Ye Olde Neighborhood Bike Shop…

Among the ways I try to do my part to cut back on oil-driven emissions and pollution, when the weather turns fair enough, I try to use my bike – a trusty old Diamond Back hybrid purchased in 1992(!) – as much as possible.

So, when it came to pass that my ride needed new pedals, how stoked was I to find a new(ish), independently run bike shop right in my own neighborhood. Old Town Cycles [http://www.oldtowncycles.com] at 920 East Johnson Street is helmed by Joshua, and not only is he knowledgeable and friendly, but thrifty as well; within a few minutes I had new pedals, properly inflated tires, and an over-all assessment of the state of my bike (ie: there are definitely a few part replacements in its future; not surprising given the bike’s age and mileage). All of this at a very reasonable rate which did not break my (very thin-stretched) bank.

In this day and age of economic turmoil, one hopes that it’s not lost that one of the best powers we, the individual consumers, can wield is to give support in the form of business (and praise where it’s due) to small business owners. If you’re Madison-based  and a bi-ped who likes the feel of wind in your face, give yourself a treat and get that bike in tune for the spring and summer (and if you’re really insane, fall and winter). Old Town Cycles, highly recommended.

Daring Fireball: Obsession Times Voice

It’s amazing how fast and large the buzz over Twitter has become over the past month; you know it’s gone mainstream when the folks at Today Show and GMA are talking about it, let alone that they now tweet too.

People who are new to the Twitter concept seem to get stuck on the belief that it’s all about answering the question “What are you doing?”; a lot of comments via blogs or reported by TS, GMA, etc. reflect this general misperception.

The beautiful thing about Twitter is that it really can be used in whatever way you see fit; and whatever need it fulfills can shift from moment to moment. It can be what you’re doing, or what you wish you were doing, or what you’re thinking, or what you just witnessed, or some plea for information, connection, or affirmation.

I have no problem with people being skeptical or resistant to Twitter; their criticism is well-founded – like any other communication modality, the web can be a powerful tool for sharing information or it can be a vast wasteland of stupidity, self-centeredness, or vapid commercialism. However, if one takes the time to prod the beach rubble, you can find the quality goods.

I mention all of this by way of saying that one of my favorite follows (that is, someone I follow) on Twitter is John Gruber. He not only has a fun, honest tweet style, but he’s the author of the wonderful, insightful, useful, sometimes whimsical Daring Fireball.

Recently (o.k., yesterday), he published a piece reflecting on a session he and Merlin Mann (another fav tweeter and all-around-articulate and interesting technical illuminati) had done at SXSW (that’s South-by-Southwest for the uninitiated). The whole post is worth reading – and there is a link to an MP3 of Merlin and John’s session – but the take home piece is his closing paragraph:

There is an easy formula for doing it wrong: publish attention-getting bullshit and pull stunts to generate mindless traffic. The entire quote-unquote “pro blogging” industry — which exists as the sort of pimply teenage brother to the shirt-and-tie SEO [search engine optimization – ed.] industry — is predicated on the notion that blogging is a meaningful verb. It is not. The verb is writing. The format and medium are new, but the craft is ancient.

Journalism should still be quality journalism, writing should still be done with skill and care, and people and ideas should still be treated with respect, even in the blogsphere. Bravo.

via Daring Fireball: Obsession Times Voice.

now I’ve really seen it all : a video game about rape…

*** DISCLAIMER: the following post features quoted text which contains offensive language and violent situations. I’m including the quoted text not to arouse or exploit but because in confronting misogyny in our culture and working to end violence I believe it is very important to quote the perpetrators and analyze it ***

We have it slightly luckier here in this country; all we have to contend with is Grand Theft Auto [wikipedia], what with its depictions of prostitutes and murder and theft and so on. Well, all of this seems a bit tame in comparison to what one Japanese software vendor is peddling.

I have done anti-violence work for the last seventeen years (and counting); I have seen or read or heard things that really challenge at times the sense of hope I try to hold for the human race. The depths of degradation – the intensity of the violence, the harshness of the language, the blatant misogyny – can be astounding. After all these years, I thought I’d seen it all. I was wrong.

From last week’s British Telegraph, courtesy of the Prevent-Connect listserv, an article about a video game being pulled from Amazon.com (thankfully) by a Japanese game-maker called Illusion, called “Rapelay”. From the article:

In Rapelay, gamers direct a character to sexually assault a mother and her two young daughters at an underground station, before raping any of a selection female characters.

Ahem.

Further, if your stomach isn’t already doing flip-flops, various video game sites refer to this title, and other absurd offerings from the same company, in straight-forward language, as if describing game-play where players choose to rape any number of female characters is no different than a player, say, selecting from among a series of furnishings for their Sim home, or choosing one of several different maps or locations to play in. To wit [courtesy of GiantBomb.com]:

Introduction:
RapeLay is a 3D “rape simulator” by Illusion Soft, makers of the Artificial Girl series. The player takes the role of a rapist who stalks a mother of two named Yuuko Kiryuu for a while and eventually rapes her.  Once he is “done” with the mother, the rapist gets his hands on Yuuko’s two daughters, Aoi and Manaka.

Gameplay:

Rapelay’s gameplay is divided in three main parts:

  • Phase one
    The games begins with the player following the victim on the train station. In this first phase one of the few thing you can do is pray the gods for a quick squall of winds that will blow up the victims skirt. 
  • Phase two
    Once on the train the actual groping start, once the victim aroused the train will stop and the next phase of the game begins.
  • Phase three
    The third and final phase of every scene is the actual rape scene NPC [non-player characters -ed.] rapers can be called in to participate in the event. The location in which this happens varies with the victims. The actual location of the rape depends on the characters being raped. Yuuko’s location is the park, Aoi gets raped in a bathroom and Manaka in her bed room.

And it goes on from there.

The casualness of the language, the manner in which it is written – as if it’s merely technical writing describing the way a piece of software, or a microwave, works – offends me no end. It puzzles the mind that human beings exist that can so blatantly co-opt violence in order to make a buck selling a video game, without any comprehension of the reality of the impact of violence on women. This is the crux of the issue when it comes to ending sexual assault and dating violence: the actions have become so normalized that they are portrayed in video games (and movies, and music, and tv) as if they are valid behavioral choices. We need to re-draw the line; you know, that line you don’t cross. Re-draw it in bright, flashing neon.

Illusion’s web site is unfortunately in Japanese and yields little detail in terms of contact information (at least to this English speaking visitor). I am intending to do some sort of formal follow up – even if it’s just a letter of protest (though perhaps a petition is more called for); please stay tuned…

By the way, if you have an interest in violence prevention, and are curious about other un-believable examples of rape culture language in advertising and pop-culture media, when I find things I try to post them to the Men Stopping Rape blog at Tumblr: http://menstoppingrape.tumblr.com/.

Disagree II

Thanks to Guy Kawasaki for tweeting this post from Psychology Today (PT): “Women Have Better Things To Do Than Make Money (Part II).”

The author, Satoshi Kanazawa, wrote a two-part piece looking at discrepancies in salaries along gender lines from an evolutionary standpoint. Well written piece, even though I whole heartedly disagree with his premise. My response, just posted to the comments section on the PT blogs:

While it’s true that there are differences between genders, the vast majority of “difference” is largely attributed to a much out-dated value system that continues to view female attributes (or anything presumed to be feminine) as less-than, or of lesser value (either monetarily or inherently), than that which is masculine or male.
It is not that men seek achievement in their work, but rather that they live in a culture that continues to tell men that they should seek such achievement, and that such achievement is their means of having value (and gaining not only a salary but the attention of women); this is the same culture that perpetuates a billion-dollar pornography industry and continues to tell women that their only means of having value within the culture is through the use of their body and sexuality.
It is not, as Mr. Browne puts it, that “many jobs that pay higher wages require their occupants to work longer hours…or work in dangerous and unpleasant conditions” but rather that men are raised in a culture that teaches us not to complain about such conditions – lest we be labeled “wimps”, or worse: women.
And it is not that “women are unwilling to pay the price and make the necessary sacrifices” but rather that they’ve come to understand nobody should be treated in an inhumane way just because you’re providing a salary.
With no intended disrespect to Mr. Kanazawa, nor disregard to the field of evolutionary psychology (which has many good things to teach us), it seems a bit reckless to analyze the monetary realities of our current culture from an evolutionary perspective without putting in context or calling into question the cultural imperatives that continue to reinforce and exalt masculine identity at the expense of equality.

Old Tools – December, 2008

Old Tools – December, 2008

Originally uploaded by sdmonty

Boston got a bit of snow and ice today, so I suited up and helped Dad clear the driveway.

When it came time to do the front and back steps and walkways, which are narrow, brick and do not lend themselves to the large, plow-like shovels we used to clear the driveway. So, I went into the garage and pulled out this small, red shovel I had as a kid; this thing must have been bought in 1973… and of course it still works just fine.

This flies in the face of traditional American capitalist existence. After all, our principal duty is to consume, consume, consume (or, as our current leader invoked after we were so viciously attacked in 2001, “go out and shop”). We’re supposed to “keep up with the Jones”, and have the latest, greatest do-dad. As a confirmed geek, I myself have been guilty of buying, or merely coveting, that snazzy new iPod or flat-panel television (or, if any of my relatives are reading this and there’s still time in the X-mas shopping season, a new MacBook Pro…).

In contrast, here is a tool, bought over thirty-five years ago, made of wood and steel, that has held together and does not need replacing. I can’t help but wonder, if we built more things like this, would we have avoided the rabid consumption which has pitched the economy into a tail-spin and the ecosystems of the planet into disarray?

closer shot of red shovel

closer shot of red shovel

et tu, Tina?…

O.k., so first the “disclaimer”: I am a big fan of Tina Fey, and of 30 Rock. It is really one of the best sitcoms currently running on TV; it passed the litmus test enough to be added to my modest DVD collection (Seasons 1 & 2). This post is not meant to slam, defame, or in any way dissuade anyone from tuning in to watch 30 Rock, buy the DVD’s, or view episodes on NBC or Hulu.

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve been doing men’s anti-violence work [12/6: for some reason, the server for Men Stopping Rape, Inc. appears to be down, sorry] for the past seventeen years, and once you’ve been attuned the prevalence of rape culture – the manner in which sexual violence is so deeply ingrained in our culture that is practically accepted as normal (and therefore it persists; dominant cultural paradigms of misogyny, oppression, and violence perpetuate across generations by virtue of going un-examined or questioned, etc.) – you can not tune it back out.

This can be a good thing; the more we start to point this stuff out and bring it to the forefront and discuss it, the closer we get to a world where violence will be less acceptable and therefore less likely. But it can also ruin otherwise good moments. To wit: on the Season 2 Special Features, there is a video recording of a live performance of a 30 Rock episode done at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in NYC as a fundraiser for folks on the show who were put out of work by the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike.

The episode, #208, featured a character played by Edie Falco; Ms. Falco was not there for the live performance, so one of the SNL staff writers, Paula Jean Pam (I hope I heard that name correctly) stepped in to play that part. This information is dispensed to the audience by Tina Fey, who takes on the role of M.C. for this live performance. While introducing the episode, she adds that Ms. Pam and Alec Baldwin “know each other well so I think he might rape her tonight.”

This improvised (?) comment draws raucous applause from the theatre audience. 

Now, since I am an actor myself, I understand that sometimes playing in front of a live crowd, especially if you’re trying to warm them up and drum up laughs, things get said that step out of bounds; sometimes you take the risk of being offensive in order to get a laugh. To Ms. Fey’s credit, she got one. But what a sad commentary on our current cultural climate that the bit worked so well; and it worked so well on two levels: not only did it get a laugh about rape, but it also managed to get an ironic laugh about rape – that is, the rape was going to happen because these two actors knew each other very well. As anyone who has ever done any work in the sexual violence prevention movement would know, the vast majority of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows (by 80%).

This raises that age old question: is rape ever an appropriate topic for humor? For myself, I feel the tug-of-war inside where my fan-dom for the show and the performers bumps up against the activist in me and my need to hold those who would joke about this accountable in some manner.

But how? Boycott? An angry letter? (not my style) A cordial, open letter to the writing staff or Ms. Fey herself by way of “thanks for all the good laughs you’ve given me over the years, but try and back off on the rape jokes, o.k.; my friends, co-workers, partners, and dozens of students that I speak to at workshops in the public schools and local universities who have experienced rape in their lives don’t find it a funny thing and by using the term in the context of playful, friendly, sexual play between two friends you help to reinforce the myth that forced intercourse is acceptable and you diminish the voices of victims…”

I haven’t quite decided yet. For now I’m starting by writing this post. I had thought of posting the video either here or on YouTube, but decided against it because, since it is a video recording of a live performance for which people paid admission it is copyrighted material and I don’t want to move into the land of legal challenges.

Any thoughts, feedback, welcome…