Years ago I was working on a book about HBO’s police drama and social realistic epic The Wire as created by David Simon and Ed Burns. Through a range of ways, including the help of a friend, I got electronically introduced to a number of people who made the series as creators, writers, directors, and actors.
They were a remarkable group, and while for a range of reasons I had to put the book on hold, I have had the chance to share some of those interviews over the years; if you check the MF Galaxy archive, you can find my conversations with Sonja Sohn who played Kima Greggs, with Wendell Pierce who played Bunk Moreland, with director Ernest Dickerson, and with writer-director Joy Lusco-Kecken. There are still around a dozen more interviews that no one has heard but me.
Yet of all the ones I did, I think the most fascinating for me was with actor Robert Wisdom who played Baltimore City Police Department Major Bunny Colvin in Season 3 and then the same character but as a school consultant in Season 4. Interestingly enough Wisdom had auditioned for the role of Stringer Bell, a role that went to Idris Elba; but Wisdom was so piercing and iconic it’s now impossible to imagine him in any other role in The Wire.
Of course, as a flexible and superb performer, he’s occupied many other roles, including in Barbershop 2, Prison Break, Supernatural, Happy Town, Burn Notice, The Dark Knight, and Freedom Writers. He was also once a producer for All Things Considered which ran on the US network National Public Radio.
For me the most remarkable aspect of speaking with Wisdom was the depth and breadth of his analysis. I’ve interviewed many actors over the years, and while a few rose to Wisdom’s level of intellectualism, none ever discussed so many characters and situations that were not centered around their own work. That curiosity and generosity in sharing the spotlight was, in my experience, unique, refreshing, and instructive about the type of man he was and is.
We spoke by telephone on April 6 and 13, 2008, during the US election race between Barack Obama and John McCain, a race that affected all the interviews I did for that unfinished book on The Wire. We discussed:
I taught junior high and high school English in Edmonton for a decade. I loved it; the job was demanding, but getting to know so many remarkable young people was a joy, and poring over stories, poems, and plays with them and exploring how to write about them and create their own was a blessing.
That being said, I was trained in a specific mode that hasn’t changed much in a long time. When I left public school teaching more than a decade ago, my distance from the classroom made me more capable of seeing my previous blindspots and the deficiencies of a traditional classroom.
In my experience since then, the most electrifying development in education has been gamification. You can find plenty of internet articles telling you why it’s a bad idea, claiming it amounts to bribing kids. Those people clearly don’t know what gamification is or can be, especially in the context of fantasy role playing games. It’s not simply handing out prizes for completion of tasks kids don’t care about—many parents and teachers have been doing that for ages even though research proves that doing so decreases enjoyment of the rewarded task.
Gamification is applying the process of games—what makes them fun, engaging, and addictive—to the experience of learning. Add in the aesthetics and imaginative story worlds and characters of role-play games, and you can create an immersive learning adventure that kids can’t wait to re-engage and which gives them reasons to learn content and skills that might otherwise bore them into failure. Gaming is a core human drive. While some other life forms play, we’re the only ones who make games, and we do so in every culture. Why not harness that essential drive?
To discuss how to gamify your classroom to help students learn more and love learning, I spoke with Scott Hebert. He’s the author of Press Play to Begin, a manual for teachers on how to implement game principles into their classes. He teaches at Our Lady of Angels in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, north-east of Edmonton. The Alberta Excellence in Teaching Awards named him a Top 20 Teacher in Alberta in 2013, and the World Gamification Congress honoured his work with its Best Gamification in Education Project Award in 2015. His website, mrhebert.org, contains videos and articles on gamification, and a link to buy Press Start to Begin.
We spoke by web video on May 22, 2018. We discussed:
Hey, MF GALAXY crew! Minister Faust here. Why not add your voice to the MF GALAXY podcast and the MF GALAXY blog?
That’s what listener and patron Jeff Quest did when I asked for opinions on the women of Star Wars, the Last Jedi. Jeff Quest is the blogger at SpyWrite.com and spybrary.com. In the following, he talks about how Rey is not only the new Luke Skywalker—she’s actually the better one.
If you watch movies or TV shows such as Rambo or The Punisher and everything in between, you’ve probably seen how Hollywood explores PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. According to US entertainment, PTSD is the horror that former soldiers experience because of war: flashbacks and rage attacks triggered by cars backfiring and footfalls at night.
But what if I told you that most of what you’ve been told about PTSD is wrong? That the causes are far more common and complex, and they’re in homes and on streets across the world? That “classic” symptoms such as flashbacks are extremely rare? That the US military is spending a gigantic fortune to cure PTSD, but not for humanitarian reasons? And that the only real cure to PTSD is probably prevention?
To discuss these questions today, let’s hear from Cultural and American Studies scholar Kali Tal, who spoke with me by Skype from her home in Bern, Switzerland on December 8, 2017. With combined interests including historiography, cultural anthropology, and African American studies, Tal has spent decades researching the complex causes of PTSD and our dire need to stop traumatising people in the first place. She’s a qualitative researcher and scientific editor at the University of Bern, and the author of Worlds of Hurt: Reading the Literatures of Trauma. And if you’d like to read it for free, keep listening.
In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, we discuss:
Stranger Things, Season One, is the Netflix hit series that revels in 80s nostalgia and pays homage to everything from ET and The Goonies to Firestarter and Dungeons & Dragons.
It’s the story of four small-town American boys, Will, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas, who encounter a mysterious girl named Eleven who possesses enormous power that threatens to destroy anyone who crosses her—even agents of the United States government. And all of them and the people they love are threatened by Lovecraftian annihilation from a force emanating from a place beyond reckoning: the Upside Down.
I love Stranger Things, and not just because I’m a child of 80s. I love it because it does what I tried to do with my debut novel The Coyote Kings: celebrate friendship and young love and science fiction and fantasy fandom and the heroism of young people. The series is enamoured with its non-glamourous setting and the innocence of its characters, chief of which are teenagers played by actual teenagers, harkening to the glory days of DeGrassi Junior High, rather than having gangly 13-year-olds played by 25 year-old athletes and underwear models.
The series loves the American science fiction and fantasy movies, TV shows, and games of my youth, and does them one better—tying them into a coherent package that rises above 99% of its inspiration. The show makes me feel like a kid again in the best possible ways.
And now season 2 is out, and tonight’s SPOILER-INTENSE CONVERSATION features my guest and friend, the acclaimed science fiction novelist who’s also a scientist, Ekaterina Sedia. She’s the author of five novels including the celebrated Heart of Iron. She’s been on MF GALAXY before to talk food, fiction, and feminism, and she’s also maybe just as much a fan of Stranger Things as I am, if that’s actually possible.
Today, we discuss:
What is the Zimbabwean musical instrument called the mbira? It’s a wooden resonator box with metal keys, called kalimba in Cameroon and thumb piano in the West, although “chime-box” offers a better description of the instrument’s sound. Its pristine voice is perfectly suited to cathedrals, ancient caves, and modern concert halls. But the origins of the mbira are lost in the mists of time.
Westerners who know mbira most likely do so from the work of Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo, a fusion musician who helped resurrect the mbira which the British colonial dictatorship had banned because of its religious and cultural gravity. Mapfumo’s chimurenga (struggle) style was a cultural-nationalist concoction that changed modern Zimbabwean music, seizing it back from its own Euro-American aesthetic occupation.
But today’s guest has a different path to and with the mbira. It’s not often a musician tells you an origin story that sounds like a quest straight out of the pages of an Africentric epic fantasy novel. But that’s the scenario that Edmonton’s Chaka Zinyemba unfurled about how he discovered and later learned to play the mbira, the leading instrument of Zimbabwe’s classical music. I’ll let him tell you that story, and about his royal lineage, in just a moment.
In 2012, Chaka Zinyemba released his debut album Tariro with his cousin Freemantle Nhembo playing bass mbira and hosho (or maracas). Both provided vocals. Zinyemba played traditional songs using mbirahuru (great mbira), also called mbirahurudzavadzimu (the great mbira of the ancestors). That instrument was once used particularly during Shona religious ceremonies (or mapira) which often lasted through the night, the mbira music lifting people into a hypnotic, ecstatic state.
Zinyemba’s album Tariro is a beautiful, sensitive, soulful album. Hearing it, one feels the caress of the clouds and tastes the shimmer of moonlight. You can find the album on BandCamp and iTunes and probably elsewhere.
When I spoke with Zinyemba in February 2012, he told me had no plans to become a full-time musician; back then he was studying Human Geography at the University of Alberta in Edmonton with a minor in Music and a focus on disaster management, health planning, and urban planning. He also volunteered with the Kenyan Red Cross. But he did hope to collaborate with other musicians and develop spoken word albums featuring his musicianship.
Let’s hear all about his music, his plans, and his history of the mbira and its music in my conversation with Chaka Zinyemba on MF GALAXY.
Mark Meer is possibly the most affable fellow in showbiz. He’s a terrific stage actor, voice artist, and improviser, and I’ve known him since we were both cartoonists at university and worked together in the sketch comedy troupe The 11:02 Show. He’s best known as the voice of Commander Shepard from BioWare’s Mass Effect trilogy and has done other video games including Gods of Rome and Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced.
And he’s not just someone whom fans love—he’s a fanboy himself, and attended numerous conventions in costume. He’s literally a pro at cons. He’s also appeared in short films such as Tar Zombies Barbecued and Flight of the Polar Bear; and he’s been a stalwart of the Edmonton theatre community for decades in ongoing longform improv such as Die-Nasty! and Gordon’s Big Bald Head. And if that weren’t enough, many radio listeners in Canada and the US know him as one of the actors in The Irrelevant Show.
In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Mark Meer and I discuss:
We spoke at Meer’s home in Edmonton’s theatre-arts district on July 4, 2017.
Across the world, modern peoples look towards the great civilisations of antiquity of their continent for answers about who they are now, and from what greatness they have arisen. East Asians gaze toward China; indigenous Americans recall the Olmec, Maya, Aztec, and Inca; Europeans remember Greece and Rome... and Africans remember Nubia and Egypt.
Yet despite the obvious Africanity of Egypt, for more than two hundred years, Europe has taught an imperial racist mythology that erased who the Egyptians truly were, and thanks to Hollywood, has pinkwashed them into Europeans, a depiction never created by any ancient Egyptian painter or sculptor.
To re-establish Egypt, or Kemet, literally, the Black Land, as an African society and civilisation populated and led by racial Africans is a complex task, due to the crushing weight of more than two centuries of racial brainwashing. Doing so requires a multidisciplinary approach engaging Archeo-Linguistics, Philosophy, Comparative Religion, Physical and Cultural Anthropology, and blood-type analysis, to name only a few.
Few scholars were better suited to such labour than the late Dr. Martin Bernal, author of the monumental series Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation.
A maverick academic and historical investigator, Dr. Bernal employed thousands of modern and ancient documents, and addressed innumerable cultural, philosophical, scholarly, and scientific issues in order to re-establish what the Greeks and other ancient Europeans said: that the Egyptians were dark-skinned Africans whose vast genius formed the basis of Greek religion, philosophy, art, architecture, mathematics, science, and civilisation.
Bernal was a professor of Government at Cornell University. His career began in Chinese studies, but grew into the tradition of groundbreaking African scholars such as George G.M. James, St. Clair Drake, and Cheikh Anta Diop. While Bernal is primarily interested in understanding Greece so as to understand Europe, his work in clarifying the Egyptian influence on Greece has required him to establish Egypt’s Africanity.
I had the privilege of interviewing Martin Bernal in person way back in November 2000 in Edmonton, when he spoke at Edmonton Public Library Stanley Milner Branch. He was the guest of the Living History Project of which I was a member, a committee of the Council of Canadians of African & Caribbean Heritage.
For more information on Martin Bernal and his work, visit mfgalaxy.org for the links. Martin Bernal died on June 9, 2013. He was a delightful man, and a brilliant scholar. I’ll always be grateful for his time.
To hear the 90-minute-long patrons-only BONUS CONTENT EDITION of my conversation with Martin Bernal, click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.
By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes Martin Bernal discussing:
COMING IN DECEMBER, don’t miss the serialized AUDIOBOOK VERSIONS of my cult-classic novels THE COYOTE KINGS and my award-winning SHRINKING THE HEROES, available exclusively on PATREON!
Actor William B. Davis is best known as Cigarette Smoking Man, AKA Cancer Man, from the 1990s hit science fiction television series The X-Files.
By know all you X-Files-ophiles know that the Chris Carter-produced show will be returning to television in 2016 as a six-episode miniseries shot in Vancouver, and will feature stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. And returning with them will be the sinister Cigarette Smoking Man, whom the readers of TV Guide voted Television’s Favourite Villain.
Davis, the Canadian screen legend, is also an acting teacher who founded his own acting school where he taught stars such as Lucy Lawless. Davis is the author of a memoir called Where There’s Smoke... Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man. In this episode’s conversation you’ll hear Davis talk about the craft of acting and his odyssey to enrich his own artistry, including the time when his fellow student Donald Sutherland was, in Davis’s words, “not very good.” He also discusses his thoughts on:
This episode is sponsored by the multiple-award-winning comic book store Happy Harbour Comics in Edmonton. Happy Harbour offers every comic and manga and more you could possibly want and if they don’t have it in stock, the friendly staff will get it for you.
Happy Harbour supports charities, schools and libraries, its own Artist in Residence, and even a scholarship. The store is family friendly, and the place where I buy all my comics and graphic novels, and where I have all my book launches. In short, it’s a great place. If you’re in E-Town and shopping for comics, find Happy Harbour in the heart of downtown across from MacEwan University campus on 107th Street and 104th Avenue, and tell them heard about Happy Harbour on MF GALAXY.