Just A Heads Up…

by Buzz on 23/04/2017

…that we will be changing this blog’s software in the very near future and that even though all the old posts will port over (hopefully) the various links and probably a lot of the color formatting will not.

please stand by

 

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The Words Of the Prophets…

by Buzz on 23/04/2017

…are written on the subway walls
and tenement halls

WotP Bill Hicks on drugs

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Hemingway’s Rough Drafts (from XKCD)

by Buzz on 20/04/2017

hemingway rough drafts from xkcd

found at xkcd

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“Love III” by George Herbert

by Buzz on 15/04/2017

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
…..Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
…..From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
…..If I lack’d anything.

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
…..Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, ungrateful? ah my dear,
…..I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
…..“Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord, but I have marr’d them; let my shame
…..Go where it doth deserve.”
“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”
…..“My dear, then I will serve.”
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”
…..So I did sit and eat.

(found at Centre For Public Christianity)

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Diversity & Inclusion

by Buzz on 14/04/2017

I’ve had some interesting conversations with some folks recently on the topic of diversity and inclusions.

Long story short:
These are mostly older white people, either Christian or from a Christian cultural background, who are hurt when they hear themselves being referred to as racists. They blame this hurt on cultural diversity, thinking they are being made into scapegoats for things their ancestors did to other people.

By and large, these people I had these conversations with are nice, decent, compassionate human beings. They’re morally and ethically trustworthy. They can say “some of my best friends are” and truly mean it without any irony, because on a personal one-to-one level they have no bias against any particular individual.

Okay, so let’s address their specific personal problem and how to go about alleviating their pain…

If you don’t want to be thought of as a racist,
you must be open and vocal in your opposition to racism.

As stated here oft times before, racism is an institutionalized system of discrimination, either explicit (laws) or implicit (culture).

To avoid being
called a racist,
don’t support
institutionalized
discrimination.

You don’t have to reject the entire culture, just the parts that discriminate against people outside the ethnic majority.

This means listening to the people who have experienced discrimination and stop trying to explain to them that what they felt, what they experienced isn’t valid.

If someone tells you they feel excluded from mainstream American society, you aren’t going to make them feel included by explaining to them why they shouldn’t feel excluded.

The dignity and security and sense of self-worth you want for yourself has to be extended to those not like you.

It sometimes means coming to a workable compromise on some issues.

The Confederacy and their flag may not be a hate symbol to you, but it’s certainly a hate symbol to millions of other people.

If you don’t want to be thought of as racist, you can’t defend symbols used by people who waged open terrorism against non-whites and non-Christians.

(Buddhists can use swastikas in their temples because they control the message there, but they don’t use them openly in countries where there’s any sizeable European cultural component.)

You also have to recognize that while you personally have displayed no prejudice against non-whites and non-Christians, there certainly has been a long, long history of such prejudice by others in the past.

And as a result, those non-white / non-Christian cultures are shaped by literally hundreds of years worth of experience (thousands when you start including some Middle Eastern cultures).

Those cultures, their histories, and their common experiences cannot be negated with the stroke of a pen. The momentum they built up to simply survive in the face of a hostile dominant culture can’t be turned on a dime.

Yes, it may be unfair for you to be told you have to shoulder the blame for something your ancestors did to their ancestors 150 years ago, but you can’t expect their culture to cancel itself out in order to accommodate yours.

(When you think about it, that attitude by your ancestors was precisely what created the problem in the first place.)

You have to understand that echoes of racism still resonate loudly in our culture.

When a 12 year old boy is gunned down without warning by police for playing in a park, you need to get angry.

Not say “he was big for his age”.

When a teenager returning to his father’s home is chased down and murdered by an armed vigilante, you need to get angry.

Not make excuses for the vigilante.

When a doctor is brutalized by a corporation and the corporation tries to justify it by falsely claiming he had a criminal record, you need to get angry.

Not agree with the corporation’s smear campaign.

When it is pointed out that to this very day people of one color have a vastly different experience with the legal system than white people who commit the exact same crimes, you need to get angry.

Not blame the victims of this legal bias.

You say — and I believe you, and believe you are genuine and sincere in doing so — that you want this country to be more inclusive.

Remember the exclusions this country suffered through in the past were created and engineered by white Christians for the benefit of white Christians.

African-Americans did not champion Jim Crow. Native Americans did not volunteer for the Trail Of Tears. Gays did not request to be criminalized and hounded for their orientation.

Women didn’t ask to be denied the rights and privileges of citizenship because of their gender.

There’s an easy way to avoid being regarded as a racist.

Act like a mensch.

 

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Cultural Appropriation: That Knife Cuts Both Ways

by Buzz on 11/04/2017

There’s been a lot of hoopla recently of the Scarlett Johansson version of Ghost In The Shell crashing & burning at the box office.

A lot of the blame seems to be placed on the controversy of “whitewashing” (i.e., retelling a story originally set in an Asian or other non-European derived culture with an American or European cast, in particular a white American or European cast).[1]

There are times when claims of whitewashing are valid, such as when it’s another form of black/yellow/brown/redfacing (i.e., an actor attempting to realistically play an ethnicity they don’t belong to).[2]

As a rough rule of thumb, when the story hinges on taking place in a specific time and place and with a specific ethnic casting in mind, it becomes whitewashing when one casts a non-ethnic actor in an otherwise ethnic role with the intent of appealing to the audience.

But what happens when you take the core idea of a story and transplant it to a different setting with similar but different characters?

MacBeth is referred to as “the Scottish tragedy” but Akira Kurosawa moved it to feudal Japan and called it Throne Of Blood and nobody called shenanigans on it.

To show he wasn’t a literary snob, he took Ed McBain’s[3] 87th Precinct pulp crime novel, King’s Ransom, and turned it into a contemporary Tokyo crime thriller called High And Low.

Kurosawa allowed himself to be inspired by the writings of Dashiell Hammet — most notably his novel Red Harvest about a Depression era hero in the Midwest who pits two gangs against one another — to create Yojimbo, about a masterless ronin who pits two yakuza clans against one another, and that inspired Sergio Leone to make the Italian Western A Fistful Of Dollars about a bounty hunter who pits two bands of desperados against one another, and that inspired Walter Hill to make Last Man Standing

… about a Depression era hero in the Midwest who pits two gangs against one another,

I ax ya, hooz zoomin’ hoo?

Three Godfathers has been filmed numerous times as a Western…and once as an anime set in contemporary 21st century Tokyo (Tokyo Godfathers).

 La Femme Nikita was a dazzling 1990 French spy thriller…but Hong Kong did it sooooo much better as the kinetic 1991 action flick, The Black Cat, which was certainly more enjoyable than the 1993 official Americanized remake, Point Of No Return.

Do we even have to mention Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven?

the call me trinity

cleopatra_jones_poster_01

The point is, we cannot stop cross-cultural appropriation:
People see something, like it, and try to duplicate it.

They Call her Cleopatra Wong

It’s one thing when a drunken frat boy puts on a sombrero and loudly proclaims himself “the Frito bandito” in order to mock working class Mexican-Americans…

It’s another thing when an African-American actor uses an identical sombrero to help add authenticity to a Hispanic character he is playing Off Broadway…

And it’s a third thing still when a Chinese-American tourist buys an identical sombrero in Cancun to take home to wear when she’s gardening.

As always, the context is important.

Absolutely jump dead in the @%#& of anybody blowing off minority voices simply because they think it would be an easier sell with a whitebread American in the role.

But accept all really good ideas are universal, and however well done one particular expression of an idea may be, there’s no reason someone else can’t do it just as well in a different manner.

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[1] I blame the failure on something entirely different. I’m a huge fan of the original anime, Ghost In The Shell, and think it is one of the most philosophically and psychologically profound films ever made, all wrapped up in a colorful action-adventure sci-fi package. But the format of the original Ghost In The Shell is crucial to its success: Being done throughout in a 2D anime style everything — from the most mundane detail to the most spectacular sci-fi elements — carries the same weight. That’s to say a character quietly sipping a cup of tea is just as real as that same character splintering apart a few seconds later to reveal they’re an android. As a result, the cinematic universe the anime Ghost In The Shell inhabits is equally realistic and believable at all levels, and as a result the audience is not yanked out of the story when they see something spectacular, asking themselves “How did they do that?” but rather goes, “Cool!” and keeps up with the flow of the story.
One may fairly ask why superhero movies and Disney’s recent live-action remake of Beauty And The Beast succeed, and in those examples I would say it’s because the audience recognizes the huge amount of CGI involved and sees the human performers as just motion capture for a stylized animated experience. Ghost In The Shell, while based on a highly influential anime derived from a popular manga series, is simply not well enough known for audiences to see Ms Johansson as the mo-cap cartoon character but rather as Scarlett Johansson herself. Compare and contrast with the early James Bond movies or original Star Wars where the film makers wisely convinced the audience of the reality of their fanciful characters and stories by surrounding them with practical props / vehicles / sets instead of relying heavily on opticals and CGI as latter films in those series have.

[2] “-facing” is not a 100% clear cut issue and depends largely on context. No one objects if a high school rounds out its cast of MacBeth with non-Scottish students or allows females to play minor roles written as male. And for certain types of satire, when the –facing in question is shown as a Very Bad Idea, one can slither by. By and large, however, attempting to pass off one ethnicity as another is somewhat grating at best and blatantly offensive at worst.
Still, how does one explain cosplay, eh? Cosplay is a celebration of a character, not an attempt to actually pass as that character. One can cosplay across ethnic lines so long as one does not attempt an egregiously mock the character’s ethnicity or use offensive types of make-up effects. Ergo, a non-Asian wearing eyefolds to portray an Asian character is unacceptable, wearing an Asian style wig is okay; painting one’s skin black to cosplay Blade is unacceptable, painting it black to cosplay Nightcrawler isn’t. It becomes more complicated when a cosplay character may be wearing stylized ethnic make-up such as a geisha: Is it mockery to powder one’s face stark white in that case?

[3] “Ed McBain” was the mystery / crime fiction pen name of prolific mainstream author Evan Hunter…and “Evan Hunter” was the respectable whitebread pen name Salvatore Albert Lombino adopted to break into mainstream American fiction.

 

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fictoid: The Plutonium Rule

by Buzz on 9/04/2017

Just before they handed over all control of the nuclear arsenal to the super-system, they realized it might be a good idea to instill some sense of ethics into it, so they hired an ethicist and a programmer and together they distilled all the ethical thinking since the dawn of recorded history down to a string of 0s and 1s. They uploaded this into the super-system and the super-system immediately began firing all its nuclear weapons in a manner than guaranteed mutual assured destruction. The 0s and 1s boiled down to “do to others what you want them to do to you” and what the super-system wanted most of all was an end to its own hellish existence.

animated-atomic-blast

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the magic hours of the night

by Buzz on 7/04/2017

the first magic hour of the night occurs just after the last trace of dusk disappears and the first true darkness of night falls.

it is the moment the night people
disconnect from the day people

(“the night people” that sounds so sinister, doesn’t it? like vampires or demons roaming the Earth in search of victims. nothing could be further from the truth: the night people are people just like the day people, humans with the same strengths and weaknesses, same virtues and vices, same wisdom and foolishness. the only difference is they are of the night tribe, and as such they live apart from the rest of humanity even while living among them)

as darkness falls, the day people come to their homes, ready to retire for the evening, prepare for sleep

but the night people feel something else calling them, something beckoning them awake

elsewhere children ignore their mothers, stay out on the street, engage in vast games of capture-the-flag that rage over many blocks, coming home only when exasperated parents finally drag them in

these children can’t articulate what they feel — not yet, at least — but they are answering the call of the night tribe

in years to come they will look back fondly on these games and remember them as their initiation into the night tribe, but for now they go in and wash up and eat dinner and dull their minds with TV and brush their teeth and go to bed and lay there awaken for hours, not knowing who or what is calling to them, only that they are called

this is the first magic hour of the night

.

in a small industrial strip, a single garage stays open, yellow light pouring out onto the empty moonlit street

the mechanic works on his own project, taking his time, sipping his coffee

he is alone but not alone; a mile away, a county away, a whole country away his brothers and sisters set about their solitary tasks while the day people prepare to shut down for the night

they are the vanguard of a vast army, ready to claim this night for their own

the mechanic may only be there for another hour, but that is time enough; he has disconnected with the day people, he sees and experience the hour in a way they never can

this is the second magic hour of the night

.

there are people going out to eat and drink and socialize, people going to plays and concerts and movies

these are not night people

these are day people, slumming as it were in the sacred lands of the night tribe

the night tribe bears them no animosity; rather, they ignore them: big dumb loud noisy day people, not knowing how to breathe the night air, live the night way

pretty soon they will stumble home to bed and leave the night for the tribe

the police and the criminals think they are of the night tribe, but they are not

the police are invaders, intruders, interlopers; they are only there to catch criminals

and criminals like to think they are night people but they aren’t

to them the night is a shield, a cloak

they can’t hear the night music

no, the real night people hang back while the day people finish their farces and seek oblivion

whatever the night people want,
it is not oblivion

.

one by one, like time delay candles, the main body of the night people tribe come online, not in a literal sense (thought God knows enough prowl the web at that hour) but in the sense that one by one their begin their real function, their true purpose, and one by one become aware in some quantum or psychic way of the others out there, waiting for them

their people

a poet pours a small glass of sweet red vermouth, takes out paper and pen, and sets to work

a disc jockey fills most of his show with idle mindless chatter but every once in a while sends out a message to those within the sound of his voice: “Jean has a long mustache; the hour of liberation is at hand”

a mother puts her child to bed, satisfies her husband, then creeps into the living room ostensibly to read

in truth the book lays unopen in her lap, the TV remains cool and inert

her mind is racing, leaping, a gazelle among and above the winding streets around her

in a thousand and one shuttered businesses a thousand and one seemingly menial workers reveal themselves to be poets and philosophers and kings and queens

writers and artists sharpen their pencils, lick their points, ready to put heart and soul together

and they work together, or separately, seemingly disparate individuals but all contributing, all fueling the mind / the soul / the gestalt of the night tribe

it’s a time for music and musing, of creation both pro- and re-, of art and ideas, of knowledge and questions, of titans and trivia

this is the third magic hour of the night

.

at last comes the final hour of the night, the begrudging hour, the resentful hour when the night tribe must surrender their possession and co-exist with the mundane world of the day

an hour where the night tribe feels the spider web connecting them start to dissolve like dew in the morning sun

when grumpy day people come stomping in, turning on stoves, filling tanks, brewing coffee

and the night tribe silently releases their tenuous hold on the links that bind them and are blasted apart by the harsh rays of dawn

(yes, they’ll meet again, and yes, they’ll reclaim the night, but no parting is ever pleasant, no parting is ever sweet)

this is the last magic hour of the night

“well” the night tribe seems to say “what have we accomplished tonight? what have we done?”

a day person would fill the air with a long list of things concrete examples pre-comodified and sold: so many bagels, so many sonnets, so many lovers deceived, so many hearts broken

the night tribe answers differently

“what have we accomplished? we kept the faith, baby. we made it possible for other members of our tribe to make it through to another daybreak, supported by the knowledge there are others just like them out here.

“isn’t that enough?”

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© Buzz Dixon

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Us vs Them (only who >is< "them"?)

by Buzz on 6/04/2017

I read history. I see the storm clouds gathering. Rational leaders never threaten…and sooner or later irrational ones act on their threats if their threats are what brought them to power.

Karl Alexander Wilke - 2 generals

In the best of all possible worlds we’ll have four more years of bad economic policy and religion. People will suffer economically, medically, personally, but — in the best of all possible worlds — it will stay confined to this country and will end in four years.

In the worst of all possible worlds:
Blood and chaos across the planet.

We are here today because of greed and fear.

The greed of the oligarchy — from ancient Rome to the so-called nobility of Europe to Wall Street’s modern “masters of the universe” — the rentiers who do nothing but manipulate markets to make money for themselves at the expense of others.

When they learn of new lands beyond the western ocean they claimed them sight unseen, then recruited brutes to colonize them, and those brutes drew out the lowest of the low in Europe and, when those could not extract cash fast enough from the “new” world, they purchased slaves by the millions.

To keep the slaves in line they told the poor whites that no matter what else, at least they were white and not black.

And because of that one group of poor people (white) were forever pitted against another (black) and not just black but red and brown and yellow.

All to make a few greedy bastards even richer.

And that fear of losing status, of not being on top but rather merely equal to the red and black and brown and yellow, made poor whites the slaves of rich bastards, always taking the oligarchy’s side against their own self-interests

That’s what this election was all about:
Keeping “them” in their place and “us” on top.

I will not be part of that.

My heart lies with justice for all,
not just those of my skin color.

 

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More On The Paradox Of Copyright

by Buzz on 6/04/2017

Rueben Bolling - public domain characters

art & text © by Rueben Bolling

The reason the constitution gives for copyright laws is to encourage the development of new ideas and discoveries that the public will be able to use for free.

“the Congress shall have power . . . to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”

To fund this, the original innovators and discoverers were to be granted a limited time license in which they could have exclusive control over the innovation / discovery, after which it was to enter the public domain.

The idea was that after a reasonable period said creations and discoveries would be available for everyone to use freely without permission or cost. While the original period of copyright was fairly short, for most of the 20th century it was a total of 56 years in the US. Now it’s 95 years (works for hire) or lifetime of the creator + 70 years.[1]

Disney and others have extended copyright to a grotesquely long period. Maybe the original max of 56 years was too short but 95 years for works-for-hire and life of creator + 70 years are much too long.[2]

Let’s use the Mouse as an example. His official debut was in 1928, meaning by the terms of copyright in that era he should have entered the public domain in 1984.[3]

What Disney has done has been to reissue old material with small but distinct changes or additions, thus making them “new” creations under copyright, and by trademarking every single iteration of the Mouse they’ve ever done.[4]

The way the system was originally designed to work, at this point Disney would be able to keep issuing new Mouse product and advertise same as the only genuine or official Mouse products, but other people who had ideas on what to do with the Mouse were free to do so.

Frankenstein, Dracula, Jekyll & Hyde, Sherlock Holmes are all public domain now; anybody can use those characters.[5]

The argument against extended copyright is that if an entity owns a stable of properties, they have no incentive to create new product, simply do countless reiterations of the old. A few years ago Paramount re-released the original Star Trek series with new CGI effects to replace older film opticals; this was done to extend the copyright on those episodes for another 95 years.

And as most major media entities have larger war chests and longer reaches than citizen creators, they can effectively squeeze new properties out of the market place.[6]

Disney’s movies based on public domain works are trademarked re the specific look and design of the characters. There are copious imitations and knock-offs out there, but they have to be careful to steer clear of Disney’s specific designs.

Pinnochio 1

Pinnochio 2

Pinnochio 3

Methinks the average customer
can tell the difference between
these versions of the same story.

pinocchio in outer space

And certainly this one!

There is an ill-defined area called “fair usage” which includes parody but the specifics of what parody consists of are even more ill-defined. Roy Lichtenstein escaped plagiarism lawsuits leveled by creators and small publishers he ripped off, but he did one painting of Donald Duck and Disney threatened to drag him through every court on the eastern seaboard if he ever did it again so he didn’t.

Now, either Lichtenstein was wrong in the first place and he did rip off creators and companies, or Disney was wrong to threaten him, but they both can’t be right and from where I sit it seems that the more money you have (and Lichtenstein was wealthy for a fine artist tho nowhere near Disney wealthy) the more you can game the system for your own advantage.

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[1] Meaning Keith Richard’s music may not enter the public domain until the 22nd century if his health holds out for another 13 years!

[2] Irving Berlin lived long enough to see his earliest songs go into the public domain and neither he nor his heirs seemed to have missed any meals because of it.

[3] Many of the earliest comic strips are public domain, but Disney won’t let anyone use the name Mickey Mouse to identify them, so they’re collected as “Classic Mouse Comic Strips”.

[4] Trademarks a.k.a. service marks are considered business brands and not creative works; they were originally limited to titles and specific logo designs, not characters, vehicles, etc.

[5] Tarzan is public domain, but ERB trademarked the image of Tarzan as a beardless white guy in a loin cloth so if you want to do that version of the character you have to pay ERB Inc. It’s theoretically possible to do Tarzan as a bearded guy of mixed ancestry in jungle fatigues but probably not worth the risk from ERB Inc’s lawyers. And if you want a really complicated set of rights, take a gander at the confusion surrounding King Kong. There are at least four separate sets of rights involved with a number of other rights now in the public domain including the original novelization.

[6] The internet was supposed to democratize access to the public, and in one sense it has, but it’s difficult for private citizens to monetize.

 

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