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Robert Rossney
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Nick Bentley is a designer of excellent abstract games who's started up a new company and is now dipping his toe in the waters of thoughtful social commentary. But his foray into this world is sadly under-prepared.

A typical observation: On the subject of play, and who gets to play, he says,
"Everyone fears, but some more than others. Kids tend to fear less than adults, the rich less than the poor, whites less than non-whites (in the U.S.), etc."

[citation needed]

In my own experience, fear is orthogonal to material comfort. I've known people much, much less privileged than myself whose childhoods were far less fearful than my own. A loving family protects its children from a difficult world; a family that is not loving is full of terrors that have nothing to do with keeping food on the table.

I wouldn't extrapolate from my own experience to assert that the world is more or less a certain way, however. I've only seen what I've been able to see in my life, and most of what I've been able to see has been constrained by cognitive bias.

And frankly, this piece is dripping with cognitive bias. It is steeped in personal experience and good intentions, and while those are certainly good things, they are not a strong place to stand for generalizing about how the world and its people work.

To do that, you need data. What Bentley has here is, "as a white person, I think black people must worry a lot," which is the very opposite of data.

This argument comes from good intentions, or from some idea of what good intentions might be. But it's biased, and it's ignorant, and worst of all it's patronizing. It's the Thoughtful White Guy explaining the world based on the reading he's been doing from the heart of Thoughtful Whiteness. It's a set of assertions about the world that are no more founded in real experience than the typical David Brooks column.

http://move38.com/blog/is-play-a-right/



A poem by Tony Harrison. The note at the end is in the original.

On Not Being Milton

Read and committed to the flames, I call
these sixteen lines that go back to my roots
my Cahier d’un retour au pays natal,
my growing black enough to fit my boots.

The stutter of the scold out of the branks
of condescension, class and counter-class
thickens with glottals to a lumpen mass
of Ludding morphemes closing up their ranks.
Each swung cast-iron Enoch of Leeds stress
clangs a forged music on the frames of Art,
the looms of owned language smashed apart!

Three cheers for mute ingloriousness!

Articulation is the tongue-tied’s fighting.
In the silence round all poetry we quote
Tidd the Cato Street conspirator, who wrote,
Sir, I Ham a very Bad Hand at righting.

Note: an “Enoch” is an iron sledge-hammer used by the Luddites to smash the frames which were also made by the same Enoch Taylor of Marsden. The cry was: “Enoch made them, Enoch shall break them!”

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To paraphrase George V. Higgins: security is hard, and it's harder if you're stupid.
I haven't laughed this hard in weeks.
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"You just keep on thinkin', Butch, that's what you're good at."

So I had some more thoughts about Whiplash that I wanted to get down.

Syd Field (or maybe it was Robert McGee - one of those screenwriting gurus) liked to say that a movie was a magical universe - that is, that the movie is its own world, and that if its internal rules were sufficiently consistent and well constructed, you could forget about the real world while you were in its grip.

One of the organizing principles of the magical universe of Whiplash doesn't even bear a moment's scrutiny:  the movie is set in a music conservatory in which, somehow, not a single student is female.

If you ask yourself why, a second aspect of the magical universe comes into sharp focus:  If there were women in Fletcher's class, his drill-sergeant level of abusiveness would instantly make you wonder why nobody's sued this conservatory into the ground yet.  As creepy as Fletcher's attacks on his students get - and they get very creepy indeed - if he were doing what he does to a woman, there would be an unavoidable current of sexual violence that would pull the entire movie in a very different direction than the one it's designed to head in.

So the movie makes an assumption of the sort that doctors have been making for generations:  to keep things simple, let's just assume that all people are men.

Interestingly, it doesn't assume that they're all white men.  It's jazz, after all: it would be really disconcerting if everyone in a New York City jazz band were white.  But we never see Fletcher abusing a black musician, and I think it's for the same reason there aren't any women in the room:  Fletcher's a terrible person who does terrible things, but the people he beats up on are privileged.  (We only find out that one of them is gay late in the movie, once the rules of the game are well established.)

What the movie's doing, really, is trying to remove from sight anything that would cause you to disbelieve in its core premise:  that musicianship is simply a matter of hard work.  There's a great deal of talk about genius in this movie, but not until the very end is there even the tiniest hint of what musical talent is like.  Fletcher chastises musicians for being out of tune, for being out of time, and nothing else, and outside of abusing his students, all he has to offer them is practice.

Do you become a genius by playing until your hands bleed?  Of course not.  That kind of lunacy is orthogonal to the question of genius.  But blood and sweat and grimaces are all visible signs of struggle, and the movie is all about struggle.

My point here isn't that Whiplash isn't great.  It's a fantastically entertaining and exciting movie.  But it achieves that by cutting away everything that doesn't matter.  And that includes the way things work in the real world.  In the real world, these two characters are not only horrible sociopaths, they're boring beyond belief.  But keep them pinched inside a powerful enough magnetic field and they're incandescant.

I remember seeing Das Boot in the Act II Theatre in Berkeley. It was an almost unendurably stressful movie, one where the danger and pressure kept rising and rising to levels of such intensity that whenever the eponymous submarine surfaced the entire audience took in a breath.

So, yeah, Whiplash is a lot like that. Only it's set in a music conservatory instead of a German submarine.

It casts a spell that is very hard for movies to cast: there are points in the movie where the artifice disappears completely, and the overwhelming force of the ideas that the actors embody surges through the air with the force of received truth. You forget that these are actors. You forget that their characters are dully one-dimensional and more than a little psychopathic. You forget even that what you're hearing isn't virtuosic jazz music performed by geniuses. When the boat breaches, you gasp for breath.

JK Simmons is having the time of his life in this role. He's J. Jonah Jameson, R. Lee Ermey, and Roy Scheider as Bob Fosse all rolled into one. He's alert and vicious and his face is all tautness and folds, mesmerizing as a hooded cobra. There's one shot where he's smiling, only the camera's only showing his eyes, and you can tell that his mouth is smiling even though his eyes are not.

This is a movie about musical performers in which only two figures are invoked: Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich, two terrible, monstrous people who were also geniuses. This, the movie claims, is how the sausage is made. Is it true? Does it need to be? The beauty is that it doesn't matter. It's enough to hang a story on, and the story is enough to hang this film on. And this film will kick your ass.

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I thought I loved Paul Ford.  I was wrong.  I really, really love Paul Ford.

+Yonatan Zunger , who will be intrigued by the observation, "The modern social web is a miracle of progress but also a status-driven guilt-spewing shit volcano. "

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Hey, G+.  And particularly those of you who are Burners, listen up.

A colleague of mine, a fellow Black Rock Ranger and Sandman, was blinded by a laser while on duty at Burning Man.   She still has not regained vision in her left eye and it is possible that she never will.

She was a volunteer.  She was was out there protecting you, protecting the event.   Because someone in the crowd was careless with a high-power, hand-held green laser, most likely a 1W 532 nm toy from China, she is maimed.  This should never have happened.  

Lasers like this are weapons.  it only takes a momentary, glancing interaction between a beam and an eye to cause permanent blindness.  They have no place at an event like Burning Man and I will do everything I can to get these devices banned.  Not that it will help the Ranger who is facing a lifetime of disability.

I expect there were only a few dozen hand held lasers capable of doing this at the event.  If you own one, you might be the one who (presumably unknowing) did this to my friend.   If that thought is horrible, I'm sorry.  What happened to her is worse.

Spread the word. Next time leave the god damned laser at home.

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Here is concern trolling raised to the level of performance art.

Everything surrounding this, up to and including the existence of Secret itself, is a symptom of a bubble.  We have people putting down serious amounts of money to fund nothing of value.  (Like, seriously, Kleiner Perkins and Google Ventures have put money into what's essentially 4chan, for mobile, without advertisers.)  In Pando we have what appears to the Tiger Beat of Silicon Valley, and you know, someone's paying good money for that too.

Read this story.  It's fascinating.  The brewing scandal that it's alluding to is, at bottom, this:   the founders of Secret don't take Pando seriously.  

The dialog may fairly be summarized as this:  Pando:  "What if someone is bullied into suicide?"  Secret:  "Who's Pando, again?"  Pando:  "OMG THESE PEOPLE ARE HEARTLESS SOCIOPATHS WHO DON'T CARE IF A MILLION TEENAGERS ARE DRIVEN TO SELF-IMMOLATION BY THEIR HEARTLESS HEARTLESSNESS."

And no, the fact that you talked to someone who once knew someone that worked on something where there was a real problem doesn't mean that there is consequently a real problem which must be taken seriously THIS INSTANT somewhere completely different, and that the only reason the folks at Secret are failing to drop everything to deal with something that isn't happening is because they're horrible human beings.

When the last tech bubble popped a lot people had their dreams crushed.  They drifted away from what they'd poured their hearts and souls into and had to find real jobs.  I'm not going to trivialize what really, seriously needs to happen.  It's going to hurt a lot of people.  I'm probably one of them.

But the very existence of the kind of self-involved idiocy that this article's an example brings Stein's Law into sharp focus:  If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.

And I have to say:  we had stupider business models, and quite a bit less money, last time around, but we also had suck.com.  Pando is no suck.com.

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Of the things Paul Westerberg could have donated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum, this one's a pretty good choice.
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