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a blog by Ann Althouse

Some pages of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song" are photos like this with a couple sentences isolated from the text.

I find that pretty amusing. You can buy the book here. I have the audiobook and the Kindle text, so I'm usually out walking around listening. I like Bob's voice, reading, and the various actors who read some of it are good too. I intersperse that reading with playing the songs. Here's a Spotify playlist of the songs. I have the Kindle so I can find quotes to blog, but in this case, I need the Kindle so I can see the illustrations, and then I also need the Kindle so I can contextualized those captions.

Here, in this case, it's:

She says look here mister lovey-dovey, you’re too extravagant, you’re high on drugs. I gave you money, but you gambled it away, now get lost. You say wait a minute now. Why are you being so combative? You’re way off target. Don’t be so small minded, you’re being goofy. I thought we had a love pact, why do you want to shun me and leave me marooned. What’s wrong with you anyway? I’m telling you, let’s be amiable, and if you’re not, I’m going to wrap this relationship up and terminate it. You’re asking her for money. She says money is the root of all evil, now take a hike. You try to appeal to her sensual side but she’s not having it. She’s got another man, which infuriates you no end. 

But no other man could step into your shoes, no other man can swap places with you. No other man would pinch-hit when it comes to her. How could it happen? I get it, she’s not in love with you anyway, she is in love with the almighty dollar. Now you’ve learnt your lesson, and you see it clear. Used to be you only associated with extraordinary people, now they’re all a dime a dozen, but you have to keep it in perspective. There’s always someone better than you, and there’s always someone better than him. You want to do things well. You know you can do things, but it’s hard to do them well. You don’t know what your problem is. The best things in life are free, but you prefer the worst. Maybe that’s your problem.

Now, what song is he talking about? 

See how he's inhabiting the main character in the song and paraphrasing the lyrics, but he's making the main character "you." He's giving this ridiculous person his say.

I propose a party game based on Bob Dylan's philosophy of song. Prior to the event, get your group to agree on a list of songs that everyone knows. Then, when it's your turn, you do a little monologue as the character in the song, not using the lyrics to the song, but restating the character's circumstances and feelings. Play it like charades, but with talking.

So, what's the song? The best things in life are free, but you prefer the worst. That's hilarious.

"I have many kind friends with wonderful attributes, but one horrible thing they all have in common is a compulsion to come up and talk to me when they see me arrive on my bike."

"There, they find me at my worst, both physically and emotionally. I am damp from the ride and must now take off my helmet and redo my oddly compressed hair. It is possible that the breeze, once a source of my power, blew something gross — an insect, the torn corner of a Snapple label — onto my face. Using only the two hands that the Lord gave me, I must rearrange myself, smooth my rough edges, and prepare to rejoin society. All while also securing my bike to one of the city’s O-racks, or, more likely, a street-sign post with another bike already chained to it. This takes time and focus; I am essentially completing a physical equivalent of a Kumon worksheet. Inevitably, something drops to the ground. This is both embarrassing and part of my process."

Things I spent time doing this morning: 

1. Looking up O-rack (and just getting a lot about Rack-O, the Milton Bradley card game from the 1950s).

2. Looking up Kumon (and finding something else from the 1950s ("Toru Kumon, a gifted maths teacher in Japan, begins providing self-learning based education to his son, Takeshi....")).

3. Wondering if this writer is quite cute and amusing or if she's too nervous and nutty to get by in this world.

4. Resolving the question raised at #3 by reading the 3 comments over there:
1. "Everyone wants to be able to pick their wedgie in peace before interacting in any social situation."

2. "Love this! I've never felt so seen."

3. "I totally agree with you, it can be disorienting and feel like an invasion of privacy...."

I've chosen 6 TikToks tonight — chosen them for myself. It's a crapshoot whether you'll like them. But tell me what you like.

1. Robot answers the trolley problem. 

2. A simple approach to cutting your own hair.

3. Being a Democratic or a Republican should not be a life-style brand.

4. A grown man plays the floor is lava.

5. How different farm birds eat watermelon.

6. Girls who like their own name too much.

"Nordic larpers... 'are emotional junkies.... Most of us larp because we can feel it and smell it with our bodies.' 'Nordic larps—they’re not for everybody'...."

"Some of them 'can be intense experiences, and that is probably not what we want to offer to our mainstream audience.'"

That's just an isolated snippet from "LARPing Goes to Disney World/On a 'Star Wars' spaceship, the company has taken live-action role-play to a lavish extreme. Guests spend days eating, scheming, and assembling lightsabres in character" by Neima Jahromi (The New Yorker).

LARP = live-action role play. 

We're told that in the "Nordic larp scene," they prefer "games with deep emotional involvement and few rules." Nordic designers of LARPs were inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, but they rejected the idea of using actuarial tables to determine who wins and loses a fight. That "didn’t really fit the culture here.... Nordics are way more collaborative than adversarial." 

I'm not at all familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, but it was funny to read that it's based on insurance underwriting. 

Anyway, the article is mostly about a big Disney/"Star Wars" production. I had trouble understanding this. My point of reference was a Renaissance Faire, not that I'd ever attended one, but I've seen that phenomenon discussed and mocked for decades, most recently in episode 5 of "Love on the Spectrum U.S." Isn't this LARPing like going to a Renaissance Faire?

I've been on immersive Disney World rides like "Pirates of the Caribbean," where they load you into a fake boat and pull you though various scenes, but you're still a passive member of an audience. I did that only in the context of amusing my children. I can't imagine wanting further immersion with the pressure of being part of the show. But I will put some effort into trying to understand what other people are finding rewarding. 

And does this mean I'm a standoffish observer in life, missing out on the fun? I'm standoffish about manufactured things that you're supposed to get caught up in. If there's one thing that makes me feel like a separate individual, it's being in the midst of people who are having an emotional group transformation.

"I think people kind of appreciate that there’s this thing online that’s just fun. It’s not trying to do anything shady with your data or your eyeballs. It’s just a game that’s fun."

Said Josh Wardle, the inventor of Wordle, quoted in "Wordle Is a Love Story/The word game has gone from dozens of players to hundreds of thousands in a few months. It was created by a software engineer in Brooklyn for his partner" (NYT).

I played for the first time and got the word on the fifth line, without being strategic in choosing the first word, just using the kind of logic you use in Mastermind. It's more interesting than Mastermind, because the answer will be a real word, not just any combination of letters/colors.

The popularity of the game — not the game itself — had something to do with the very popular NYT game Spelling Bee:
Mr. Wardle said he first created a similar prototype in 2013, but his friends were unimpressed and he scrapped the idea.... The breakthrough, he said, was limiting players to one game per day. That enforced a sense of scarcity, which he said was partially inspired by the Spelling Bee, which leaves people wanting more, he said.

"I firmly believe in not exposing people to offensive words, especially racial, gendered or sexual slurs."

"Any offensive words that appeared in ‘Typeshift’ puzzles were there in error, and when I was informed of them I updated the block list and generated new puzzles." 

Typeshift is a game like the NYT "Spelling Bee," where you're given a bunch of letters and you have to find words. The games could avoid offering letters that even permit the spelling of some very offensive words or, more simply, refuse to accept certain words even though you're seeing the letters that would spell them. Just by chance, today's NYT "Spelling Bee" serves up the letters to write what is conventionally considered (by Americans) to be the dirtiest English word and it's also a misogynistic slur:

The game won't accept that word, but the letters are still foisting it upon the game-players. We have to see it in our mind! The NYT is letting that happen, even though it goes pretty far in excluding words that appear in the letters. As I've blogged about in an old post, it doesn't accept "nappy." I do think the NYT would avoid offering a set of letters that could be used to spell the "n-word," but other than that, its mechanism for preserving good feeling is to reject the word when we think of it. 

But back to Typeshift. Is it really "littered with offensive terms"? The article begins with an anecdote about a woman who is upset to see the word "lynched." That's not an offensive word, but a standard word, like "murder" or "rape," that refers to something ugly. You might not want your word games to include anything unpleasant. You're playing the game to relax or to sharpen your mind and you don't want to be distracted by thinking about anything with negative substance. 

Typeshift was operating off of the Merriam-Webster dictionary and only excluding words it designated "offensive," so Typeshift wasn't "littered" with any words words in that category. Obviously, "lynched" wouldn't have that designation. It's a word that should be used in standard writing. It's not an offensive word, but a disturbing idea. Don't mix the 2 things up. It's fine to argue that a lightly amusing game should not prompt us to think about anything negative — take out "death" and "cancer," etc. — but don't call words that denote negative things "offensive terms." 

That confusion is dangerous — once you get away from the topic of games. To make "lynching" an offensive word is to make it hard to talk about the subject seriously. Now, you've squarely arrived in "1984":

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well—better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning, or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words—in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston?"

"Life, as it is often called, was conceived as a modern take on a board game designed in 1860... called the Checkered Game of Life..."

"By 1960, the Checkered Game of Life had disappeared from most American game tables. It had been replaced by such as entrants as Monopoly, which rewarded winners with riches, punished losers with penury and became one of the top-selling board games in the United States during the Depression. Mr. Klamer’s task, as assigned by the Milton Bradley Co., was to create a game to mark the company’s 100th anniversary.... With the assistance of colleagues... Mr. Klamer updated [the Checkered Game of Life] for the aspirations of contemporary players. For instance, players of the new version would choose between a 'business' route, which afforded an immediate salary, and 'college,' which promised a larger but delayed one.... To board game enthusiasts, the Game of Life was a beauty: a marvel of topography with raised roads that players traversed in their station-wagon game pieces. According to the volume 'Timeless Toys: Classic Toys and the Playmakers Who Created Them,' by Tim Walsh, Life was 'the first three-dimensional game board using plastic.'... Destinations in the 1960 version included 'Millionaire Acres' — or the 'Poor Farm.'" 

I played that game when it was new in the 1960s, and I guess those 3-dimensional aspects and the built-in spinner were pretty exciting. But what a drag it made life seem! You're a peg in a car and you gather family members to fill the hole in the car and keep driving till you get to the end. At least the end wasn't called "Death." 

And it seems that this is where we Baby Boomers learned we'd better go to college. The game had determined the income difference. But you didn't even have any fun in college or learn anything deep. You just upped your earning potential, and the point of life/Life was to make the most money. What an awful game!

"With all the new money flooding the metaverse... the kinds of conflicts between neighbors we’re familiar with from the real world have followed."

"Take the monastery and the ranch house next door. Both were built by Ogar, an in-demand meta-architect in the metaverse. His real name is Alexandre Vlerick, and he lives in the real-life Lille, France.... Right after he finished the monastery for a German client, he got another request: an American client asking for a ranch house alongside it, on land where he could raise virtual chickens, horses, and a goat. Once the client moved in, he got a red barn, a tractor, and bales of hay. The owner of the monastery wasn’t pleased with the clashing aesthetics, and a familiar homeowners’-association-style conflict erupted. 'The first client was like, "Man, can’t you do it in another place? I’ll swap parcels with you so you have a bigger space far from my place,"' Ogar said. 'But he said no.'... Many early users came to the space because they were excited to hang out virtually with like-minded people who believe in blockchain technology; others were digital artists excited about new platforms.... But for newcomers paying upwards of $100,000 worth of crypto for a parcel, participation in the metaverse might be less about the liberatory potential of blockchain and more about speculating with crypto on digital assets. There is a clear tension between the idea that the metaverse is a utopian blank canvas, socially and visually, and the fact these spaces are based on money-backed property rights.... [T]here is already a kind of nostalgia setting in among longtime users of these platforms... 'The big money is moving in....'"

From "Does the Metaverse Need a Zoning Board? As new crypto investments flood online worlds, conflicts between virtual neighbors are on the rise" (NY Magazine). 

It's a replication of the problem of gentrification. First come the young creatives. They make the place cool and alive. Then come the people who just buy their way in. But what are they buying? They don't really live there... or do they spend time there in some way. Is it art or is it investment? 

In any case, Ogar has a nice job for himself. Speaking of jobs, there must be lawyers. There must be government. Or maybe not. It's a game, isn't it? I don't understand it, but I got to thinking about the board game Risk. 

There's never a point in Risk where government emerges. You just play to the death, every time. Sometimes you feel real emotio 

FROM THE EMAIL: Steve writes:

It's funny that the article didn't mention Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel, Snowcrash (at least, I didn't catch a mention if it was there). In his novel, Stephenson predicted a virtual world called the Metaverse. He also described the cacophony of style arising from the lack of physical limitations and diversity of taste and personalities of the inhabitants. He even discussed some of the rules used (like zoning laws) by the creators and early adopters of the Metaverse to manage all the weirdness. It's an awesome book, but it feels like the kind of thing you wouldn't enjoy, for some reason. Also, I know you don't like mixed metaphors, but I think "cacophony of style" is a keeper.

AND: George emails: 

Great comment by Steve about Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash. As Steve says, it IS an awesome book. And you might like it. It’s about viruses: biological viruses, computer viruses, and viral ideas. All timely topics for today. All interconnected in the novel from ancient Sumerian mythology to a futuristic virtual reality called the Metaverse. Language is a key theme, beginning with the Biblical story of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) and continuing to the modern concepts of DNA (the language of biology) and the binary language of digital computers.

A quote from the book about the title: Hiro: “This Snow Crash thing—is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?” Juanita shrugs. “What's the difference?”

Whether I'd like — or even be able to read — this book depends entirely on the writing style. I have to be able to tolerate the sentence-by-sentence experience, and science fiction books tend to be in a style that gets on my nerves. So I'll look at the first page (on Amazon). Sorry, got to take a pass. You get hit in the face with an immense clutter of details before you're given any reason to care. Sintered armorgel indeed!

"I wish I could make it so that people were more thoughtful and kind toward each other. It’s something that I think about a lot as I move through life."

"In Japan, for example, we have priority seating on train carriages, for people who are elderly or people with a disability. If the train is relatively empty, sometimes you’ll see young people sit in these seats. If I were to say something, they’d probably tell me: 'But the train is empty, what’s the issue?' But if I were a person with a disability and I saw people sitting there, I might not want to ask them to move. I wouldn’t want to be annoying. I wish we were all a little more compassionate in these small ways. If there was a way to design the world that discouraged selfishness, that would be a change I would make." 

 From "Shigeru Miyamoto Wants to Create a Kinder World/The legendary designer on rejecting violence in games, trying to be a good boss, and building Nintendo’s Disneyland" (The New Yorker)("In 1977, Shigeru Miyamoto joined Nintendo, a company then known for selling toys, playing cards, and trivial novelties. Miyamoto was twenty-four, fresh out of art school. His employer, inspired by the success of a California company named Atari, was hoping to expand into video games. Miyamoto began tinkering with a story about a carpenter, a damsel in distress, and a giant ape...").

Is "nappy" a racial slur?

It's censored in the New York Times "Spelling Bee" game today:
The "Help" page only says: "Our word list does not include words that are obscure, hyphenated, or proper nouns. No cussing either, sorry." So "nappy" must be a "cuss." I've noticed in the past that "coon" is off the word list, even though the word "coon" can mean "raccoon" (or, though there's not much occasion to say this anymore, a member of the Whig party). "Nappy" can also mean "diaper." And it can describe the surface of some velvety fabrics. 

It seems that Spelling Bee eliminates a word when one meaning is an insult — a particular sort of insult, aimed at members of a group that has, historically, experienced subordination. 

But is "nappy" an insult? It almost seems insulting to think of "nappy" as an insult.

I found this article from last year (at NPR) — "The Racial Roots Behind The Term 'Nappy.'"  
In 1998, white New York City schoolteacher Ruth Sherman received tremendous backlash after assigning Nappy Hair, a book by Carolivia Herron focused on cultivating positive feelings about nappy hair in young children. One of the parents was not pleased, according to an investigation launched by New York City's Department of Education, because of the belief that the phrase "nappy hair" was a racial slur. The debate resulted in a firestorm of calls to have Sherman fired. 
"[Sherman] had what she considered to be viable death threats against her," says Noliwe Rooks, author of Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture and the African American Woman. "All because she was trying to teach little kids, many of which were of African descent, that 'nappy' could be seen as positive." 
Rooks said that when she first heard about the controversy, she was sure that it was centered on the misconception that Sherman, a white woman, was being racially insensitive. But Rooks says the parents weren't accusing Sherman of discrimination. Rather, they confronted her for framing nappy hair as a positive. 
"You start to hear that [the parents] were like, 'Why would you be trying to tell my child that her nappy hair is a good thing?' " Rooks said. "I found that fascinating."
Nearly a decade later, in 2007, nappy was once again thrown into the national spotlight after radio host Don Imus used the term "nappy-headed hos" in reference to the Rutgers women's basketball team. The backlash was immediate....

I asked [Zine Magubane, associate sociology professor at Boston College] whether there was a context where the term nappy could be used in a nonoffensive manner. Her response was blunt: "No." 

"Certain social movements have changed the meaning of what any word is supposed to describe," Magubane said. "So 'slut,' [for example] — we have had enough of a female revolution so that the idea that a woman must be chaste is mostly gone." 

But she says neither the culture nor the context has undergone a change significant enough for nappy to get the same treatment. 

What would it take? Magubane seems to say that racism must end before the word can be reclaimed as positive. 

I called up Trisha R. Thomas, author of the book Nappily Ever After, which inspired the Netflix hit of the same name. "I wrote Nappily with the goal of putting the term in a new light," Thomas explained... "I knew it may be causing a little stir, but I knew I had to resist the fear and do what I thought was right.

Thomas is asked whether there's hope that the word can become positive:  

"If you would have asked me this when I wrote the book in 2000, I would have told you, 'Yes, there is hope,' " Thomas said. "But I just don't think so anymore. There's a group damaged by the word's hurtful connotation whose pain will never go away. I saw the depths of their hurt, and it was painful to even witness. At this point, I've accepted that it's always going to be a triggering word... Always."

Well, that's sad, and it explains the simple censorship today at the NYT Spelling Bee. 

You can stop now, but keep going for some musical digression and an investigation of the obscure slang word "mamlish."

I looked up "nappy" in the OED and the second definition was "U.S. slang (frequently derogatory.). Of hair, esp. that of a black person: frizzy." 

One of the quotes there was from a 1927 song by Bobby Grant called "Nappy Head Blues." Listen:


Lyrics: "Your head is nappy, feet so mamlish, feet so mamlish, mamlish long... You look like a turkey, comin' through the mamlish corn." 

Now, you have to be wondering, what is "mamlish"?! 

Listen to "Mamlish Blues" and see if you can tell:


Lyrics here. Excerpting the use of "mamlish": "You used to be my sugar but you ain't sweet no mamlish more...  Mama, must I sell it or keep it for my mamlish self...  Well, my mama, she didn't like me, my papa, he give me mamlish 'way...  Talkin' 'bout your stroller but you just ought to see mamlish mine... She was standin' on a corner, between Twenty-fifth and, mamlish Main..."

It seems to work like "damned" or "fucking" as those words are used by people who say them as often as possible. 

There's also "Bullfrog Blues" by William Harris. Audio here. Lyrics here.

This is that song that begins "Have you ever woke up with them bullfrogs on your mind?" (which has a David Bromberg version). 

"Mamlish" comes up in Harris's song in the middle of a word: "I got the bullfrog blues, mama, can't be satis-, can't be satis-, mamlish -fied." 

Anyway, talk about your racism... a couple verses later, there's this:
I'm gonna tell you, buddy, what a Chinaman told a, a Chinaman told a, I mean, a Jew 
I'm gonna tell you what a Chinaman told a Jew 
"You don't like-ee me, well I, sure God, don't like you."
Some pages of Bob Dylan's "Philosophy of Modern Song" are photos like this with a couple sentences isolated from the text."I firmly believe in not exposing people to offensive words, especially racial, gendered or sexual slurs."Is "nappy" a racial slur?

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