has another meaning, which is essentially 'propaganda'.

RSY-Netzer was at that point one of the three most left-wing Zionist youth movements - the other two are the explicitly socialist Habonim-Dror and HaShomer HaTzair. We were encouraged – and at the age of 18 or 19 we needed no encouragement – to spend much time discussing and arguing the fine points of Zionist ideology and Israeli politics both among ourselves and with members of the other movements. The left-wingers among us were highly critical of many of Israel's actions from the War in Lebanon to the whole of the Occupation, and we all argued strenuously that it was a fundamental necessity for Israel to behave ethically at all times; moreover we left-wingers argued that it was of prime importance that we as Zionists stood up and criticised Israel when it did not do so.

However, none of that criticism was ever allowed to cross the red line of rejecting the idea of the Jewish State itself. We did not go so far as to accept the idea that Zionism was racism or that Israel ought not exist – indeed we had special sessions on Machon where we were explicitly taught strategies for arguing against these ideas. The concept of a democratic secular one-state solution for all inhabitants of the Holy Land, under which Jews and Palestinians would be equal citizens in the eyes of the law, was not at any point on the table.

Unlike most of my colleagues on the Machon course, I made a particular point of learning Hebrew, and while in Jerusalem I met and fell in love with Ayelet, an Israeli girl my own age. She was not long out of basic Army training and had taken up a post as a remedial Hebrew teacher at an Israeli Army school. We spoke only in Hebrew and were for a while very much in love, though she thought I was a complete lunatic not just for being a Zionist – among Israelis the word 'Zionist' means something somewhat different to its meaning in the wider Jewish community – but also for being on the Machon course at all and for seriously considering moving to Israel permanently: her ambition at the time was to move to New York. I remember joking then that the most potent form of Zionism was not Religious Zionism, Revisionist Zionism, Political Zionism, or Cultural Zionism, all of which we had been taught about in class at Machon, but was rather Sexual Zionism, which we had not been taught about even once. Looking back, I now understand why hardly anyone, Ayelet included, found my joke funny.

As a Jew, despite being born in London, I had and still have the right at any time to move to Israel and immediately take up Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return. The only reason that I did not do so straight away was that I had a place at Oxford for which, as a state-school applicant, I had worked very hard, and on which I had no intention of missing out. My plan at the time was to get my degree from Oxford and move to Israel afterwards.

Once back in the UK, my obsession with Zionism continued. At Oxford I changed my degree from Maths and Philosophy to Oriental Studies (Hebrew), a course comprising Hebrew literature and Jewish history; on the history side I made a special study of Zionism up to 1948. It astonished me at the time that my parents were implacably against the idea of me becoming an Israeli, but I was 19 and – like all 19 year olds – knew deeply that I was as right about everything as my parents were wrong about everything.

Life at university was something of a shock for two reasons. The first was that as a state-schooler at Oxford, surrounded by the products of public and private school educations, the trappings of extreme privilege to which most of my contemporaries were so effortlessly accustomed seemed enormously strange and discomforting to me. Despite this I largely fit in well at my college, Balliol, which had a reputation for being very left-wing. The second shock was that for the first time in my life I was meeting both Jewish and non-Jewish anti-Zionists.

All my Hasbarah training came out.

I became involved with both the Oxford Jewish Society and the Oxford Israel Society, and ended up spending a lot of time arguing with people about Israel on all sides. With those on my right, I was arguing that Israel was not and had not for some time been behaving ethically, and that it was the absolute duty of anyone who called themselves a Zionist or a supporter of Israel to stand up and call Israel out on these ethical transgressions. With those on my left I was arguing that while Israel might indeed be as ethically dubious a state as any other state on the planet, nothing that it did in any way impinged on its right to exist as a Jewish State.

Many of my left-wing friends at Balliol were utterly shocked to find that I was a Zionist, but I continued to argue passionately for a position on the extreme left of Zionism; I was critical of Israel's moral transgressions, critical of the Occupation, supportive of the putative Palestinian state, supportive of the idea that Jerusalem should be again partitioned de jure (as it already is de facto) so it could be both the capital of that Palestinian state as well as the capital of Israel, but at no point did I dare to cross the red line that questioned the legitimacy of the Jewish State itself.

While I was at Balliol, Ariel Sharon was invited to speak at the Oxford Union; this resulted in an extremely busy time for me. I was involved in organising the pro-Zionist counter-demonstration to the anti-Zionist demonstration outside the Union; as a Zionist critical of Israel, I was also involved in ensuring that strong criticisms of Israel in general and Sharon in particular were made during the debate. Later that evening, as a guest of the L'Chaim Society, an alternative Jewish student organisation then run by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, I ended up having dinner with Sharon, along with thirty or forty other people, and was astonished at how charming he seemed in person, for all that I strongly disagreed with all aspects of his politics. I was also pleasantly shocked by Sharon's stories of how his closest friends were not other Israelis at all but were rather Palestinians living in the West Bank for whom – he explained - hospitality and personal relationships trumped any notion of tribal hostility.

By 1993, when I left Oxford, things in my personal life had changed. Ayelet, quite reasonably unwilling to spend three years of her early twenties in a long-distance relationship with a complete lunatic, had left me, and I was now romantically involved with Abigail, a rather posh Jewish girl from one of the old established Anglo-Jewish families from before the wave of immigration from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century that had brought my own great-grandparents to London. Abigail was about as likely to move to Israel as she was to grow feathers and a beak, and I found myself strongly reconsidering my decision to move there myself.

My political position, however, did not change. As a Zionist I felt passionately that it was of prime importance that Israel's moral transgressions – especially those in the Lebanon war of 1982 and the ongoing indefensible occupation of the West Bank and Gaza - be censured. I felt that the Occupation had to end, and end now, and that the Two State Solution was the only way forward. Since the idea of the right of national self-determination was at the core of my support for Zionism, I found it hard to understand how any Zionist could be against the two state solution. If the Jews should have self-determination in Israel, I argued, surely it is only logical that the Palestinians should also have self-determination in Palestine. I simply could not understand how those Zionists to my right – which was basically all of them – could not see this.

On Jerusalem, I also could not understand the mainstream Zionist position. Having lived there for some time, and being well aware that the city was effectively divided into Jewish West Jerusalem, where you could safely go, and Palestinian East Jerusalem, which was dangerous and to be avoided at all costs, I simply could not grasp any of the stuff about the 'unification' of Jerusalem that I had been taught. It might have been unified legally as far as a Zionist was concerned but it certainly wasn't unified in any way in practice, and it seemed to me only right that a repartitioned East Jerusalem should be the capital of the forthcoming Palestinian state just as much as West Jerusalem should remain the capital of the Israeli state. I was sure that Palestinians felt just as passionately about Jerusalem as I did myself, and repartition seemed to me to be the just and reasonable answer to this question.

In 1994/5 I spent a further year in Jerusalem on the One Year Graduate Program at the Hebrew University. This was supposed to be my year to 'check out' whether or not I really wanted to go and live in Israel, before I made a final decision. Jerusalem is and was a miserable and tedious place for a young secular man in his early twenties; it soon became clear to me that I did not wish to live there after all, and I began drinking heavily. Mostly this went on at a bar called 'Mike's Place' run by a burned out Canadian ex-photo-journalist called Mike, and populated almost exclusively by Israeli leftists and members of the international press corps who were old friends of Mike's. Abigail came to visit, and hated it all even more than I did. I began to make arrangements to go home early.

Before I left, however, I was befriended at Mike's Place by a member of the press corps, an American called Stefan Ellis, who considered his time in Jerusalem to be basically R&R away from the really hideous places in the world he had worked before, like Cambodia. Stefan was horrified by my youthful ideological support of Israel. Life as a photo-journalist specialising in war-zones had inoculated him against all forms of ideology. As far as he was concerned, all sides committing atrocities, everywhere, were all as bad as each other. It was his job as a journalist to get close to those atrocities in order to document them so that the rest of the world could see. Of course they wouldn't – he was all too aware of this - but it was his job nonetheless.

I did not, at the time, remotely understand him.

Fast-forward to 2008.

I'd long split up with Abigail. I was still in London. I'd had two failed careers, first as a freelance journalist, and then as a computer programmer. Both had gone wrong as I'd also been trying to pursue music in a serious way; there are only so many hours in a day and as a result of pursuing multiple career goals I'd made myself seriously ill twice and (just) survived a complete nervous breakdown. I was at last pursuing music full-time and, as part of this, had finally received my London Underground busking licence. I'd finally recorded and released an album of original music, not that anyone had noticed. At least, I felt, I was now on the right path.

My position on Israel had not changed.

I had by this time met Daphna Baram, an Israeli journalist and Guardian contributor effectively in exile in London for her anti-Zionist views. Despite our differences of opinion over Israel we had become close friends, and spent many nights staying up late arguing in a mixture of English and Hebrew over the fine points of whether or not Achad Ha-am, the founder of Cultural Zionism, would have supported the actions of the current Israeli state, or whether the 1947 position of the Zionist youth movement Hashomer HaTzair, that British Mandate Palestine should be formed into a bi-national state for both Jews and Palestinians, had any relevance today.

Daphna was the first to put to me directly the astonishing proposition that the best solution for the Israel-Palestine problem was a single genuinely democratic state in which all citizens were treated equally regardless of ethnic origin. Currently, that is not the case. While the state of Israel makes just as reasonable a claim to be a democracy as, say, Belarus or Russia, the fact is that Jewish and non-Jewish citizens are not treated equally. It is true that there are Israeli Arab Knesset members and that Israeli Arabs can vote, but it is also true that there are huge differences in the way that Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are treated by the state, ranging from whether or not they are required to join the army at the age of 18 to whether or not their home town or village gets a reasonable annual budget to cover municipal requirements. It is painfully obvious from available statistics that Israeli Arab areas get substantially less support from the Israeli state than equivalent size Jewish settlements, and that in general, while Israeli Arabs may not offically be second-class citizens of Israel, that is certainly what they are in practice.

Then, in late 2008, Operation Cast Lead began. Having previously largely withdrawn from Gaza in 2005 (though still keeping it surrounded and effectively cut off from the West Bank), Israel began in December 2008 to bombard it indiscriminately, in the name of ending rocket fire into Israel from within the Strip. For the life of me, I could not see how this was supposed to work. I could not see any way of defending this action. As the number of Palestinian casualties grew – far out of proportion to the number of casualties on the Israeli side - it just got worse and worse.

For the first time in my adult life I began wondering whether the Jewish State was actually worth defending at all on any level if this was the price. I was watching a blatant and brutal massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, utterly disproportionate to the attacks that had provoked it, which had in turn been provoked by earlier Israeli incursions, in an endless back-and-forth cycle, in order to defend what? An Israeli State that would allow me – born in London – to become a citizen at a moment's notice, while Palestinian friends of friends actually born in the Holy Land itself could never become citizens of anything anywhere? Exactly what convoluted justification would stand that up?

I couldn't do it any more. On Machon, I'd had training in how to argue against the proposition that Zionism was racism, but no training in how to argue in defence of the indiscriminate massacre of civilian children. That one hadn't come up.

I began to consider the possibility that I'd been misled.

It looked terribly plausible. It was horribly embarrassing and deeply painful, but it began to seem to me an awful lot as if Achad Ha-am, founder of Cultural Zionism, and a somewhat flawed but deeply ethical character, would have himself been implacably against anything calling itself a Jewish State that behaved like this.

Around the same time, I took up the saxophone, as part of an effort to give up smoking, and had a one-off lesson with the best local saxophonist I could find, who happened to be another Israeli exile by the name of Gilad Atzmon. This was an incredible stroke of luck, as without exaggeration I can promise you that Gilad is one of the best saxophonists alive anywhere in the world; he is also a lovely guy in person and a fantastic music teacher. Additionally, he is highly politically active as an anti-Zionist, and is considered so extreme that most other anti-Zionists consider him totally beyond the pale; he is widely accused by both anti-Zionists and Zionists alike of actual anti-semitism.

This is of course utter rubbish. It was clear to Gilad from the second he met me that I was Jewish – we even discussed the fact during my first pre-lesson meeting - and had he been a real anti-semite he would never have agreed to teach a Jew to play the saxophone.

His views are, nonetheless, extreme; for example he is against the concept of secular Jewish anti-Zionist organisations, and believes them all, along with any concept of secular Jewish identity, to be a stalking horse for Zionism itself. This stems from his deeply philosophical approach to the whole Israel-Palestine question, and his view that any secular expression of Jewish identity is inherently somehow supremacist; this has led him – as I understand it - to hold that any kind of Jewish identity itself is deeply flawed outside of the religious context.

I do not agree with Gilad on that. I do believe that it is possible to be a secular Jew with a positive Jewish identity that does not in any way believe in Jewish supremacy. I do not even agree with his view that Zionism is inherently racist. For example, the pre-1948 position of the Zionist youth movement Hashomer HaTzair, which argued, as Zionists, for a secular binational state to be shared equally between Jews and Palestinians, puts paid to that. In the 1920s Martin Buber, a humanist philosopher who had absolutely no truck with racism, developed a branch of Zionism centered politically around the concept of a binational state, and sadly, like Hashomer HaTzair, got nowhere. Today it is clear that the racist branches of Zionism have prevailed. But it does not take much more than a cursory view of the history to see that those were not the only branches.

Nevertheless, post 1948, it is very hard to argue that Zionism has not behaved, since Independence, in a de facto racist way. On that at least, Gilad, Daphna and I can all agree. Right now in 2012 we are watching aghast at yet another massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Yet again this comes just before the Israeli elections; this time we are hearing Israeli ministers such as Eli Yishai assert that “the goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

Not only can I no longer defend any of this, I can no longer defend Zionism at all, not even in an abstract philosophical sense outside of any context involving the actions of the Israeli state. The Law of Return, under which I - an occasional tourist who just happens to be Jewish – can claim Israeli citizenship at a moment's notice, while a Palestinian actually born in, say, Haifa, but subsequently exiled cannot – that is a racist law. The notion of a Jewish state? That is – as far as it has been put into practice since 1948 - a racist notion.

Is Zionism racism? It didn't have to be. There were historical strands within Zionism that were not racist. Martin Buber – Zionist founder, in 1925, of the Brit Shalom organisation advocating a binational state, was not a racist, and nor were the pre-1948 Hashomer Hatzair.

But right now?

It's really very hard indeed to argue otherwise.

And it's such a blessed relief to feel that I am no longer obligated to attempt to do so.

That relief does not, however, in any way reduce the anger I feel at the current massacre of civilians in Gaza.

Not. In. My. Name.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Sep. 20th, 2012

The Mysterious Letter To @stephenfry


An hour ago or so, Stephen Fry posted this on Twitter (see above).

I bit, and hard. Not mirrored Hebrew, not Thai, not Mayalayam. Not anything else I could think of. Looks a bit like the Voynich manuscript text, but isn't that either. Hum.

Shortly afterward, he posted a suggestion that it might have been the Shavian alphabet.

It was.

Solution follows:

I enjoyed your series, especially last Thursday's program on the letter 'X'. Bearing in mind that we speak a language with forty-four phonemes (twenty-four consonants, twelve vowels and eight dipthongs) which we write with the twenty-six letter version of the Roman alphabet: we waste several letters. Mostly 'X' does the work of 'K' and 'S'. It could be used for a single sound. Iain Innes Burgess

I strongly suspect this guy, (scroll down for the letter from the guy of the same name) though I have no real basis for doing so.

That was a fun hour or so. I'd never heard of the Shavian alphabet before.

Of course, poor Mr Fry's @-reply stream is now full of what must seem like every single one of his 4.8 million followers working on their own translation.

This may be the biggest boost the Shavian alphabet has had in some time.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Aug. 26th, 2012

On Being A Male Rape Victim

Before writing a text that will contain an explicit description of a rape, it is only polite to include the phrase 'trigger warning' as early as possible, as there are those who will get to that phrase and decide that they do not wish to read further at this time. So. Trigger warning. You have been warned.

If that is enough to make you stop reading right here and now, please know that that's ok, and I hope that you will come back later on.

If you're still with me, you should be aware that anyone who is even remotely attempting to pay attention to What's Going On will have noticed that there has been a great deal of discussion of rape lately (August 2012 at time of writing, whenever you actually get around to reading this), what with the batshit insanity of Rep. Akin in the US claiming that 'legitimate rape' will not actually get a woman pregnant and, perhaps far worse, the ongoing morass of the Assange case, wherein whether or not the man is actually guilty of rape (something we cannot possibly know until the trial actually goes ahead, which thanks to Ecuador, Sweden, the US and the UK between them, may never happen), we are seeing all manner of unexpectedly backward views on the subject from people from whom one might have expected better – George Galloway, Tony Benn, Craig Murray and John Pilger just being the first four men who spring to mind in this context.

But that's not really what I'm writing about here.

There are many issues around rape that merit deeper examination than many people give it. One of these is its quite literal ubiquity. It's a lot more common than most people think. By 'most people' I of course mean 'most men', although there do exist some women who believe that outside the really rather rare context of stranger rape – where a woman gets jumped in an alley by a knife-wielding marauder – there isn't much to worry about. This is, sadly, not the case. While stranger rape does exist, the sordid truth of it is that very many rapes exist within the context of existing relationships – marriages even – and that a good bulk of them take place in a context where the woman and the man already know one another in some way.

If you're a guy, you probably know another guy who genuinely believes that if he buys a woman dinner and a few drinks it is somehow his right to have sex with her afterwards. I'm not saying that this guy you know is a rapist necessarily, but it isn't hard to see how a guy who thought that way might find himself raping someone at the end of a date, even if he didn't realise that 'rape' was what he was doing. That kind of thing probably accounts for a good bulk of rape.

If you're a guy, you might remember a time – perhaps when you were younger – when your partner didn't seem to want sex even though you did, and you managed to 'talk them into it', or just went ahead anyway. Perhaps you split up soon after that. I'll leave the analysis of that one to you and your conscience – I'm not saying anything either way. What I will say, though, is that it is clear from any reasonable amount of reading about rape that there is a substantial constituency of rapists who genuinely have no idea that they are rapists and would be horrified to realise that this is in fact the case.

As an example, please read Laurie Penny's incredibly brave account of her own rape, linked here. It is quite possible that the guy involved genuinely thought 'after the party she took her clothes off and got into my bed, so clearly that means it was ok to have sex with her'. Which he did, even though she didn't want him to. Manifestly, here it wasn't the case that it was ok to have sex with her, but in the context, what the hell else can he have possibly been thinking? May he rot, by the way.

However, actually, that isn't what I wanted to write about here either.

In many internet discussions of rape, there are (almost always male) trolls who pop up and point out that it is quite possible for men to be raped too. The annoying thing about this kind of troll is that while they are not actually wrong, their point usually has very little to do with the discussion in hand. There is a general problem with human beings raping other human beings, for sure, but in the vast bulk of cases we are talking about men raping women. Certainly there are other cases, some involving men raping other men and a very few involving women raping men, but these cases are very much in the minority.

If there's one thing that everyone ought to be able to agree on, it's that anyone raping anyone is a bad thing and that it should be stopped. Not only that, but if it turned out to be the case that people were generally given to make light of rape in such a way as to make it easier for those who perpetrated the crime to get away with it. it would seem not unreasonable for that kind of behaviour to be given a description, such as 'rape culture', in order to make it easier for people to identify and then attempt to eradicate such behaviour.

Of course, this is not a subject that everyone can agree on. This is a problem. Hordes of guys line up to deny the existence of 'rape culture' every time it gets brought up. This is mainly to do with them not wishing to confront the reality of it and also to do with them believing that there is no reason for them to confront the reality of it. After all, the vast bulk of rape victims are women. Why should a man worry about this?

I am a man who has been raped by a woman and I am telling you that this is something that everyone, male or female, should worry about.

You can stop laughing now. Don't try and claim you weren't – the vast bulk of people that I have attempted to speak to about my experience have found it completely hilarious that I – as a man – should have been raped by a woman. I am used to this response, from men and women alike. But please do keep reading. I'm going to tell you about it in some detail.

Again, and this is perhaps the opposite of the trigger warning above – if you don't give a fuck about this kind of thing – please stop reading now and piss off. That could save us both a great deal of time.

Anyway. It was about eight years ago. I wasn't in a great way. I'd been recovering from a nervous breakdown brought on by overwork in IT and triggered by a particularly unpleasant breakup with a girlfriend. I was unemployed and living in a dodgy shared house not far from Camden. I was trying to put my life back together, and this time, to involve more music, being as I am a musician and all.

I'd met this woman, some years older than me, who we will call R., who ran a music studio in Camden. She would regularly turn up at open mic nights and jam sessions and invite people back to the studio for an after-hours jam. I wasn't remotely attracted to her, but I enjoyed the jam sessions and it was always good to meet and play with the random group of other musicians back at the studio. At least one of the people I met through her is someone I am playing with regularly to this day.

R. was aware that I was earning very little money at that point, and after some time became aware that I am technically adept enough to know my way around a studio to some extent. Eventually she asked me if I wanted to come and work at the studio as an assistant. I was delighted and accepted. We went out for a drink to celebrate.

We both got quite drunk. We ended up back at my place. I was extremely tired and just wanted to sleep. I told her she could sleep where she liked or just go home but I really needed to sleep; I took my clothes off and got into bed.

I wasn't bothered when she got into bed with me – I have shared a bed with female friends many times over the years without sex being involved - but I really really really did not expect her to grab my cock and force it into her. I was too tired and drunk to get a proper erection, to say nothing of the fact that I really didn't want sex with her in the first place, but it had been a long time since I had fucked anyone and my body started responding in a way that my mind was not in control of.

I came very quickly.

“You bastard,” she said. “You came.”

Eww, I thought. Also, have you not heard of condoms? What the fuck are you doing?

I dozed for a bit, and woke to find her forcing herself on me again. This time there was no question of ejaculation, and perhaps if I had been sober and more awake I could have simply forced her back off me, but such as it was, I just lay there underneath her watching her face contorting and grimacing until she was sexually satisfied herself. It was horrible. It was the opposite of sex. I don't know what it was.

I didn't come that time.

Afterwards I got out of the bed, put my dressing gown on and went to sit at the far side of the room feeling more like shit than I have ever felt in my life. I stared at her, not knowing what to say. She lay on the bed for a while, then announced that she was going home, and that I should call her to discuss when exactly I should start work at the studio.

I didn't call.

At first I thought I'd simply had the worst sex ever. It took me about six months to realise that what had happened to me was rape. I hadn't wanted sex with her but she'd forced herself on me. That's sex without consent. That's rape. The vast bulk of rapes are men raping women, but very occasionally, it's the other way around. That's what happened to me. I still think it's probably worse for female rape victims but I can tell you it's no fun for anyone.

I spent most of the next year drinking and smoking weed in enormous quantities without particularly enjoying it; in the meantime the shared house fell apart and, being incredibly lucky to have a supportive family, I ended up back living with my parents for a while and have been trying to put myself back together ever since.

At points, I attempted to tell a few friends about the experience, and they all laughed at me. Every one. I stopped trying to tell friends about it.

I tried to look for support online, but I couldn't find any Rape Crisis centre that dealt with male victims of rape. They might exist now, but eight years ago, they did not.

I went through some pretty bad years, mainly dulled by alcohol. I seem to remember coining the phrase 'the seven bottles of wine a week diet' in one of my cartoons. I am not proud of this. I am still trying to kick myself of that habit.

I have also met a lovely woman to whom I am now engaged and who I love very much. I've built up my business as a musician and I'm doing ok. I'm trying to drink less. I'm not smoking weed any more.

Lucky me.

That's not really the point of my story.

The point of my story is this: those of you reading this who think that rape is some abstract quantity or some rare event are wrong. Read around the statistics – the results are all too clear. The proportion of people who have been sexually assaulted or raped is alarmingly high, and the fact is that the vast bulk of victims are women.

Yes there are occasional men, like me, who are also victims. I wonder to this day whether perhaps my rapist had earlier been raped herself at some point; maybe she lived in a world where forcing yourself on someone else sexually was something that she had been taught personally, something that seemed unremarkable and normal. It seems plausible.

But the truth is clear – rape is a massive problem, and the vast bulk of victims are women, and the vast bulk of rapists are men. This has to stop and this has to stop now. It's fabulous that women are tending to organise through this or that branch of feminism in order to do what they can to make it stop, but it's incredibly important that men also join in the fight against rape.

Simply 'not raping anyone' isn't enough. Not letting your mate get away with dodgy rape jokes is also part of it. Finding out what rape culture is – it's a just a Google search away you know - and working to make sure that you don't yourself perpetuate any of that shit is a great deal of it.

And if in the end, you think – as a bloke – that rape isn't something you need to worry about yourself, you may perhaps have statistics on your side, but statistics mean fuck all when it actually happens to you.

I'm still sure it's much worse to be a female rape victim – I wasn't physically damaged and I didn't have a risk of pregnancy. But the STD test was no fun and the psychological fallout even less fun. I'm supposed to be a guy, whatever the hell that means. And to this day sometimes I still think, well, rape? Really? Maybe it was just really bad sex.

Really bad sex? Isn't that just another way of describing rape?

Think about it.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Aug. 12th, 2012

Crazy 'Bout You Baby

One of my all-time favourite albums is the Christine Perfect album. It was released in 1970, just after she left Chicken Shack and just before she joined Fleetwood Mac as Christine McVie; this was also the year before I was born. When I was eighteen or so, I pretty much had it on repeat play for several months, so it's only natural there are a couple of tunes from the album that I've learned to play myself.

I haven't performed any of them in public for a long while, but when I was asked to play a short impromptu solo set at Bluepeace last weekend, I ended up doing both No Road Is The Right Road and Crazy Bout You Baby. Unknown to me, it turns out the performance was recorded, and I'm in the process of figuring out whether it's ok to upload cover versions to Soundcloud or not - seems that the answer is 'no, not without permission, but actually lots of people do anyway, so go figure.'

No Road Is The Right Road is an original Christine Perfect number, and I had always thought that Crazy 'Bout You Baby was too, but it turns out not to be. However, working out the actual authorship of the version of Crazy 'Bout You Baby recorded by Christine Perfect turns out to be something of a conundrum.

The Wikipedia page for the album credits Little Walter with writing the song. However, the fleetwoodmac.net page for the song claims that this credit was a mistake, that it in any case applied to a different recording of the tune by Perfect, and that it was actually written by Sonny Boy Williamson.

You can hear Sonny Boy Williamson's version here on Youtube. It's more or less clear after several listens that Perfect's version, quite apart from changing the tempo and feel of the tune, doesn't use any of the original lyrics except the chorus - 'crazy bout you baby but you don't care nothing in this world for me'.

Perfect's first verse ("can't sleep at night, catnap through the day...") turns out to be taken from the third verse of Walking Dr Bill, by Doctor Clayton, covered by BB King. I cannot find any reference to her second and third verses except in lyrics sites that list the Christine Perfect lyrics.

Clearly I'm not looking hard enough though, as according to the liner notes, the song was chosen via Ike and Tina Turner's version. Sure enough, Perfect is singing substantially the same lyrics as Tina Turner does, though the writing credit there, according to discogs.com, is still Williamson.

The plot thickens further when you realise that - according to Wikipedia at least - Little Walter played with Sonny Boy Williamson at some stage, though if he recorded a version of the song I can't find any reference to it. So it's quite possible that the Little Walter credit is actually at least partly correct - maybe the altered lyrics sung by Tina Turner and repeated by Christine Perfect originated with him.

Alternatively, perhaps there is an alternate Williamson version with different lyrics. Getting to the bottom of it will require more than just sitting here at home and Googling - the next stage would probably involve attempting to get in touch with Tina Turner and asking what she can remember about the song, as sadly neither Little Walter nor Sonny Boy Williamson are around to settle the matter once and for all.

I might have a crack at that, but in the meantime, I've realised that the more I look into this, the more I simply don't know who wrote this tune. In any case, I mostly screwed up the lyrics myself when performing it and have no idea what I actually ended up singing - it was one of those 'this is as much as I can remember of the lyrics' performances, so my silly little version, for what it's worth, is different again.

So how do you go about asking permission for that?

Maybe I should just go ahead and upload anyway, for what it's worth.


Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Jan. 22nd, 2012

Pro-SOPA Soundtrack

(Previously posted to Google+, posted here on request.)

So here's a couple of links that have been bothering me today.

First up, pro-SOPA (and award-winning, apparently) songwriter Helienne Lindvall's mindblowing article in The Guardian explaining why it's worth shutting down the internet in order to preserve the business model of major music labels: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2012/jan/19/behind-music-anti-piracy-legislation

But that article has a soundtrack. It's this song, co-written by one H. Lindvall: Daniel Lindström - Got to be you.

Not sure if that's the one that won an award. I'll say this though - if you can make it both to the end of the song and the end of the article, you deserve an award yourself. (Comments on the article are worth reading also, except mine.)

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Jan. 19th, 2012

This Again - A Response To My Friend Who Was Concerned About Illegal Downloads Of His Music

(Over on Facebook, I got into discussion my friend David Goo, an excellent musician and songwriter, over SOPA and the piracy issue. After he posted to the effect that pointed out that if he had received 50p for each of the 30,000 downloads of one of his songs, he'd be able to make a whole new album, my response got a bit long, so I thought I'd reproduce it here.)

David, I too am a copyright owner and content creator, and I too have had my music downloaded thousands of times over the last few years. That doesn't make me angry at all. It makes me happy. Very very dancing off the walls happy.

So happy, in fact, that my response is to accept it, to work with it, and to deliberately make my music available for free download via Bandcamp over on music.conniptions.org together with an option to pay. This model is working pretty well for me, and here's why.

First, some basic economics. When the marginal cost of reproducing a thing drops to zero, the intrinsic value of the thing also drops to zero. Period.

Recording "Wayne's Awesome Song" might have cost me years of blood and sweat and broken strings and sleepless nights and studio time and arguments with myself and musicians about arrangements and production and all of that malarkey, but in the end, none of that changes the fact that the file WaynesAwesomeSong.mp3 is now just a string of bits that can be reproduced at no cost and its intrinsic value is £0.

Everything is now both digital and networked. There is no more scarcity of digital media. There is no technological solution this without breaking the network, and it's not at all clear that that's even possible. Before the internet, yes, you needed a physical copy. Taking one was stealing. Now you don't. If you have a copy of my latest album it costs you nothing to make a copy for a friend. That's not stealing. At worst that's copyright infringement, but actually, I don't see it as a bad thing at all.

In fact, if you do have my latest album, let me urge now you to make a copy for a friend, preferably one who might like it. Seriously. Do it.

What the hell am I saying? Have I lost my tiny mind? Do I want to die starving and penniless?

No. I'm very clear about why I'm doing it this way and why it works. It's like this:

If you've never heard of me or my music (that goes for pretty much all of you), and you download WaynesAwesomeSong.mp3 on spec, one of two things will happen. Either you love it or you don't. If you don't, that's fair enough. Not everyone loves my music. You wouldn't have bought it anyway, and I have lost nothing.

But you might love it.

Now everything changes. You're in love with WaynesAwesomeSong.mp3, you think it's fucking great, and you're really excited to discover that I've got a website containing not just WaynesOtherAwesomeSong.mp3 but - oh my god - WaynesGreatAlbum. You can still download all of that for free if you want, but you'll have to type in £0 in order to do so. Chances are - you're an honest character - you find yourself paying £5 or £10 for the 'free' download.

Why? Because now there is value to you. The intrinsic value of the bits are still £0, but it's not just any mp3 we're talking about here, it's one of Wayne's. You have a relationship with my music now and you're prepared to pay for it. (You're not an honest character? Fine. Then you wouldn't have bought it anyway and I've still lost nothing. Oh, and screw you, dishonest character.)

This happens on my Bandcamp site all the time. Payment is optional, and loads of people choose to pay. They're the ones who actually like my music and want to support me to make sure I make more of it. The others? They're downloading on spec. They don't know me from Adam and if they had to pay, they wouldn't bother.

Those free downloads aren't lost sales and they cost me nothing. Some of those downloads will lead to sales in the future - the ones who actually like it. Others don't. I guess they just weren't that into me. But I don't care because it didn't cost me anything.

It's a great time to be a musician. We have more access to more music and more recording facilities and more distribution channels than at any time in history. There's also rather a lot of us. That's ok, because there's even more music fans than ever before, and they're out looking for the stuff they love. There's a lot to sift through, and that's why they're downloading things for free, on spec.

Bluntly, if people aren't downloading your music for free, you've got a problem, and your problem is that the music isn't good enough. Go practice. (David, you do not have this problem.)

Now, my Pay-What-You-Want model doesn't work for everyone. I'm hearing from musicians who have grown their listenerships from the hundreds to the thousands and the tens of thousands that at a certain point you do want to charge for downloads again. Those people still stream everything for free, though, and they make damn sure that if Blogger A likes their new album, Blogger A can stream it from their own blog. This leads to new listeners and new sales.

I'm saying all this out of love, David, because I love you and your music and I want you to thrive. Unauthorised downloads are now a fact of life, like death and taxes. It seems pretty clear to me that unless you embrace this fact and work with it, you'll be in trouble.

In the old music industry, everything was based on scarcity. Studio time was scarce, vinyl was scarce, music magazines were scarce, radio - decent radio - was scarce. A very few people made an awful lot of money, but - it's not hard to find the stories - most of the musicians and content creators made fuck all. That old industry is basically dead now, though the zombie-like corpses are still bumbling around walking into things and trying to break stuff.

In the new industry everything is available. Too much, even. Tiny one woman music blogs with a readership of less than 500 have a backlog of new albums to review going back a year. If you make your album artificially scarce by refusing to let people even stream it, they'll just go 'meh', and move on to the next thing. If it's one click away from an email, they'll have a listen. They'll write about it. They'll stream it on their blog. People will discover your music who never heard it before.

It's all about discovery. That's the bottom line about free downloads - you lose nothing but you gain listeners. In a world with ten thousand bands in every town, the question is not 'how can I get every single bugger who downloads my music to pay.' The question is - how can I get them to download my music at all.

And the answer is - by letting them.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Jan. 15th, 2012

Bush Of Thorns Remix Project #1

About ten years ago, back when I was still calling the band Fast Freddie Fourier and the Transforms, I recorded an EP called Bush of Thorns at Bonafide Studios in London.

The performances from the other musicians involved were great (Brian Hedemann was on drums, Alero Scott on backing vocals, Kevin G Davy on trumpet) but I was never all that happy with the final mixes - the drums were all way too loud, especially on Sleeping Beauty. That was entirely my fault. Waseem Munir, the engineer from Bonafide, had done a great job of tracking everything, but the mixes were all made in a big hurry, as I didn't have the money to pay for extra studio time to have them done properly. Not only that but we'd only managed to finish four of the eight tunes I'd started - I remember insisting that the last hour be spent burning all the stems to CD so I could finish it off at leisure some time.

That time is now. Today I finally dug out the old data CDs from 2002 and started trying to transfer them to the computer. The ones I'd made myself - the guide guitars and vocals and the backing tracks - all of which were recorded at home on Linux, all worked fine. The ones from the studio? Would. Not. Mount. Could not read them. Nothing worked.


To cut a long story short - and if you too should have mysterious CD ROMs from circa 2002 burned by a Mac which you can't seem to get Linux to read - here's what I did to fix it.

First I had to install cdfs.

Doing so revealed that the CDs in question were indeed HFS of some sort, though mount -t hfs was still refusing to work. A bit of Googling turned up the existence of HFS+, which I'd never heard of. Trying mount -t hfsplus didn't work either, though, and left my system with an unkillable mount process, forcing me to reboot. Bummer.

Here's what did work:

First I mounted the CDs with cdfs:

sudo mount -t cdfs -o ro /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdfs

Then I mounted the HFS file that produced with hfsplus:

sudo mount -t hfsplus -o loop /mnt/cdfs/3.2.Apple_HFS /media/cdrom0

And bam - got my data back.

Now to load the lot up in Ardour and start mixing...

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Dec. 21st, 2011


It's so easy to take your eye off the ball.

And there are so many balls to keep an eye on nowadays - the death-throes of global capitalism as we know it, the constant protests and riots in major world cities, the shrinking polar ice-caps, the weird and extreme weather, the dismantlement of the NHS and Welfare State in the UK, Israel's descent as a state into increasingly open and belligerent racism, the collapse of the Euro, the turmoil of the increasingly misnamed Arab Spring, the spectacle of a dysfunctional nuclear armed state without a leader in North Korea and the equally alarming spectacle of the dysfunctional nuclear armed states with leaders in the US, Russia and elsewhere, and the fact that despite having the most demonstrably punchable face in British political history, no-one has yet laid out George Osborne. Yet at the same time there are so many shiny things to distract us - Charlie Brooker's new series, Minecraft, Twitter, Glitch, that great video of cats someone posted on Facebook or somewhere, that really interesting essay on Greek metallurgy on Metafilter, the Christmas display on Willesden Green High Road, and so on. This is not to mention the small matter of keeping going from day to day, going to work, keeping food on the table, making plans for the future, figuring out ways to stay sane and positive in a brutal and uncaring universe and so on. And, of course, not forgetting... ooh, shiny.

So I nearly missed the whole SOPA thing, until a friend posted this video of Dan Bull's excellent SOPA Cabana song on Facebook.

In short, SOPA is an attempt by US Congress to allow corporate copyright holders to demand the shutdown of any site they believe to be participating in or even just facilitating copyright infringement. That could include Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any site based on user-generated content. This isn't hyperbole. Google and Facebook (as well as Ebay, Twitter, and just about every major web based company you can think of) are taking the threat very seriously.

If you're in the US, you can do various things about this - there's information here on LifeHacker and more here from the EFF, plus (as usual) some great discussion on the subject on Metafilter and pretty comprehensive coverage on BoingBoing. If you're not in the US? I honestly don't know.

So I drew a silly cartoon. And now - it being arse AM - I'm going to bed.

I hope the internet is still there tomorrow.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Mar. 24th, 2011

Plus Ca Change

I am absurdly, childishly pleased with the redesign of the conniptions.org website that I did last night.

Certainly there are several improvements yet to be made - the rounded corners on the box in the middle need sharpening up, the banner image across the top is much wider than it needs to be on most pages and is shifted slightly to the right on the Posterous blog page for some reason, I have yet to add a commenting facility to the cartoons and the lovely bandcamp widget with the new album in it has a tendency to crash if you reload it too many times to soon, such as by reading through the cartoons.

On the other hand, the process of replacing the previous look and feel, which was based on artwork from the Live At Monkey Chews release from 2008, with something based instead on the new Sweet Sister Starlight release, turned out not to be the world of pain I had feared. Surprisingly few files had to be edited; mostly it was a question of deleting things that were now out of date.

Using a large top banner with an image map for navigation meant that large amounts of cruft and wrongness could be removed from the rest of the design - basic page to page navigation no longer needed to take up space elsewhere and important things like links to Twitter and Facebook could be placed discreetly yet visibly at the top of every page using icons from a free icon set (I got mine from here but the internet is full of them right now). It also meant that integration with parts of the site hosted elsewhere - on services such as Bandcamp (the music page) and Posterous (the blog) - was much much simpler than I'd thought it would be.

And I have a box with rounded corners! Welcome to 2003 (1998?), Wayne - nice to have you, since you missed it the first time. (Nested divs. Huh. Still sure there must be a better way.)

Inspiration, as ever these days, came largely from Steve Lawson, who has been using the top banner image map thing to integrate bits of web presence across multiple services since just about forever; the clarity and brevity of the icon thing came more from Laura Kidd - see She Makes War - but I am seeing customised social media icons all over the place at the moment. It is clear why - anyone who already knows what, for example, the exciting new Facebook-killing social media site Plonkr actually is will recognise the logo; mentioning the site by name isn't going to help and takes up far more space.

I deliberately chose not to use the icons for Myspace and Last.fm, as while I still have pages there I hardly use them any more and am suspicious that hardly anyone else does either. Do you? I could well be wrong.

Also, while I am banging on about how terribly clever I think I am, it is highly likely that I have screwed something up somewhere that I don't know about yet, so if anything seems borked on the site beyond things I have already mentioned, please do let me know about it so I can get it fixed.

In other news, the new album Sweet Sister Starlight is now finally available online to stream or download, and I am pathetically and profusely grateful to those of you who have already downloaded it, streamed it and/or clicked the 'like' button.

I'm equally grateful to Tom Robinson of BBC 6 Music who played Mistress Song on BBC Introducing on Monday and to Nick Tann, who played Sweet Sister Starlight on his Is This Thing On podcast the other week. Nick is also a very fine singer-songwriter whose latest project - well worth checking out - involves actually making a proper record out of vinyl. Not a bad idea that.

Now that my album is done, I'm back gigging again - I had a great time playing at Phibbers in Islington last Monday night - thanks to everyone who came down to that one - and there's a bunch of gigs coming up in Croydon, New Cross and Brick Lane to which I am also looking forward. Plus the Ashley Wood Festival in Tisbury, Wiltshire, in July.

I say 'done' of course, but I haven't had the actual CDs made up yet - that's going to happen over the next few weeks in preparation for a 'CD launch' towards the end of May - if you're really keen you can go to the Music page and pre-order one. That's because I'm also absurdly, childishly pleased with this album - so much so that I am releasing it twice, once online, and then again, some months later, on CD.

I hope that isn't an insanely wrong thing to do.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

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