“Fun” spaces

One thing that I noticed with most streamers with a large audience that I watch (mainly CohhCarnage, Sacriel and P4wnyhof) is that they have a rule to not engage with “politics” on their channel, because they want their stream to be a “fun space” that we can get away from all of the stuff that’s happening outside of our door. And I get that — you’re providing entertainment, you don’t want to set off a flame-war in your chat. And for professional streamers, your income is also dependent on the continued support from your community: every month, your subscribers can decide to take their support elsewhere. So you don’t want to be too controversial, I guess.
But refusing to talk about politics is a political stance in itself. It normalises (and therefore reinforces) the status quo. And that makes it automatically less inclusive, because the current state of things is far from balanced. That is extra problematic when you look at the streamer demographics: most are white males in their 30’s — a most privileged group. It makes sense: streaming equipment doesn’t come cheap, and you have to be in a place with a great internet connection too. And in the case of people trying to make it as a professional streamer, you also need a support network — you need time to grow your community, during which period you won’t earn any income off of it. Only people who are already nicely set up can do so.

So they’re all in their bubble of privilege, and if they are aware of the plight of others, they make a point of not making a point out of it — because it’s not “fun”. That reasoning is also used as a weapon to exclude others. “I don’t want gays in my entertainment, I’m just here to have fun, not to get all political!” is one of the things that were commented when Paizo introduced homosexual NPCs in some of their modules. In other words, this commenter doesn’t want non-heterosexual people to be in that space and enjoy the same things they enjoy. It’s used to exclude people, and if you want to discuss this (or even mention it), you are accused of bringing in “politics” into a “fun space” — it could even get you banned!
This is also how people who have suffered abuse are punished by bringing it up: they are harshing the mellow of the “fun space”! But if you have an abuser in your space, then that is the problem, not that someone is pointing it out. Alas, it seems that not everyone has realised that fact.
I’ve had a shitty white dude (somehow, the shitty people in this context are always white and always male) shout at me because, while he was ok with a world literally created by the dreams of dragons, having a female mayor for a farming village was somehow “unrealistic”. If you’re ok with fantasy but somehow not ok with gender equality, then realism is not the problem there…

When someone mentioned the repeal of the 8th amendment in Ireland, CohhCarnage told his audience that he definitely had an opinion, but that he was not going to share it on stream, because it is so “political”. And sure enough, abortion is of course a hot-button issue for a lot of people. Do you really want an 11.000-person flamewar in your chat?
On the other hand, he could have just answered the question that was posed to him. Because in his channel, he is in a position of power, and he had a chance to speak out to his viewers, and thereby move hearts and minds into the right direction. And he didn’t take that opportunity. None of those big-name streamers do.

That disappoints me. It really does. I think a position of privilege gives you the moral obligation to try and be more inclusive. It is certainly something I keep in mind when deciding who and how to support the streamers whose content I enjoy.

Now, don’t get me wrong: none of these streamers will tolerate bigotry on their channels. Racial slurs, homophobia and other things that bring other people down will get you banned in their channels. I’m not saying they are bad people — they are not. It’s just that they actively dodge the chance to make a positive difference.
Luckily, there are also streamers that are explicitly inclusive — but their audience is a lot smaller. Take for instance AdamKoebel: he is explicitly queer and advocates for minorities at every chance he gets. But he has 40.000 followers, and CohhCarnage 962.000… There is a definite difference in impact.

(OK, this has turned into more of a partially-coherent rant than I had intended, but this is all that I have to say at the moment.)

Most of you probably don’t know who Frank Mentzer is. He’s one of the original old-school writers for D&D, and thus is somewhat of a celebrity in RPG circles. He currently has a Kickstarter running for a setting he’s going to write.

And he is a Weinstein-level creep, as you can read in this Twitter thread.

The pattern is familiar: a white man is using his credits in an industry (RPG in Mentzer’s case, movies in Weinstein’s) to pressure and intimidate victims of his sexual assaults and harassments into silence. The old “I’ll make sure you never work in this industry again!” ploy. And it’s not simply hollow threats (in general): 75% of the victims of sexual assault in a corporate context face retaliations for reporting, while the perpetrator gets away clean. So it’s quite brave for victims to speak out about what has happened to them, and as bystanders we are required to undertake appropriate action.

Everything is political, and your entertainment choices matter: they help shape the culture and the world we live in. If you continue to spend money on things that Weinstein or Mentzer did and do, you are maintaining their power in their respective spaces. You are helping them to be in the position to credibly threaten people into silence. You are directly helping them to sexually assault other people. You just can’t separate the person from their work.

As a white man working in technology, the lack of diversity in our companies is of immediate concern to me. And I know that there are ‘bro-grammers’ who seem to think women aren’t fit to work in tech, and I just don’t want to engage with idiocy like that.
Normally I wouldn’t even write an entry about it, but today I found this excellent post which expresses my exact sentiments with such clarity.

Top highlight:

By the way, if you are one of those people who still thinks that the memo was “perfectly reasonable” or “made some good points”, and we know each other, please get in touch so that I can re-evaluate our relationship.

There will be no law made in the US to curb gun possession — that genie is out of the bottle, and nobody can get it back in. Americans love their guns, and the “legend of the gunslinger” is so strong that anything that goes against that will be summarily rejected. But it is exactly that ‘legend’ that gives rise to these shooting sprees. For some reason, the US, as a country, does not succeed in keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally instable.

Here’s a great proposal to change gun culture: make the NRA’s rules for responsible gun ownership into law. Surely they can’t object to this — and surely responsible gun owners won’t get hit with these laws because they follow these rules all the time already, right? Following those rules would not have prevented all the shootings, but it would have made it possible to go after some people who facilitated them. Giving a gun to your mentally unstable son, who then proceeds to shoot up his school? Under current law, you go free. Under the NRA laws, you’re complicit…
Those laws might change gun culture, and that may make shooting sprees less common.

It makes an awful lot of sense. I think it would be a great idea. And that’s probably why it won’t happen.

Clever restaurant trick

We went into the city centre of Den Bosch today, to do some shopping and to enjoy a stroll through a beautiful city in the nice weather we’re having this weekend. We walked past a small restaurant, and I saw a really clever trick they had.

They had very small lockers in the entrance, each outfitted with a wall socket. You could charge your phone there while you dined! Obviously you would have to keep it locked up, because they are directly accessible from the street…
That means that you won’t be using your phone in the restaurant, but you’ll have a full charge when you leave. A very clever way to offer an incentive for getting those phones off the dinner tables!

I haven’t read the book myself, but I read a review of Reamde by Neil Stephenson. One of the commenters said that he likes SF and that he selected the book because of that, but that it felt more like a modern thriller in the vein of Tom Clancy.

This is because reality has overtaken cyberpunk, and all novels that deal with information-as-a-commodity, with the growing gap between haves and have-nots and with networks/systems of information (in my mind key characteristics of cyberpunk) — they don’t need SF components anymore. Everything is already here. You do not need to invent technology to tell a cyberpunk story anymore.

William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition”, published in 2005, posits technology that allows one to ‘see’ virtual objects at a certain place, determined by GPS coordinates. He describes mobile computers and video googles. And then GPS-enabled smartphones happened, and stuff like Layar implemented that precise technology, except less bulky.
His latest, “Zero History”, published last year, is also a very cyberpunk story, but it does not have to invent any new technology in order to tell the story. There are a few unlikely things thrown in (such as The Ugliest Shirt), but it’s not a whole new technology that’s needed for the plot.
It is also interesting that “Pattern Recognition” is the first book in a trilogy, with “Zero History” the last. One of the characters indeed remarks how her iPhone now does what she previously needed all that specialty equipment for.

So basically, we are living in an SF story. Specifically, a cyberpunk story. Not in the “Neuromancer”-sense, but in the sense that most of the concepts in cyberpunk have become reality in one way or the other. (And “Neuromancer”, which was published in 1986, does not have cell phones. Some younger readers think that’s a major plot point, but it is merely because there were no cell phones back then, and Gibson had not thought about then.)
No, we don’t have brain implants to ‘jack in’ to computers, but we do have brain implants that allow a blind person to see or a deaf person to hear. We have augmented reality in the form of smartphones or even Google Glass. It’s just that we understand these technologies, and that takes away the ‘magic’ of SF. Cyberpunk has indeed become a genre of the modern thriller.

I only wish that certain other aspects of cyberpunk had not become a reality too, such as the ubiquitous surveillance, the increased power of corporations and the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

This evening is Sinterklaasavond, St. Nicholas eve, a traditional festivity in the Netherlands when children get presents. Sinterklaas is accompanied by a group of helpers, “Black Pete”. And in the past months, there’s been quite the kerfuffle about Black Pete: some people pointed out that the figure of Black Pete has racist roots — racism that persists to today. Other people had a knee-jerk reaction and denied there’s any racism, and concluded that if a person of color has a problem with Black Pete, they should go back to their own country.

It is undeniable that Black Pete does have roots in racism. The figure of Black Pete is depicted like the African slaves that rich people held, clothed in the colorful garb in the colors of their masters. But historically, St. Nicholas bought a slave and gave him his freedom, and the ex-slave decided to stay with him as his servant. Some of the lyrics of the Sinterklaas songs are also… problematic.

This is a real problem, and I fully understand that people of color have a problem with white people dressing up as African slaves for a children’s festivity.
And the problem does not go away by denying there is a problem. The problem does not go away by inviting everyone who identifies the problem to leave the country. The problem does not go away by pointing to people of color who have no problems with Black Pete. The problem does not go away by saying that the figure of Black Pete is not intended to be racist.

There’s a good analysis of the question here.

I really like the Sinterklaas tradition. I have fond memories of it, and we celebrate the holiday almost every year (though we do it on Christmas, because then my sister can take days off from her work to visit the Netherlands). Simply abolishing Sinterklaas is unacceptable to the majority of the Dutch — it’s a unique Dutch celebration, and we want to keep it. (But no-one who has given the matter some thought is suggesting that.)
But it is clear (at least to me) that something needs to be done. Listening to the Black Pete apologists did not make me feel proud of my fellow countrymen. The facts are simple and clear: Black Pete has roots in racism, and we should look for ways to take the racism out of Sinterklaas.

I do not have a ready-made solution, unfortunately. But I do wish to point out that there’s a very easy way to change Black Pete into something else entirely within, say, four years.
Children become away of Sinterklaas at, say, two years of age. And by the time they turn six, they are let in on the secret. That gives a ‘generation’ of four years, from beginning to end. That’s pretty short, so any change you make in the mythology of Sinterklaas can become canon within that period. And from then on, you can use the new mythology, because the target audience doesn’t know anything else.
Dutch public broadcasting has been doing a ‘Sinterklaas news show’ every day in the run-up to Sinterklaas, for a few years now. They feature the ‘official’ Sinterklaas (the one in the televised arrival of Sinterklaas in the country) and his ‘official’ Petes. Every year, some kind of complication is scripted to ramp up the excitement (sometimes to the exasperation of parents whose children become unmanagable due to ‘Sint-stress’). And so whatever they script, that’s the truth for all children in the Netherlands.

I would propose that the Dutch public broadcasting invites the relevant parties for a broad discussion on what to do with the racist legacy of Black Pete, and how to move forwards towards a modern Sinterklaas mythology that retains the best of the tradition while adressing the existing issues. The trick is probably in finding reasonable people to have this discussion with — re-stating your knee-jerk reaction is not going to move anyone forward. But hey, we have a whole year to start fixing this.
And then, when a consensus/compromise has been reached, script the news show accordingly. Make gradual changes and take a time-frame of four years. And after those four years, the mythology of Sinterklaas has been changed. Every kid who discovers Sinterklaas will then go with the new mythology because that’s what they know.

We’re all raised with the idea that if you work hard enough, success will automatically follow. And if it doesn’t? Well, you just haven’t worked hard or smart enough!

But we also know that is a lie. Some people have parents who can give them the resources to get an advantage. I’m the third generation of my family who went to university, but klik was the first of her family. A university-schooled family tends to get the higher-paying jobs and value education more, which results in more of their offspring to get into university. And that is only one way that your parents’ situations (and other ‘environmental’ factors) determine your outcomes.

This is best illustrated in a game that I bought recently in the Steam Autumn Sale, Rogue Legacy.

‘Rogue’ is a text-mode dungeon crawling game that uses randomly generated dungeons. And that’s where the ‘Rogue’ from the title comes from: it’s an action platformer, but the dungeons you cross (or the castle, or the swamp) are randomly generated. So far, so good.
But the ‘Legacy’ part is the subversive part. You see, your character is the founder of a bloodline of heroes who all go off into the dungeon. If you die, you choose one of the offspring of your hero to continue. The money your parent gathered can be invested in better equipment, or a better mansion so that you have better health or more mana. So equipped, you enter the castle once again and try to gain as much gold as you can to make life easier for the next generation. With that gold, your offspring can better their station after your inevitable demise.

You do this for a few generations, and indeed: the castle becomes easier to navigate because of the better equipment, increased hitpoints and what-not. Having it as one of the main mechanics of the game makes it very, very obvious how these things work. In this way, it’s a very subversive game, because it demonstrates that it’s not just hard work that makes you a success.

(As for the game itself: it’s terribly good fun. You can choose from three children for the next generation, and they all have their own class, spell ability and traits. Sometimes they’re colorblind (which means you’ll see everything in greyscale), sometimes they’re giants (so they’re bigger) and sometimes they have irritable bowel syndrome and fart with every jump you make.
Every adventure in the dungeon is a mad rush to find chests containing as much gold, so that you can give your next generation a boost so they can get further into the dungeon. Sometimes you fail miserably, sometimes you succeed.)

Stupid Americans

So, there’s this idea that Americans are only interested in what goes on in the US, and don’t know anything about the rest of the world. And time and again, there’s a nice way to reinforce that idea. Such as what happens if you ask Americans to fill in the names of European countries on a blank map — note that the account is named ‘mapfail’.
Sure, hahaha, look at the stupid Americans being stupid!

So, let’s turn this around. European friends, would you be able to correctly label all the 52 US states on a blank map of the US? I know for certain that I would not. Heck, I’m not sure I would be able to fill in the map of Europe correctly. I’m not sure I would know which Balkan state is which. Which one is Romania, which one is Hungary? I don’t think I could point them out reliably. And yet I do not consider myself stupid (and, I hope, neither do others).
Let’s go a bit further afield. Could you correctly label African nations? Countries in Asia? Point out Kyrgyzstan on a blank world map? (Though I’m reasonably sure that nwhyte and blacksearoamer could pull that last one off.)

Let’s not kid ourselves. It’s good to be aware of what happens in other countries. Not being able to point them out precisely on a map does not automatically mean you’re stupid or dis-interested.

Coca-Cola bosses are meeting to decide if they should speak out against Russia’s anti-gay laws. As a major sponsor of the Olympics, Coke has been under growing pressure for months. Using this webpage, you can send a mail to Muhtar Kent, the CEO of Coca-Cola. You can use the pre-written mail, but I chose to write a personal message, referring to the core values of Leadership and Diversity that Coca-Cola advertises on their website.

My letter to Mr. Kent