I settled down a few days ago for an old classic film, Chinatown. Great Jack Nicholson performance, fantastic film noire homage, lovely 1940s period LA. And through the whole film I kept thinking two things. The game LA Noire owes a huge debt to Chinatown. And good lord, but is that film a serious product of rape culture.
The obvious: a central plot point is that the female lead (an excellent Faye Dunaway) was raped by her father. That fact is presented sympathetically enough and she’s a little more complex than just a victim. But how do we learn it? Our hero detective literally beats it out of her. It’s a horrifying scene, played to deliver the shocking reveal. But then it’s also this disgusting revictimization. And it passes on without notice, of course the hard-boiled detective had to beat the hysterical girl silly.
There’s another upsetting thing earlier, when our detective and the heroine first meet, where she seduces him. Two days after her husband’s violent death, a death the detective is implicated in. It’s not quite so stupid; we learn later she’s playing him, the seduction is strategically deliberate on her part. But of course the hard-boiled detective gets to bed the beautiful girl.
And then there’s the central unspoken problem, that the director is Roman Polanski. Not three years after Chinatown, Polanski drugged a 13 year old girl and raped her. And pled guilty, and fled the US before sentencing, and has been an active fugitive ever since. I’m normally OK with separating the art from the artists, but in his case it’s just too much. But of course the famous director gets away with raping a child.
Part of what’s so troubling about rape culture is how insidious it is. This kind of victimization of women was mainstream entertainment, without comment, for far too long. It’s an infection.
I’m about to go to Bali, home to Gamelan, one of the most interesting musical traditions in the world. Equal parts rhythmic and melodic, amazing harmony and counterpoint, and an interesting participatory music culture playing one-of-a-kind musical instrument ensembles. I’m fortunate enough to have a friend who has studied gamelan in Bali. Here's what Chris wrote me as on what I may hear when I visit. (He also gave me a copy of A House in Bali, a 1947 book about a Canadian musician who went to Bali to study.)
Most all links to video or music files, give it a listen!
Style: Gamelan “Gong Kebyar”
This is the style that is most associated with Balinese gamelan today. It’s a style that came into its own in the early 1900s-1930s, evolving away from the slower Javanese-style court gamelan that preceded it. A hallmark characteristic of this virtuosic style is the “kotekan”, or interlocking wherein different players each play one half of the melody at high speed and it’s which are zippered together at high speed (example here). It is also quite often accompanied by dance.
Jagra Parwata: This is a virtuosic gong kebyar piece, one of my favorites. I believe it won the All-Bali competition about ten years ago. It’s also the first piece I ever learned to play on Gamelan – a true “trial by fire”. Note the loose interpretation of time; it changes tempos both languidly and abruptly. This is a classic aspect of gong kebyar.
Taruna Jaya: This is the most famous of the gong kebyar dance pieces, created around 1950. For a Balinese female dancer, this is the single most important piece and is used as a required dance to judge the All-Bali competition. Taruna Jaya stands for “victorious youth”, and is intended to convey the wide range of emotions of an impetuous youthful princess. It is danced by a young girl who (as it was described to me by my Balinese teachers) is pretending to be a young man pretending to be a young girl. There’s a good description here. Carefully controlled, intense eye and finger movement are the hallmarks of this piece, and much of Balinese dance. The dance requires so much energy that most Taruna Jaya dancers peak out at around 15 years of age.
Style: Gamelan “Gender Wayang”
This is a ceremonial form of gamelan, used for religious ceremonies (weddings, tooth filings, etc) and also puppet shows. As opposed to gong kebyar, this style is played with either two or four players who sit facing each other, each side playing one half of the melody in a fashion similar to the gong kebyar kotekans.
Here’s a video from someone playing at a local temple festival. Here’s another video of someone practicing his half of the ankat ankatan melody at about half speed; it gives you a good idea of how both hands work together and how half of the melody sounds. This song is the first one I learned on the gender wayang, because it’s pretty simple and repetitive. It translates to “walking music” and is used as filler during the parts of the puppet shows when the characters are supposed to be “walking around on a long journey”.
Gending Rebong: This is a song used during puppet shows when two characters are expressing their love for each other.
This is a marching form of gamelan. You will see this in parades and cremation ceremonies. It has all the elements of gong kebyar but is much simpler and more repetitive and is easy enough that every villager learns a couple belaganjur patterns so they can take part in ceremonies for members of their village. In that sense it’s the form of gamelan that most non-musician villagers take part in at least once or twice a year.
The Belaganjur of group Jaya Sakti: I don’t think this even has a formal name, but it’s the most awesome belaganjur I’ve ever heard. I love how it starts out incredibly simple and, simply through tempo change along, seems to transform from something calm and relaxing into something violent and exciting, and then back again. If this doesn’t make you want to march, nothing will.
Above is a graph of League of Legends viewers of the 4 LCS tournament games on Super Bowl Sunday. (I made the graph from Twitch’s published data; there are viewers on other services, but Twitch is the majority.) About 230,000 people were watching on Twitch, a typical day for LCS. The surprise is viewership peaked at 286,000 for the last game at 4pm, half an hour after the Super Bowl started. No noticeable viewer falloff at the 3:30pm kickoff either; just the usual slump after the previous match ended.
Why didn’t the Super Bowl cut into the League of Legends audience? It helped that the final game was an anticipated matchup between two of the best teams with a strong fan base. The stereotypical gamer nerd is not a sport fan, so maybe there was no conflict. On Reddit people noted that a lot of LoL fans are Europeans not interested in the Super Bowl. (There’s an enormous Asian audience too.) Some folks said they’d just watch both at the same time.
I’ve come to really enjoy watching League of Legends tournaments. It’s an enormously popular game, 27 million people play daily and 32 million (8.5M peak) watched last season’s championship. Riot Games has invested heavily in making the game into a sports event. The broadcasts are a lot of fun to watch with smart announcers, good storytelling, and exciting gameplay. I’ve generally been a skeptic that eSports would become a phenomenon but League of Legends is winning me over.
If you’ve never watched LoL before, yesterday’s TSM v C9 game was pretty good. The whole 44 minute broadcast is worth watching but here’s a 5 minute highlight reel. The game is a bit complicated but basically it’s two teams of five players fighting to control the map. Here’s an overview of the game with a lot more detail. Lots more recorded games on /r/LoLeventVoDs.
Greetings from Thailand! Just on the way home. I have to be honest and say we didn’t love this part of our trip as much. Maybe we went to the wrong places?
Bangkok is an amazing modern city, with all the excitement and hassle that entails. It’s also crowded and dirty and at least for us, not so much fun as a tourist. The highlight was seeing the amazing temple Wat Pho, totally worth a visit. But famous entertainment areas like Patpong were lost on us; too crowded and sleazy. I’m sure folks have more fun in Bangkok than we did, but for us a couple of days was enough. As for dining, it got better once we got out of hotels. Queen of Curries was quite good: divey place by American standards, but friendly staff and delicious food. The Local was more interesting, strong fresh flavors and significantly more variety than we see in the US. I particularly liked the lemongrass salad with little dried shrimps and fried tiny fish, wrapped in betel leaf.
We had more fun in Chiang Mai, the medium sized city in the north. The Dhara Dhevi hotel was phenomenal: incredible hotel architecture, great food, terrific service. Our favorite experience was the hotel’s cooking class with market tour. Our temple tour was also interesting was thanks to a good guide. Riding elephants was not for me: certainly interesting and different but I’m not much for large animals.
So now we head home from a long successful trip to Bali, Singapore, and Thailand that my sweetie Ken arranged for us with help from our travel agent. Turns out to not be so hard to visit this part of the world, at least if you’re a little patient and don’t mind paying for high end service. Bali was definitely my favorite place of the three, I’m sure I’ll be back.
Hello from Singapore! It’s exactly like everyone said, a modern and somewhat synthetic city that’s Western in its administration and Eastern in its culture. I like it, but it’s odd being in a new city (1819) without a long history. Then again the syncretic culture that’s here now is neat, the mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, British, all fused into something uniquely Singapore. And so commercially ambitious.
Every Singapore person I asked for tourist advice said “go eat”, particularly at the famous hawker centers. They’re like food carts but with guaranteed hygiene and centralized convenience. There’s three we found nearby: Maxwell Center near Chinatown, Tekka Centre in Little India, and Lau Pa Sat in the center. I definitely enjoyed them but it’s a pretty grimy and simple experience, like going to your favorite taqueria in San Francisco. Buy a beer from one stall, some dumplings from another, maybe a paratha or some spicy noodles from others. Bring your own napkins.
Hawkers are great for tasty food for cheap. Singapore also has an amazing deep restaurant culture reflecting its international position. Various kinds of Chinese and Malay are the main foods you see here, but there’s also lots of Indian and of course Singapore specialities like chili crab. And then a vast international mix, like the warren of French wine bistros on Ann Siang Hill.
The other remarkable thing I’ve seen in Singapore is the Singapore City Gallery near Maxwell Food Center, part of the urban planning department. The permanent display of a scale model of the city is interesting (and free, and air conditioned). But even better was the temporary display of the Draft Master Plan 2013, Singapore’s ambitious plan to develop their island more, building new communities and spaces. Singapore is in a unique position as a wealth city-state and they’re taking their development planning seriously. Interesting to see.
Hello from Bali! Ken and I have been here most of a week and are having a marvelous time. The combination of tropical beauty, friendly people, and deep culture makes Bali amazing. We’ve been staying in lovely resort hotels which is great but I regret not getting more into the villages and towns and experiencing more regular life. It’s very hot and difficult to get around, so far we’ve been taking private cars from the hotel.
Our first few nights were in Jimbaran Bay, down south near the airport. Beautiful bay, clear and gentle and great sunsets. The Bali Intercontinental was great, particularly the extra amenities with Club access. I’d characterize it as the beach + resort part of Bali, lots of emphasis on swimming and massages and relaxing. We did get out a little, particularly to enjoy the Kecak Dance in Uluwatu and to go down the road for a nearby resort’s excellent Indonesian restaurant.
Now we’re in Ubud, the arts & crafts center. Balinese culture has such depth in music, dance, decorative arts, fine painting, there’s just a huge amount to explore and happily it’s all vibrant and available. Our first day here was spent being taken from shop to shop, large warehouse-style galleries of stone carving, paintings, jewelry, etc. It’s definitely touristy, tourist money helps sustain the economy. But it’s also deep and rich and with an authenticity of hundreds of years that some vulgar visitors can’t disrupt.
Yesterday was more of a high arts experience. Through an American friend we met Dewa Alit, a gamelan composer from a family of musicians. We visited him for a lesson in the very basics of gamelan with me clumsily trying to learn to play a few patterns. He’s an internationally known musician so I feel a bit guilty spending his time on something so rudimentary, but he was generous and patient and I got a huge amount out of it. Alit doesn’t do this kind of thing regularly; some enterprising Balinese could make a fine business teaching gamelan workshops for tourists. We also visited the Agung Rai museum of Balinese painting, with collections mostly from the 1940s to contemporary art. Fantastic stuff and I know nothing at all about this genre and would love to know more.
So much more to see, we didn’t even get into the religious culture and temple festivals. Missed the cockfighting, too. I’m hoping to get out into Ubud today and just walk around the shops at my own pace. but then it’s pouring rain and will be 95° and the Four Seasons Sayan is awfully comfortable. There’s so much to learn about Bali, I could easily spend a month here.
Update: last day was a drive to an art gallery, a horrible traffic jam drive through the forgettable tourist dross on Monkey Forest road in Ubud, and then an amazing visit to the home of artist Ketut Soki. We'd seen his work in shops but it seemed awfully expensive without knowing more; he's a master artist and the quality is visibly better than the cheap souvenir stuff. Our awesome driver Korta offered to take us to the artist's home to buy a painting direct from the artist without the 100% gallery markup. Really great experience and I can't wait to get this beautiful painting on my wall.
Camino Restaurant in Oakland is one of my favorite restaurants in the Bay Area. I’ve been there a few times, I think every time with Marc, and every time the meal has been excellent. Worth a trip over the bridge for.
Last night’s dinner was typically great. Dungeness Crab legs, broiled on live fire with a lovely spice coating (alas, served in shell, but it’s literally the first crab of the season). Then a perfectly cooked bit of chicken three ways; moist breast, a sort of smoked leg, and a ballotine of delicious bits with strong seasoning. A little bitter greens, a little rustic grain (farro?) to catch the sauce, simple and refined. I even had dessert, a dense little persimmon pudding with just a bit of quince for sweetening, very savory and satisfying. Excellent cooking, well balanced.
Art of Eating had a profile of Camino a couple of years ago (issue #89) that I can loan you a copy of if you’re really curious. The article’s focus is on their cooking with live fire, which is indeed quite homey in the open kitchen. But while the technique impresses me I think its true value isn’t in the smoke but rather in forcing the chef to be attentive and careful to every single dish. Combine with excellent ingredients and a sense of what makes a delicious, restrained meal and it’s good dining.
Camino is run by Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain. It’s on Grand Ave in Oakland. You need a reservation.
A bit of nostalgia today for Netrek, one of the best online games ever. It’s from the early 1990s and is an important game design precursor to team based online games. Also its netcode was a huge breakthrough in real time Internet gaming.
The game design is brilliant. It’s an 8v8 team game. You mostly play in the upper left window, a Spacewars-like game where you fly your spaceship around and zap other players with your phasers and torpedoes. But the real game is in the upper right, the galactic overview map. The goal is to fly to planets and take them over by beaming down armies while fighting off the enemy players. That combination of high level strategy and local tactics is a hallmark of RTS games like Starcraft, MOBA games like League of Legends, and squad FPS games like Battlefield. I’m not saying Netrek invented that whole idea (Netrek itself was based on PLATO Empire), but it took 5–10 years before mainstream games became as interesting as Netrek. There were even classes in the game, different types of spaceships for different roles.
The network code was also hugely innovative, particularly the UDP code from 1992. Back then the Internet was overloaded and slow, 56 kbit/s links were common. Andy McFadden rewrote the original TCP netcode to use UDP and suddenly the game became way more playable on congested links. The key insight is UDP lets the game client decide what to do about packet loss rather than relying on TCP retransmits. Netrek could afford to lose the occasional packet; you might not see a torpedo coming your way but then again you didn’t have to wait 3 seconds for that packet before seeing the 25 other torpedoes launched afterwards. Weirdly most contemporary games use TCP (despite drawbacks), although League of Legends at least is UDP.
Netrek partly benefitted from the great community of the academic Internet of the early 90s. I’ve run into a few old Netrek buddies in our later careers as working software people: Andy McFadden and Jeff Nelson at Google and Stephen von Worley of DataPointed. I wonder if any of the Netrek folks went on to work in the gaming industry?