Sunday, 15 July 2018

Wall of Shame - When Memes go Wrong

So a while back I saw this pretty terrible image doing the rounds on social media, you may be wondering why I'm devoting time rebutting this joke, that's the thing this isn't a joke the creator genuinely believes this. This was made by a social media account called Laborwave, which despite the pop zeitgeist name is trying to raise money by selling meme content to fund what it calls "local socialist organising" on its website which is still largely a stock template.

It also came with this charming message.

Fuck these pieces of shit for improving the material conditions of hundreds of millions of people. Youre only a REAL revolutionary if your revolution fails, so you can romanticize it, Like The Paris Commune and Catalonia

It was based on a list provided by another user of what they described as "anti western fighters" and I'm grateful for this list as its saved me a lot of work looking up the images I wasn't that familiar with.

Both criteria, Tankie and Anti Western have some serious issues on this list, some fit one or the other very well, some might count depending your definitions and a tiny minority fit both, while others don't really fit either.


Tankie - Tankie is a term that was coined in the aftermath of the suppression violent of a workers revolt in Hungary. The events and images of Soviet military forces especially tanks on the streets of Budapest in 1956 left a lasting.

Journalist Peter Paterson asked Amalgamated Engineering Union official Reg Birch about his election to the CPGB Executive after the Hungarian invasion:

"When I asked him how he could possibly have sided with the 'tankies', so called because of the use of Russian tanks to quell the revolt, he said 'they wanted a trade unionist who could stomach Hungary, and I fitted the bill'.[1]

Because they were the faction that was openly in support of state violence against opposition, even from left wing or alternative socialist forces. Currently on the internet the term is considered somewhat controversial because its view as a slur by "Marxist-Leninsts" or rather Stalinists as they are more well known. This confused me for two reasons when I found this out, firstly because I have met old members of the CPGB at conferences and demonstrations and they still use that term to describe themselves with pride. But secondly because they don't seem to have any real issue with the content behind the word. I've never seen one object to the term and then object to its meaning, usually they will quickly follow up with a defence of ______ Socialist states crushing of opposition and repression of its own workers.

Generally speaking there are two ways the term is used though they often overlap. A slang term for a Marxist-Leninist including admirers of Stalin, Mao Hoxha etc. And less often for anyone vaguely leftish whose ok with armed suppression of opposition no matter its content or origin.

But they refused to see this army as an army. They saw it as the working class movement. What entered the city wasn’t tanks and soldiers but the representative of the victory of the working class. It was our dreams, aspirations and hopes that marched into the city. It was the image of our liberation, of our determination to run our lives free of armies and prisons and tanks. This is what these blind comrades saw entering the city when they cheered.
Letters of Insurgents Yrostan's Third letter 

Anti-Western - This one has two different meanings, like Tankie there is some overlap but it doesn't cover everyone. There's anti-western in the sense of opposition to the nations of the "West" almost always the USA and western European powers like France and the UK, but whether that includes over countries that are currently very close to them like say Japan, Australia or Turkey depends on whose doing the labelling.

The other use of anti-western in the sense of opposing the political, economic and social movements heavily associated with western Europe and the USA. Like the Enlightenment, pluralistic and usually elected government, market driven economics. Again what does and does not count depends, but generally speaking its usage covers at least some of that.

Addendum Lost Cause- While discussing this project with a friend whose shared my political background, he raised something that I think is very important to keep in mind. Like me he remembers when Tankies could be broken up into two distinct groups with very little overlap, the `Anti-revisionists` the ones whom still admired Stalin, and so regarded the post Stalin Soviet Union and most governments friendly to it as deviators and heretics. And the `Revisionists` (though in my experience they didn't like being called that) whom disavowed Stalin to at least some degree.

But nowadays, according to my friend most modern Tankies seem to have spent so much time trying to defend the honour of dead men and governments that they've degenerated into a sort of Lost Cause myth, much like the American Conservatives of the southern states of the Union. It no longer matters that many of these people didn't share the same narrow politics, or that some even tried to kill each other, what matters in this telling is that were in the broadest most superficial sense possible part of the same movement. I think there's a lot to it and its the only definition of Tankie that works for many on this list. I don't quite know if even this one can stretch to a majority.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Putting it all on Red - The Michael Laski Story

A few years ago a forum thread on libcom set out to settle the question of the most unhinged US Left Sect of all time. It lasted about three pages and each suggestion was topped almost immediately by another candidate. Its worth a look, sadly it merely scratched the surface. My contribution was a story I'd heard about a Maoist group whose leader had gone to Nevada on a fund raising trip but ended up losing the party funds at the casino, and when challenged over this got into a gun fight.

The real story is a bit different, but amazingly not that different. The party in question was the Communist Party of the U.S.A. (Marxist-Leninist)* I'm going to use CPML for short, because even the full acronym is to long. The gambling losses was also true, and the hapless gambler was one comrade Michael Laski (usually written as M.I. Laski) the party General secretary. The gun fight is completely unfounded either nor does it appear to be a one off occurrence.

The CPML was one of the small parties born out of the New Left phase in the 1960s and 70s. The Marxist Internet Archive has a very detailed short biography of the group.

"The C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.) was born in Los Angeles during the 1965 Watts riots out of a split in the local POC. It published a newspaper, the People's Voice and a theoretical journal, Red Flag from 1965 to 1968. In 1968, the Party underwent a split, with both successor organization's keeping the C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.) name. One, under Arnold Hoffman, continued to publish the People’s Voice. The other, headed by Michael Laski, began publishing a new newspaper, The New Worker in 1969. That same year, the Laski group merged with the Proletarian Revolutionary Party in New York, led by Jonathan Leake, a former anarchist turned Maoist, who had been active in the Resurgence Youth Movement, which was founded in September 1964 as the youth section of the Anarchist Federation to which Murray Bookchin and Noam Chomsky belonged. Both C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.)s appear to have disappeared by 1971. After the demise of the Laski C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.), the former members of the Proletarian Revolutionary Party and others reconstituted themselves as the Marxist-Leninist Party. These C.P.U.S.A. (M.-L.)s should not be confused with the C.P.U.S.A. (M-L) founded by the Marxist-Leninist Organizing Committee (M.L.O.C.) in 1978 nor with the C.P. (Marxist-Leninist) created by the October League in 1977."

As well as an archive of its publications
Despite its small size, the CPML at its height seems to have had two party branches, one on the West coast (the Workers International Bookstore) and one on the East coast, it did get some publicity, or rather M.I.Laski did.  The journalist Joan Didion wrote a series of essays about the United States in the late 60's called Slouching Toward Bethlehem, one of those essays is about the time she met Laski in the Workers International Bookstore in Watts California in 1967. Its worth reading in full, but here's some revealing extracts.

 "Not long ago I spent some time with Michael Laski, down at the Workers’ International Bookstore in Watts, the West Coast headquarters of the C. P. U. S. A. (M. -L.). We sat at a kitchen table beneath the hammer-and-sickle flag and the portraits of Marx, Engels, Mao Tse-tung, Lenin, and Stalin (Mao in the favored center position), and we discussed the revolution necessary to bring about the dictatorship of the proletariat."

"He had with him a small red book of Mao’s poems, and as he talked he squared it on the table, aligned it with the table edge first vertically and then horizontally. To understand who Michael Laski is you must have a feeling for that kind of compulsion. One does not think of him eating, or in bed. He has nothing in common with the passionate personalities who tend to turn up on the New Left. "

"His place in the geography of the American Left is, in short, an almost impossibly lonely and quixotic one, unpopular, unpragmatic. He believes that there are “workers” in the United States, and that, when the time comes, they will “arise,” not in anarchy but in conscious concert, and he also believes that “the ruling class” is self-conscious, and possessed of demonic powers. He is in all ways an idealist. "

It continues in that style for quite a while, Laski comes across as very paranoid and touchy, he complains that Didion's interview is no different then what will happen if and when the FBI ever interrogate him, he cuts off any talk about the size of the CPML or the attendance at its rallies, he admits that the bookshop has a Cadre dedicated to its security complete with a small arsenal "a couple of shotguns and other items".  Its also full of Laski comparing the party to a form of martyrdom,

“Not having any ideology yourself, you might wonder what the Party offers. It offers nothing. It offers thirty or forty years of putting the Party above everything. It offers beatings. Jail. On the high levels, assassination.”

And it ends with what can only be described as a ritual, the counting of the days newspaper sales.

Mr. —Comrade—Simmons—what was the total income?” Michael Laski asked.
“Nine dollars and ninety-one cents.”
“Over what period of time?”
“Four hours.”
“What was the total number of papers sold?”
“And the average per hour?”
“The average contribution?”
“Thirteen and a half cents.”
“The largest contribution?”
“Sixty cents.”
“The smallest?”
“Four cents.”
“It was not a very good day, Comrade Simmons. Can you explain?”
“It’s always bad the day before welfare and unemployment checks arrive.”
“Very good, Comrade Simmons.”

I wonder what Laski and his fellow Cadre made of the essay when it was published in 1968. It doesn't paint them in a very good light but there are some warning signs. If Laski was incredibly defensive about light questioning by a journalist curious about him its not so surprising to see how he reacted later on when his fellow party members decided to criticise him.

Shortly after the essay, in the spring on 1968 Comrade Laski was publicly expelled from the CPML. They also published a list of charges against the former General Secretary. And yes the losing party funds at Vegas Casinos is on that list. But bizarrely the way the CPML frames the issue with that little adventure as "subjectivism"

A further example of Mr. Laski’s subjectivism was his taking of almost all of the Party’s funds and gambling with them while traveling through Nevada – avowedly for the purpose of raising funds for the Party – losing, every penny in the effort. To compound this crime, he never admitted his actions until a year after the event, and even then he mentioned only one instance of gambling, and the Party had evidence of his gambling in Nevada on at least two other occasions.
So presumably the error here isn't that he lost all their money at blackjack, but that he didn't get permission first?

That's in section four " SUBJECTIVE APPROACH TO POLITICAL QUESTIONS" the final section in the list of reasons Laski was shown the door. Also in that section is probably the origin of the gun fight story I'd heard. It list several times when Laski threatened other party members with loaded fire arms and fired into the air at meetings that weren't going his way.

When Mr. Laski did not get his way in political discussions, he did such uncomradely acts as throwing objects at comrades, wrecking pieces of equipment owned by the Party (smashing a typewriter and a telephone, on different occasions, and throwing gasoline on an offset press), threatening a member of the Central Committee with a loaded shotgun on one occasion, and with a loaded pistol on another occasion, firing pistols into the air at Secretariat meetings, and acting on a small scale like a putchist, although, more pathetically, he was like a frustrated child.
And that isn't quite the end of the story though both Laski and the CPML would fade away a few years later. Laski didn't take this very well and set up a split also called Communist Party of the U.S.A. (Marxist-Leninist) and at least some members followed him. 

If you're curious why this group put up with Laski's antics for three years and some even followed him during the split, well its not really that unusual. To be clear what makes the CPML and Laski's story so strange, funny and weird is how egregious it was, stories of domination and abuse of all kinds by the leaders of small Vanguardist groups of their fellow members are incredibly common.

Before the discussing sexual assault revelations about the Socialist Workers Party leadership the SWP was infamous for all the accounts of members being harassed and emotionally blackmailed into working full time for the party for free, to show their commitments to "socialism". And they aren't the only ones.

In the day to day work, Mr. Laski equated his whims with the needs of the Party, when in reality he should have subordinated his personal interests to those of the Party and the class.

As Laksi's comments in the essay and the expulsion of Laski statement make clear if you join such a group your expected to subordinate yourself to the needs and will of the party. Since in many of these groups the aims and practices of the party is decided by the leadership with little to no effective accountability or discussion from the lower ranks, that means trusting and obeying those leaders.

Laski was a man whom repeatedly threatened other members with fire arms, and threatened to burn down the bookstore/party HQ, and yet it took a long time for momentum to build enough that the over senior members could get rid of him. That's also the main issue here, often when a leading figure of such an organisation does get expelled its usually because they lost the support of the rest of the leadership, usually the Central Committee, as happened with Laski. This means that no matter what is written up to justify the expulsion its real motivation is always factional to some degree.

That's why so many high level expulsions just lead to the creation of another nearly identical splinter party. The underlying issues were more about personality clashes then anything fundamentally structural.

*Well one of them, that name has been used by at least five other parties, some of whom overlapped with this one

Monday, 9 July 2018

The Black Ball - Ralph Ellison

The Black Ball

 By Ralph Ellison

I had rushed through the early part of the day mopping the lobby, placing fresh sand in the tall green jars, sweeping and dusting the halls, and emptying the trash to be burned later on in the day into the incinerator. And I had stopped only once to chase out after a can of milk for Mrs Johnson, who had a new baby and was always nice to my boy. I had started at six o’clock, and around eight I ran out to the quarters where we lived over the garage to dress the boy and give him his fruit and cereal. He was very thoughtful sitting there in his high chair and paused several times with his spoon midway to his mouth to watch me as I chewed my toast.

`What’s the matter son?`
 `Daddy, am I black?`
`Of course not, you’re brown. You know you’re not black.`
`Well yesterday Jackie said I was so black.`
`He was just kidding. You mustn’t let them kid you, son.`
`Brown’s much nicer than white isn’t it Daddy?`

He was four, a little brown boy in blue rompers, and when he talked and laughed with imaginary playmates, his voice was soft and round in its accents like those of most Negro Americans.

`Some people think so. But American is better than both, son.`
`Is it Daddy?`
`Sure it is. Now forget this talk about you being black, and Daddy will be back as soon as he finishes work.`

I left him to play with his toys and a book of pictures until I returned. He was a pretty nice fellow, as he used to say after particularly quiet afternoons while I tried to study, and for which quietness he expected a treat of candy or a `picture movie`, and I often left him alone while I attended to my duties in the apartments.

I had gone back and started doing the brass on the front doors when a fellow came up and stood watching from the street. He was lean and red in the face with that redness that comes from a long diet of certain foods. You see much of it in the deep South, and here in the Southwest it is not uncommon. He stood there watching, and I could feel his eyes in my back as I polished the brass.

I gave special attention to that brass because for Berry, the manager, the luster of these brass panels and door handles was the measure of all my industry. It was near time for him to arrive.

`Good morning, John.` he would say, looking not at me but at the brass.
`Good morning, sir.` I would say, looking not at him but at the brass. Usually his face was reflected there. For him, I was there. Besides that brass, his money, and the half-dozen or so plants in his office, I don’t believe he had any other real interests in life.

There must be no flaws this morning. Two fellows who worked at the building across the street had already been dismissed because whites had demanded their jobs, and with the boy at that age needing special foods and me planning to enter school again next term, I couldn’t afford to allow something like that out on the sidewalk to spoil my chances. Especially since Berry had told one of my friends in the building that he didn’t like that `damned educated nigger`.

I was so concerned with the brass that when the fellow spoke, I jumped with surprise.

`Howdy,` he said. The expected drawl was the there. But something was missing, something usually behind that kind of drawl.

`Good morning.`
`Looks like you working purty hard over that brass.`
`It gets pretty dirty overnight.`

That part wasn’t missing. When they did have something to say to us, they always became familiar.
`You been working here long?` he asked, leaning against the column with his elbow.
`Two months.`
I turned my back to him as I worked.
`Any other colored folks working here?`
`I’m the only one,` I lied. There were two others. It was none of his business anyway.

`Have much to do?`
`I have enough,` I said. Why, I thought, doesn’t he go on in and ask for the job? Why bother me? Why tempt me to choke him? Doesn’t he know we aren’t afraid to fight his kind out this way?

As I turned, picking up the bottle to pour more polish into my rag, he pulled out a tobacco sack from the pocket of his old blue coat. I noticed his hands were scarred as though they had been burned.

`Ever smoke Durham?` he asked.
`No thank you,` I said.
He laughed.
`Not used to anything like that, are you?`
`Not used to what?`

A little more from this guy and I would see red.
`Fellow like me offering a fellow like you something besides a rope.`

I stopped to look at him. He stood there smiling with the sack in his outstretched hand. There were many wrinkles around his eyes, and I had to smile in return. In spite of myself I had to smile.

`Sure you won’t smoke some Durham?`
`No thanks,` I said.
He was fooled by the smile. A smile couldn’t change things between my kind and his.
`I’ll admit it ain’t much,` he said. `But it’s a helluva lot different.`

I stopped the polishing again to see what it was he was trying to get after.

`But,` he said, `I’ve got something really worth a lot; that is, if you’re interested.`
`Let’s hear it,` I said.
Here I thought, is where he tries to put one over on old `George.`

`You see, I come from the union and we intend to organize all the building-service help in this district. Maybe you been reading’bout it in the papers?`

`I saw something about it, but what’s it to do with me?`
`Well, first place we’ll make’em take some of this work off you. It’ll mean shorter ours and higher wages, and better conditions in general.`
`What you really mean is that you’ll get in here and bounce me out. Unions don’t want Negro members.`

`You mean some unions don’t. it used to be that way, but things have changed.`

`Listen, fellow. You’re wasting your time and mine. Your damn unions are like everything else in the country – for whites only. What ever caused you to give a damn about a Negro anyway? Why should you try to organize Negroes?`

His face had become a little white.

`See them hands?`

He stretched out his hands.
`Yes,` I said, looking not at his hands but at the color draining from his face.

`Well, I got them scars in Macon County, Alabama, for saying a colored friend of mine was somewhere else on a day he was supposed to have raped a woman. He was, too, cause I was with him. Me and him was trying to borrow some seed fifty miles away when it happened – if it did happen. They made them scars with a gasoline torch and run me out the county’ cause they said I tried to help a nigger make a white woman out a lie. That same night they lynched him and burned down his house. They did that to him and this to me, and both of us was fifty miles away.`

He was looking down at his outstretched hands as he talked.

`God,` was all I could say. I felt terrible when I looked closely at his hands for the first time. It must have been hell. The skin was drawn and puckered and looked as though it had been fried. Fried hands.

`Since that time I learned a lot,` he said. `I been at this kinda thing. First it was the croppers, and when they got to know me and made it too hot, I quit the country and came to town. First it was in Arkansas and now it’s here. And the more I move around, the more I see, and the more I see, the more I work.`

He was looking into my face now, his eyes blue in his red skin. He was looking very earnestly. I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say to that. Perhaps he was telling the truth; I didn’t know. He was smiling again.

`Listen,` he said. `Now, don’t you go trying to figger it all out right now. There’s going to be a series of meetings at this number starting tonight, and I’d like might much to see you there. Bring any friends along you want to.`
He handed me a card with a number and 8 p.m. sharp written on it. He smiled as I took the card and made as if to shake my hand but turned and walked down the steps to the street. I noticed that he limped as he moved away.

`Good morning, John,` Mr Berry said. I turned, and there he stood; derby, long black coat, stick, nose glasses and all. He stood gazing into the brass like the wicked queen into her looking glass in the story which the boy liked so well.

`Good morning, sir,` I said.
I should have finished long before.
`Did the man I saw leaving wish to see me, John?`
`Oh no, sir. He only wished to buy old clothes.`

Satisfied with my work for the day, he passed inside, and I walked around to the quarters to look after the boy. It was near twelve o’clock.

I found the boy pushing a toy back and forth beneath a chair in the little room which I used for a study.

`Hi, Daddy,` he called.
`Hi, son,` I called. `What are you doing today?`
`Oh, I’m trucking.`
`I thought you had to stand up to truck.`
`Not that kind, Daddy, this kind.`

He held up his toy.

`Ooh,` I said. `That kind.`
`Aw, Daddy, you’re kidding. You always kid, don’t you, Daddy?`
`No. when you’re bad I don’t kid, do I?`
`I guess not.`

In fact, he wasn’t – only enough to make it unnecessary for me to worry because he wasn’t.

The business of trucking soon absorbed him, and I went back to the kitchen to fix his lunch and warm up the coffee for myself.

The boy had a good appetite, so I didn’t have to make him eat. I gave him his food and settled into a chair to study, but my mind wandered away, so I got up and filled a pipe hoping it would help, but it didn’t, so I threw the book aside and picked up Malraux’s Man’s Fate, which Mrs Johnson had given me, and tried to read it as I drank a cup of coffee. I had to give that up also. Those hands were on my brain, and I couldn’t forget that fellow.

`Daddy,` the boy called softly; it’s softly when I’m busy.
`Yes, son.`
`When I grow up I think I’ll drive a truck.`
`You do?`
`Yes, and then I can wear a lot of buttons on my cap like the men that bring the meat to the grocery. I saw a colored man with some today, Daddy. I looked out the window, and a colored man drove the truck today, and, Daddy, he had two buttons on his cap. I could see ‘ em plain.`

He had stopped his play and was still on his knees, beside the chair in his blue overalls. I closed the book and looked at the boy a long time. I must have looked queer.

`What’s the matter, Daddy?` he asked. I explained that I was thinking, and got up and walked over to stand looking out the front window. He was quiet for a while; then he started rolling his truck again.

The only nice feature about the quarters was that they were high up and offered a view in all directions. It was afternoon and the sun was brilliant. Off to the side, a boy and girl were playing tennis in a driveway. Across the street a group of little fellows in bright sunsuits were playing on a long stretch of lawn before a white stone building. Their nurse, dressed completely in white except for her dark glasses, which I saw when she raised her head, sat still as a picture, bent over a book on her knees. As the children played, the wind blew their cries over to where I stood, and as I watched, a flock of pigeons swooped down into the driveway near the stretch of green, only to take flight again wheeling in a mass as another child came skipping up the drive puling some sort of toy. The children saw him and were running toward him in a group when the nurse looked up and called them back. She called something to the child and pointed back in the direction of the garages where he had just come from. I could see him turn slowly around and drag his toy, some kind of bird that flapped its wings like an eagle, slowly after him. He stopped and pulled a flower from one of the bushes that lined the drive, turning to look hurriedly at the nurse, and then ran back down the drive. The child had been Jackie, the little son of the white gardener who worked across the street.

As I turned away I noticed that my boy had come to stand beside me.

`What you looking at, Daddy?` he said.
`I guess Daddy was just looking out on the world.`

Then he asked if he could go out and play with his ball, and since I would soon have to go down myself to water the lawn, I told him it would be all right. But he couldn’t find the ball; I would have to find it for him.

`All right now,` I told him. `You stay in the back out of everybody’s way, and you mustn’t ask anyone a lot of questions.`

I always warned about the questions, even though it did little good. He ran down the stairs, and soon I could hear the bump bump bump of his ball bouncing against the garage doors underneath. But since it didn’t make a loud noise, I didn’t ask him to stop.

I picked up the book to read again, and must have fallen asleep immediately, for when I came to it was almost time to go water the lawn. When I got downstairs the boy was not there. I called, but no answer. Ten I went out into the alley in back of the garages to see if he was playing there. There were three older boys sitting talking on a pile of old packing cases. They looked uneasy when I came up. I asked if they had seen a little Negro boy, but they said they hadn’t. then I went farther down the alley behind the grocery store where the trucks drove up, and asked one of the follows working there if he had seen my boy. He said he had been working on the platform all afternoon and that he was sure the boy had not been there. As I started away, the four o’clock whistle blew and I had to go water the lawn. I wondered where the boy could have gone. As I came back up the alley I was becoming alarmed. Then it occurred to me that he might have gone out in front in spite of my warning not to. Of course, that was where he would go, out in front to sit on the grass. I laughed at myself for becoming alarmed and decided not to punish him, even though Berry had given instructions that he was not to be seen out in the front without me. A boy that size will make you do that.

As I came around the building past the tall new evergreens, I could hear the boy crying in just that note no other child has, and when I came completely around I found him standing looking up into a window with tears on his face.

`What is it, my son?` I asked. `What happened?`
`My ball, my ball, Daddy. My ball,` he cried, looking up at the window.
`Yes, son. But what about the ball?`
`He threw it up in the window.`
`Who did? Who threw it, son? Stop crying and tell Daddy about it.`

He made an effort to stop, wiping the tears away with the back of his hand.

`A big white boy asked me to throw him my ball an’, an’ he took it and threw it up in that window and ran,` he said, pointing.

I looked up just as Berry appeared at the window. The ball had gone into his private office.

`John, is that your boy?` he snapped.
He was red in the face.
`Yessir, but-`
`Well, he’s taken his damned ball and ruined one of my plants.`
`You know he’s got no business around here in front, don’t you?`
`Well, if I ever see him around here again, you’re going to find yourself behind the black ball. Now get him on round to the back and then come up here and clean up this mess he’s made.`

I gave him one long hard look and then felt for the boy’s hand to take him back to quarters. I had a hard time seeing as we walked back, and scratched myself by stumbling into the evergreens as we went around the building.

The boy was not crying now, and when I looked down at him, the pain in my hand caused me to notice that it was bleeding. When we got upstairs, I sat the boy in a chair and went looking for iodine to doctor my hand.

`If anyone should ask me, young man, I’d say your face needed a good washing.`

He didn’t answer then, but when I came out of the bathroom, he seemed more inclined to talk.

`Daddy, what did that man mean?`
`Mean how, son?`
`About a black ball. You know, Daddy.`
`You know, Daddy. What’d he mean?`
`He meant, son, that if your ball landed in his office again, Daddy would go after it behind the old black ball.`

`Oh,` he said, very thoughtful again. Then, after a while he told me: `Daddy, that white man can’t see very good, can he, Daddy?`
`Why do you say that, son?`
`Daddy,` he said impatiently. `Anybody can see my ball is white.`

For the second time that day I looked at him a long time.

`Yes, son,` I said. `Your ball is white.` Mostly white, anyway, I thought.
`Will I play with the black ball, Daddy?`
`In time son,` I said. `In time.`

He had already played with the ball; that he would discover later. He was learning the rules of the game already, but he didn’t know it. Yes, he would play with the ball. Indeed, poor little rascal, he would play until he grew sick of playing. My, yes, the old ball game. But I’d begin telling him the rules later.

My hand was still burning from the scratch as I dragged the hose out to water the lawn, and looking down at the iodine stain, I thought of the fellow’s fried hands, and felt in my pocket to make sure I still had the card he had given me. Maybe there was a color other than white on the old ball.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Bi Girls Can Jump - Watch me Jump

 "An entirely different kind of basketball game. A narrative-driven journey told in four quarters."

Watch me Jump is a short (average play time is just over an hour) game that's focussed on progressing through a story. This could easily have cut the few interactive parts out and gone full visual novel, but instead it went the point and click style adventure game route.

The visuals are pretty crude, it looks like this

Which is going to be a deal breaker for some, but personally speaking I grew up playing MS-Dos games in the 90s and a surprisingly large number of the mystery/adventure games looked a lot like this. Characters in a crude Ms paint style that move like wind up toys kinda thing. So it doesn't really bother me, you can tell all the characters a part so that isn't an issue.

The story revolves around a WNBA basketball star Audra Bee Mills and the various scandals that have been created out of her celebrity, athletic attitude and open bisexuality. Its one of those stories with a message games. Its pretty interesting, the story keeps revealing twists and developing relationships with a good use of flashback to flesh out the arguments and provide context for everyone's emotional states and stances. It felt a lot like watching a play,  with the levels being sets with characters entering and exiting. When I completed the game the credits prominently featured a "based on the play by Jeremy Gable" so that makes sense, it was originally a play turned into a game by the playwright. Not many like that but short and cheap story games like this could find some traction and an audience.

Anyway I don't really know much about women's basketball the closest I came to basketball was occasionally trying it in school PE, but I do know quite a bit about bisexuality. Pleasantly Audra being Bi isn't really that big of an issue, it causes her some problems but overall it was just the first revelation that got the paparazzi type celeb gossip press interested in Audra which led to the revelations of her other issues. Though I did enjoy the part where Audra has to walk her coaches through the fact she isn't gay just because she had sex with another woman, and them assuming she was in denial at first. That was very familiar.

No Audra's real failings are more to do with her emotional attitude and drive to be the best athlete she possibly can. She wants to both be a role model for girls and show that women's basketball is serious but at the same time wants to get the best possible deal for herself, so she and her agent aren't above burning bridges and Audra has something of a temper. That's actually a refreshing change, a queer protagonist that's not perfect and in fact deeply flawed, but in a way that is very familiar and can in no way misconstrued as the result of her sexuality. Often in Queer media the choice is boringly perfect idol that is usually victimised horribly to drive home the anti bigotry message, or flawed but in a way that has very uncomfortable implications on sexuality and gender and will be jumped on by several bigoted straight people looking for more ammunition to increase the scaremongering.

So even though I probably wouldn't like Audra at all in the real world, I really like her character and what her character has to say about celebrity, pressure, self drive, the power of institutions like sports franchises and tabloid media. In addition there isn't really a villain or hero character, there all adults with their own points of view. The closest it comes to a generic archetype is a character whose a victim, but the final quarter that character gets some time to acknowledge that role, but its one that's been forced on them by wider society, and its not one that they're just going to sit back and accept.

Its very grown up and quite refreshing all round. I recommend it, its not sweet exactly, it is short but its pacing is tight so its about the right length for the story its telling. If it was longer it'd just retreading itself and would lose its impact.

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