Movie Friday: Don’t Dream It’s Over

Part of the reason I haven’t been writing as much is because I have been playing more guitar. I recently bought a fancy new effects pedal from Line 6, and I have been learning to master it and incorporate it into my live performances. The options are virtually endless, and the going is slow. Here’s one of my favourite new things to do with it:

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“Accidental” racism and intentional brilliance

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows what my position is on “intent” when it comes to things like racism and misogyny. Intent lies on an orthogonal axis to racism – someone doing something intentionally racist just adds bad intent to bad action. If we are of the opinion that racism is harmful in and of itself, we have to identify something as ‘racist’ or ‘not racist’ based on its own merits, regardless of whether the person “meant to”.

This appears to be a major sticking point for people. They have bought, either consciously or unconsciously, into the myth that racism is something perpetuated by “racists”, and that if someone didn’t mean to do it then it can’t really be racist – just “ignorant” or “an accident” or whatever euphemism they prefer. This myth has a lot of popular currency and is fairly ubiquitous within North American discussions of race. The problem, of course, is that people can be and are discriminated against based on their race in ways that have nothing to do with ill intent all the time. Demanding that intent be consubstantial with racism precludes us from taking any action against these kinds of racism.

In a stunning display of well-intentioned cluelessness (and what could be called willful ignorance), country star Brad Paisley has decided to step into the fray by teaming up with LL Cool J in a ballad called “Accidental Racist”. Here’s a sample: [Read more…]

Movie Friday: Voices United for Mali

Music has been, and continues to be, an integral part of my life. I picked up my first musical instrument at age 6, and since then there hasn’t been a time when I wasn’t doing something musical in my free time. I went through private lessons, string ensembles, chamber orchestras, symphony orchestras, rock bands, solo gigs, string quartets… it’s been a huge part of not only how I live my life, but how I see myself.

So, at this moment in time, I am really glad I don’t live in Mali:

Musicians in Mali are defying militants in the North who have declared Shariah law and banned all music but the Islamic call to prayer.


Strict Islamist militants imposing a version of Shariah law first seized control of major towns across northern Mali last March. They have since solidified their grip on the North and forced hundreds of thousands to flee.


“It is strange for us to understand the extent to which it is impossible to listen or play music in the North. You can’t do it anymore. The only way you can play it is to drive miles out into the desert, where you are beyond the earshot of anyone.”

Before this recent outbreak of fundagelical religious tyrannical fascism, Mali sounds like a place I could be quite happy in. Music is woven into their cultural expression in much the same way it is woven into my life. And that makes the ban on music all the more shocking and deplorable.

Now I’m not going to comment on the rightness or wrongness of European/North American military intervention in Mali. Some analysts have pointed out that the crisis there was triggered as a result of NATO intervention in Libya – as mercenary groups fled post-Gaddhafi Libya, they moved west and eventually took over. I am not sure what is to be done there, since foreign involvement may have triggered the damn thing in the first place. What I do know is that the people who made this video are impressive as hell:

I can’t imagine what I would do if music was outlawed by threat of death. One thing I do know is that by standing up and resisting, the people of Mali are setting a powerful example for oppressed groups everywhere: resistance in the face of unjust persecution is human dignity at its height.

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Movie Friday: Where I Get it From

A year and a half ago, I got an e-mail out of the blue from my father, telling me that he had started learning the saxophone. Dad’s in a gradual state of growing retirement, meaning that he still works but on a purely opt-in basis. He does a number of things to fill his time, including a promising side-career as a photographer. Back in his youth, Dad played guitar in church choirs around the Caribbean – to hear him tell it, he was moderately famous. Since then he’s been singing in choirs and stuff, but the decision to acquire an entirely new musical instrument at the age of 60 was, I will confess, surprising.

Last Sunday, Dad did this:

A shocked reaction

I am crazy impressed with Dad here. I’ve heard him play a handful of times, and I knew he was pretty good, but I had no idea he was bringing game this hard. If you good folks would be so kind as to click through to the video, ‘like’ it, and leave complimentary comments, I know it would make his day.

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Vanity post: Even Handed Odds

Some of you may know that I played in a band called Even Handed Odds for a while. The band has since broken up (meaning that we no longer play our own music), but we still play covers on occasion down at the Copper Tank, a bar in Kitsilano, on Friday nights.

Here’s a video of us doing a cover of “Home For a Rest” by Spirit of the West:

Right before we broke up, we recorded two songs at a local studio. I finally got around to uploading the audio of the finished product to Soundcloud, in case people were interested.

My personal favourite is this one, simply called “Space”:

There’s also the one that would have likely been our radio single, called “Gravity”:

If you’re in the city of Vancouver on a Friday night, you should come check us out!

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Is this racist? You can bank on it.

Part of the challenge of incorporating anti-racism into mainstream skepticism is that skepticism has been primarily focused on developing techniques of inquiry honed in material sciences (by which I mean the study of physical systems like cosmology, biology, and physics – not materials science which is an entirely different thing). Ask most mainstream skeptics, and they’ll display an admirable grasp on at least the basics of astronomy, evolution, mechanics, some quantum physics, and if you’re lucky a bit of biochemistry to go with it. Many questions that atheistic skeptics have had to learn to answer are focussed on the origins of the universe and of life, necessitating this basic ‘toolkit’ of scientific knowledge.

We have not yet, and I mean yet, turned our eye toward the study of human sociopolitical systems (although I am enthused to note that most people have a fair-to-middling grasp on some core psychology, which builds part of the foundation). I am certainly not exempt from these educational blind spots, despite my impression of myself as a skeptic who is more interested in sociology than average. Without the same basic knowledge of methods of sociological inquiry (which surely extend to history, literary analysis, and other things that aren’t, in the strictest sense, ‘sciences’), it becomes very difficult to parse the often labyrinthine mechanisms of cause and effect in human organizations, especially in a way that satisfies the more ‘tactile’ minds among us.

Luckily, every now and then racism expresses itself so clearly and unequivocally that it transcends the need for rigorous study to unravel the mechanism behind the effect: [Read more…]

“How come there’s no post today?!”

Because instead of doing the responsible thing and staying home last night, I went and did this:

Talib Kweli is an unbelievably skilled emcee, and when I saw he was coming to Vancouver I thought there must surely be a mistake. My reflexive skeptical cynicism notwithstanding, I bought a ticket and went to Yaletown to check out the show. The first opening act, a local outfit called KIDS, was unbelievable – lots of energy, great stage presence, culminating in a finale spit partially in English, partially in Farsi. Definitely planning on checking them out again. The other openers… I won’t waste time identifying them – they were mediocre.

Kweli was, of course, amazing. In the seminal and timeless cut “Eric B. is President”, Rakim lays down a manifesto for all those who would try to bless the mic in the coming years: “to me, MC means ‘move the crowd’.” Kweli didn’t shy away from this challenge at all – a previously lukewarm crowd was whipped into a frenzy so hot that the rafters actually started sweating. Vancouver’s hip-hop scene is pretty weak (hence my surprise that Kweli was here), but clearly there are some true school fans there that night. [Read more…]

Songs in the key of H(umanism)

As you may know (and should certainly know if you followed my Blogathon Songathon yesterday), one of the many hats I wear is that of musician. I am no great talent, to be sure, but I’ve got some moderate game. I’ve been a musician as long as I can remember – somewhere there exists a photo of me as a 3 year-old sitting on the steps, banging out rhythms on my knees. I started guitar lessons at age 6, singing lessons a couple of years after that, picked up the guitar at age 14, started my first string quartet at 15… I’ve been in the game for a minute.

Which is why I was torn this past weekend when James Croft, a person I otherwise respect for his outspoken defense of humanism, came out in favour of using song as part of humanist gatherings. His position (and I am trying my best not to straw man) is that because narrative and song have such a persuasive power, humanists should involve it as part of our regular discourse. Humanist gatherings should involve group participation in song and storytelling (he actually used the word ‘witnessing’ at one point), because they are useful in building consensus and community, and what he calls a more ’emotive’ humanism.

I attempted to point out that, given the number of humanists who have actively fled religion, the adoption of a quasi-liturgical form to humanist gatherings was pretty likely to spook a lot of people. When I attempted to defend James’ idea of a church-like gathering for atheists who were in need of the kind of stable community and group interaction that churches provide to believers, there were a number of people who responded that, even if they thought the idea had some merit there was absolutely no way they would attend. Any attempt to ‘churchify’ humanism is going to alienate a lot of people.

James’ response was basically “Yeah? So?” [Read more…]

Bonus movie Friday: Let me Rest in Peace

Hey Cromrades, my #SSAweek Blogathon contribution day is rapidly approaching. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve pledged to learn, record, and post songs that you request, for a minimum donation of $10. Here’s a recap of the requests I’ve received thus far:

  • lorenprice pledges $15, and requests “Helter Skelter” by the Beatles
  • Cunning Pam pledges $25, and requests something by They Might Be Giants
  • jolo5309 pledges $10(? – didn’t specify), and requests one of three Canadian jazz(ish) tunes, to be chosen by me
  • John Horstman pledges $50, and requests “Thanks, Bastards” by Mischief Brew
  • Julia pledges $10(? – didn’t specify), and requests an original pro-science song her a capella group performs
  • Frogmistress pledges $10, and requests “3 Small Words” by Josie and the Pussycats
  • MSM16 pledges $50, and requests “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor
  • Karen pledges $10, and requests “The Ballad of Day Kitty” by Lou Barlow

A total of 8 donors and $180! I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me. There’s still lots of time for you to pledge and submit your request. I’d love to get past the $500 mark. Remember if JT Eberhard and I combine for a total of more than $1000, we’ll face off in an epic song battle to the tune of “Under Pressure” by Queen. If we outraise him, I’ll make him sing the RikRok part to Shaggy’s timeless “It Wasn’t Me”. Trust me – you’ll enjoy my Shaggy impression.

To try and pry your wallets open just a little bit more, here’s a video I shot last night that exposes me as the Buffy fanboy I am: [Read more…]