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I took a rather stupid fall a couple weeks ago --- stepping off a curb I failed to notice & coming down hard on the heel of my L hand and knee. I decided after some debate not to go to the ER, but did go to the walk-in the next day to confirm nothing was broken. Two weeks later, my knee's more-or-less back to normal, but my wrist twinges like hell pretty much every time I do anything with it. So today it was off to the wrist specialist --- to learn that a severe-enough sprain requires as much immobilization as a fracture (sometimes even more).

So right this moment I'm learning to type in a cast. (Casting type? Cast-typing? ....) It's definitely slow --- OTOH, I'm more productive than I have been the past couple weeks, when I had to take a break after maybe 5 min of typing because it would set my wrist off. By contrast, the cast is annoying but painless.

So, the subject: I decided a while ago that I want to spend more time around SIPB: I've always found it a good environment for learning, and I'd like to get to know the current students. So after I left the hospital, I came to campus. I picked up lunch at Goosebeary's and as I was walking between the Med Center and Ames, noticed my shoe was coming untied. So I stopped at the bottom of the stairs next to the Media Lab, put my lunch down, turned around, put my foot up on a step, and bent over to tie my shoe.

Now, my left hand has not been an entirely reliable contributor in its role in tying my shoes since my stroke. But it turns out that the additional constraint of the cast seems to be too much for it. So a few minutes later, there I am, bent over my shoe, with one shoelace in each hand, staring at them and wondering where the hell I go from here.

Just then, a woman walks up the stairs past me, and turns as she reaches the top, and says "Are you alright?"

"I just got this cast. And I seem to be in the process of discovering that I can't tie my shoes in it."

She starts back down the stairs and before I can say anything, has knelt down and started tying my shoe.

"You're too kind."

I'm no good at ethnicities --- I suspect because it just doesn't seem that important to me* --- but I want to mention that this woman was brown of skin, dressed solidly middle-class, somewhere between 30 and 60. I want to mention that because, during the six months or so I was using a cane, I noticed that every single time someone offered me their seat on the T, it was a dark-skinned woman of indeterminate age and crisply middle-class dress.

* A fact i should probably have cottoned on to when I was 17, and my dad referred to my friend Leslie "that little Jewess." At the time, I was too busy being shocked for it to occur to me that my cluelessness might say something good about me. And then, once Leslie and I had had the "Is your family Jewish?" "What, is this a trick question?" conversation, wondering how he could tell. It was only a dozen years later, when what in retrospect I now know was my third Ashkenazi girlfriend explained that word to me, that it made any sense.
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Steve Jobs changed my life, and all for the better. I first used a Mac in 1984, sneaking (or so I told myself) into a little computer cluster with none of the security such things would soon come to have, in an anonymous little building at the foot of Brooklyn Ave on the University of Washington campus. I fell in love as only a nerdy penniless kid can. Six years later I arrived in Boston, a broke college drop-out with $20 to my name, an offer of crash space on a couch in the basement of some friends of my ex-girlfriend — and a head as crammed full of knowledge of all things Mac as it was possible to get without owning one.

One of the housemates where I was crashing, a recent MIT alum named Chris, had a Mac II, and was making ends meet while deciding what to do with his life by working for a company called MacTemps. He saw what I knew, and introduced me to them, and I've been making my living from the Mac, to a greater or lesser extent, from that day to this.

I never met Steve Jobs. The closest I came was five or ten feet away, and it certainly didn't occur to me at the time that I would remember it for the rest of my life. It was some time in the late 1980s, and Steve was at UW, trying to drum up interest in his new company's forthcoming computer, the NeXT Cube (which at the time, apparently due to some deal Steve had made on leaving Apple, was only going to be sold in the academic market). There weren't that many people there, maybe a hundred, and Steve spoke in a room with a small proscenium stage and no fixed seating. The room had some tables and chairs, and one or two machines being demonstrated, and as I recall it, everyone just stood in front of the stage when Steve talked. I was certainly right up against the stage, which was about the height of my solar-plexus. The thing that really struck me at the time, a poor kid with aspirations, was how, early in his talk, Steve took off his suit jacket —Armani: I saw the label — and with a lack of concern I could not imagine, set it down on the stage beside him — I could have reached out and grabbed it — and kept on talking about how the operating system they were developing, NeXTSTEP, was the future of computing.

Which was, of course, more true than anyone (except, perhaps, Steve) could have imagined. A year or so later, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web on a NeXT Cube at CERN. And twenty-odd years later, the Mac laptop I'm typing these words on owes at least as much to the NeXT Cube I saw Steve demo that day as to that first Mac I saw in 1984. As does the iPhone in my pocket.

And for that, as for so much else: Thank you, Steve.

Steven Paul Jobs — requiescat in pace.
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I caught a bus today. The bus pulled up — not, of course, to the curb: it being the MBTA, the driver stopped a good four feet out. I stepped out to wait by the front corner while people left.

A little girl got off, her head coming perhaps midway up my thigh. She jumped down the long final step, probably half her height — and then she turned around, and with that serious expression children wear only when they're about important adult business, put out her hand.

I suddenly noticed that the next person coming down the steps was an elderly lady with a cane. A half-beat later, the bus driver, whose job is to notice these things in a timely manner, caught on and lowered the corner of the bus — with the old lady in the stairwell, gripping her cane and the railing for dear life.

I was trying to figure out how I could offer to help the lady without stepping on the little girl, when she reached out and, with the most delicate touch, took the girl's hand. Brought her cane down to the ground with her other hand, and without of course actually putting any weight on the child, gave the little girl what she so obviously considered the great privilege of helping her down.

After I got on the bus, I watched them as long as I could, walking down the sidewalk together, holding hands, as bound by love as any two people I have ever seen.

Until I was six, my mother's Uncle Jesse lived with us. An old man, badly bowed by arthritis, he walked, slowly and painfully, with an old wooden cane. He had infinite patience and endless stories for a little boy, and I loved him with total devotion. When he was feeling up to it, he would take a daily walk to the end of the road — perhaps a quarter mile, but for him, very difficult and very important. I would accompany him on those walks, holding his hand, listening to his stories, basking in his love.

I hadn't thought about it in thirty years or more, but my mom used to tell stories about how I would hold out my hand for Uncle Jesse to steady himself on when he stood. In that little girl today, as through a lens in time, I saw the little boy. I am honored to have been him.

Yes We Can

Nov. 5th, 2008 02:37 am
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My mother was something the Republicans have been telling us for a generation cannot exist, a left-wing patriot. She believed it was government's job to level the playing field, to help those left by the wayside to get back on the road. But most of all she believed in the American Civic Religion, with its testaments the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, its saints Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Madison and Washington, and it's sacrament, the Vote. And she raised me up in her faith.

My faith fell on hard times. The Republicans trotting out the solemn machinery of Impeachment over a blow job. The Supreme Court interceding in an election to prevent ballots from being counted. Congress, when the Ninth Circuit ruled that it had acted unconstitutionally in inserting the words "under God" into Francis Bellamy's lovely Pledge of Allegiance, responding by all but unanimously reaffirming its unconstitutional act. The President condoned torture.

My mother's faith came to seem to me little better than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny: Tales for children, not something an adult could believe in.

Tonight I sat among friends (thank you again [livejournal.com profile] aerynne for inviting me) hanging on the news. I watched John McCain give his best speech of the campaign, a concession speech worthy of the statesman I once thought he was.

And then the President-Elect came on. And I found myself standing up from the couch I'd been sitting on, facing the screen squarely, and standing at parade-rest through his acceptance speech. And toward the end, shedding a few tears.

I don't know how long it will last, but I wish my mom were alive, so I could call her and tell her that, at least for tonight, I have my faith back.
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I spent slightly over hour and a half, from roughly 11:45 til 1:15, in a two-block long line in order to vote today. I do not — and did not while standing in the line — expect my vote to make one iota of difference.¹ I spent that ninty minutes enjoying the weather, reading, and engaging in upbeat chat with neighbors — What a lovely day.... Isn't it, though?... Grandma, can't we go somewhere else with a shorter line?... That's not how it works.... I thought waiting til after people went to work but before lunch would mean not much of a line.... That's exactly what I thought.... Me too!... Well that's the problem, we all had the same clever plan... Laughter... I didn't hear a single person grumble about the line, unless you count a little good-natured joking. I didn't see a single person leave the line, save one woman who left for a few minutes and came back with a magazine. Nor did anyone talk about politics. But I am certain that we were all there, and in such good spirits, because we knew we were there to make history. There with the hope of being able to say to our grandchildren someday — in a better world — I voted for President Obama.

In 1990, a few weeks after I moved to Boston, I was sitting at an outdoor table in Harvard Square. At the next table, a Black man was giving his twenty-something son, who had apparently recently graduated from Law School, advice. He was apparently going down a list of the cities his son had offers in. "You don't want to stay here. Boston's still stuck in the seventies on race. Philly's even worse...." He went on, speaking of some cities with more caution, others more positively. Then "The best place for a young Black man in the Country today has to be Seattle. Why, they just elected a Black mayor. A city that's eighty percent White! Can you imagine?"² I was very proud of my home town as I listened to that, and very homesick.

Eighteen years later, it's been a long time since I heard anyone shout out an ethnic or racial slur on the street (which I did, to my shock, when I first moved here). Two years ago, Massachusetts elected a Black governor, in a campaign in which as best I could tell, race was not an element at all. (My perspective may be skewed: Since I don't watch TV news and don't read the local newspapers, what I knew of the campaign came from Public Radio and the web. I didn't even know Deval Patrick was Black til a week or so before the General Election. If you'd asked me, I'd have assumed, from his name, that he was Boston Irish.) And now, if the polls are right, the entire country is ready to catch up with Seattle and cast their ballots without regard to race. Maybe this time it really is morning in America.

¹ The only contested elections on my ballot were President and U.S. Senator; for the Democratic candidate to fail to carry both is just about inconceivable. I haven't seen polling on the ballot issues, but I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that Prop. 1, a grossly irresponsible slasn-and-burn antitax measure, will go down in flames. I would also like to thank that Prop. 2, decriminalizing marijauna, will easily carry the day — at least until the results are in, I'm going to let myself believe that people have finally started to notice that prohibition is as much a failed social policy now as it was in the 1920s.

² Seattle was actually roughly 10% Black when Norm Rice was elected mayor.
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A friend is hosting a party this weekend at which everyone is to read a poem. I was an English major once upon a time, and intended a career as a literary scholar: I've read quite a lot of poetry. But that was more than twenty years ago, and I've rarely read verse for pleasure since. Though recently that part of me has resurfaced, at least enough that I've been writing some verse.

At any rate, I thought I'd just recite the one of Shakespeare's sonnets I remember liking from when I last read them, at ninteen. And ended up, in a mad rush this evening, re-reading all of them for the first time in over twenty-five years &mdash and realizing I had not understood them at all.

Having devoured the sonnets, and discovered in the process that great poetry can make lot more sense after you've been beaten about the head and shoulders by life for a couple decades, I also realized that reading one of them at the party might not be the best idea: while I didn't much care for the sonnets as a kid, I devoured most of the rest of Shakespeare, and have re-read some of the plays in the intervening years. So I can read the sonnets for their poetry now not least because my earlier training gave me the vocabulary and context to read them at all. Most of them would require some footnoting for a lay audience, and that would IMO would spoil the fun. So I found myself thinking What's good, but more accessible?

A few lines from Whitman, who I'd never read, caught my attention several years ago, and one of the few books I didn't put into storage in 2004, and has been with me ever since, is a scholarly edition of Leaves of Grass. But I've barely more than dipped into it for five or ten minutes a few times. Leaves of Grass was Whitman's life's work. He published something like seven editions in his lifetime, and there's a small industry of scholarship surrounding those revisions. Which, given my background, made me feel like I was ill-prepared to read him, thinking perhaps I should hold off until I could take a class in Whitman.

But instead of getting the book off the shelf in the livingroom, tonight I decided to just Google it; I quickly found the text of the first edition — The 1855 Leaves of Grass — and once I started, simply fell into it. It's electric. It's like nothing I've ever read. It was considered shocking at the time, and I can see why.
Loafe with me on the grass . . . . loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want . . . . not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valved voice.

I mind how we lay in June, such a transparent summer morning;
You settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my barestript heart,
And reached till you felt my beard, and reached till you held my feet.


Blacksmiths with grimed and hairy chests environ the anvil,
Each has his main-sledge . . . . they are all out . . . . there is a great heat in the fire.

From the cinder-strewed threshold I follow their movements,
The lithe sheer of their waists plays even with their massive arms,
Overhand the hammers roll—overhand so slow—overhand so sure,
They do not hasten, each man hits in his place.

The negro holds firmly the reins of his four horses . . . . the block swags underneath on its tied-over chain,
The negro that drives the huge dray of the stoneyard . . . . steady and tall he stands poised on one leg on the stringpiece,
His blue shirt exposes his ample neck and breast and loosens over his hipband,
His glance is calm and commanding . . . . he tosses the slouch of his hat away from his forehead,
The sun falls on his crispy hair and moustache . . . . falls on the black of his polish'd and perfect limbs.
Excuse me — is it hot in here or what?. Writing like that could make a straight guy seriously consider switch-hitting.
I don't want to give the wrong impression: it's not all, or even mainly, thinly veiled homoeroticism. It's this mad rushing river of words that's all about life, the joy and the agony and the sheer wonder of being alive in the world, and I found myself reading it like I've never read anything, pouring it into my eyes, letting the impressions light up far corners of my brain and leave me tingling.

But unlike the chewier stuff of lyric poetry, I did not want to stop and savour and linger and consider. I just wanted to keep rushing along. I used to have a '60s Datsun roadster — think an MG-B, but with reliable mechanical and electrical systems and a roof that didn't leak — and remember thrashing it along winding roads near Mt. Rainier. I would never have imagined reading poetry could give me that same feeling.
I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,
Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,
Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,
Stuffed with the stuff that is coarse, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine,
One of the great nation, the nation of many nations....
I read until my eyes burned, and then in a rush I wrote this. Which must sound mad. Perhaps just to show that I have not lost all rational faculties, I'll point out that I realized even as I was immersed in it that the key to the sense of madly rushing, of taking life in big gulps, lies in Whitman's endless lists. Which I haven't quoted any of above, because I was looking for powerful extracts. But they're key to why the poem has the effect it does, so I'll close with an eample:
I think I will do nothing for a long time but listen,
And accrue what I hear into myself . . . . and let sounds contribute toward me.

I hear the bravuras of birds . . . . the bustle of growing wheat . . . . gossip of flames . . . .
clack of sticks cooking my meals.

I hear the sound of the human voice . . . . a sound I love,
I hear all sounds as they are tuned to their uses . . . . sounds of the city and sounds out of the city . . . . sounds of the day and night;
Talkative young ones to those that like them . . . . the recitative of fish-pedlars and fruit-pedlars . . . . the loud laugh of workpeople at their meals,
The angry base of disjointed friendship . . . . the faint tones of the sick,
The judge with hands tight to the desk, his shaky lips pronouncing a death-sentence,
The heave'e'yo of stevedores unlading ships by the wharves . . . . the refrain of the anchor-lifters;

The ring of alarm-bells . . . . the cry of fire . . . . the whirr of swift-streaking engines and hose-carts with premonitory tinkles and colored lights,
The steam-whistle . . . . the solid roll of the train of approaching cars;
The slow-march played at night at the head of the association,
They go to guard some corpse . . . . the flag-tops are draped with black muslin.

I hear the violincello or man's heart's complaint,
And hear the keyed cornet or else the echo of sunset.

I hear the chorus . . . . it is a grand-opera . . . . this indeed is music!

A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me,
The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full.

I hear the trained soprano . . . . she convulses me like the climax of my love-grip;
The orchestra whirls me wider than Uranus flies,
It wrenches unnamable ardors from my breast,
It throbs me to gulps of the farthest down horror,
It sails me . . . . I dab with bare feet . . . . they are licked by the indolent waves,
I am exposed . . . . cut by bitter and poisoned hail,
Steeped amid honeyed morphine . . . . my windpipe squeezed in the fakes of death,
Let up again to feel the puzzle of puzzles,
And that we call Being.
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It occurred to me to day that it's been a couple of years since Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so perhaps Rowling has announced a date for the final installment. Unsurprisingly, the top Google hit for "Harry Potter" is J. K. Rowling's site — where on the main page I found this news item:

Banned Books Week

Once again, the Harry Potter books feature on this year's list of most-banned books. As this puts me in the company of Harper Lee, Mark Twain, J. D. Salinger, William Golding, John Steinbeck and other writers I revere, I have always taken my annual inclusion on the list as a great honour. "Every burned book enlightens the world" — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Aside from it being a nice expression of the contempt book-banners deserve, what struck me about this is that all but one of the authors she names was an American. I'm not at all sure what to make of that; it may just be a meaningless coincidence. But it does lead me to wonder about a tangential question: Is book-banning an especially American phenomenon, in comparison to the rest of the Anglosphere? While I know that books are sometimes banned in, for instance, the UK, I tend to suspect it is a far more unusual event there. But I have no data; merely conjecture.

Two threads of thought lead me to that suspicion. The first is that to the best of my knowledge, the US is unique in making the public education of its future citizens a political football to be kicked around amateur political wannabes. Elsewhere in the world curriculum and other school policies are set by agencies of larger (often national) units of government, staffed by professionals1. And generally, when you hear about a book being banned, it was banned from a school curriculum or removed from a school library — by a school board.

The other is quite a bit more conjectural. I find myself wondering whether having a freedoms enshrined in our fundamental law may not in fact result in people respecting it less. This thought began germinating when I noticed that most, if not all, of the European democracies have an official state religion. Yet religion plays a vastly larger role in American politics than in Europe2. Why is that? Europe endured generations of bloodbaths in the name of God — is that historical memory closer to the surface in the European electorate than in ours? Or is it that in America, the fact that religious freedom is enshrined in the Constitution give those who oppose the idea something to push against? And is it the same story for freedom of the press?

1  While I would be loathe to suggest that a government bureaucracy is good way to achieve anything. But consider what I'm comparing it to. To quote Mark Twain: God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.

2   Or, to the best of my knowledge, anywhere outside the Islamic world and those regions of the world where Muslems and and people of other faiths coexist uneasily.


Jun. 6th, 2006 01:38 pm
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This started as a comment to [livejournal.com profile] thomb's entry about a remark of Mitt Romney's on gay marriage. But it outgrew the context, so I'm putting it here instead.

I don't understand these people at all. This morning I was driving for a few minutes during... I forget what they call it now, WBUR's post Morning Edition call-in show. The interviewee was a black minister who apparently has written some sort of attack on gay marriage. He was, in short a bigot. Saying exactly the kinds of things white bigots used to say about blacks, trying to excuse his bigotry because, he claimed, skin color is biology and sexual orientation isn't.

I have to say, gay marriage is an idea that had never crossed my mind until a few years ago, when it exploded onto the front pages here in Mass. The institution of marriage has never occupied much of my attention; I'd always thought of it as mostly a legal convenience for parents and not having much point otherwise. And I suppose it hadn't crossed my mind that gay people would want to marry. But the moment I encountered the idea, my immediate reaction was "Well, that's a pretty clear civil rights issue. If there are legal privileges associated with marriage, denying gay couples the right to marry violates their civil rights." Duh.

What's interesting (and would doubtless make a fundie's head spin) is that the gay marriage movement has strengthened my view of marriage. I mostly followed the gay marriage story via public radio, and the thing that struck me, repeatedly, was the longing in the voices of the couples seeking to marry. This was clearly something of tremendous import to them. As a result, I now think of marriage not as a legal convenience, but as a significant social and emotional statement — indeed, as something sacred. A much stronger view of marriage than I ever used to take

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Top flight technical people argue with one another vigorously and often in ways that look just plain rude to other people. In the MIT culture, I learned that "that's stupid" is not necessarily a personal attack, and shouldn't be assumed to be: it's often the most succinct way to criticize an idea, and taking it as a personal remark is just going to get in the way of getting better ideas. The one way I've had some moderate success in explaining this to people — of convincing a few that this is actually a good thing, and not just some strange artifact of geekiness — is to explain that it emerged from the fact that in much of engineering, if you screw up, you can kill people. That's a powerful incentive for putting your ego aside in favor of making sure the work is good.

Now, most of the work I do on a day to day basis in my job doesn't carry much chance of killing people. But some of it actually does, and most of it carries a fair chance of costing people weeks or months of work and millions of dollars. So I'm proud to be part of that tradition, and proud to listen and try to understand when a colleague tells me "that's stupid."

But Larry Vance, an investigator with the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, is a lot closer to the metal, and he knows far better than I why engineering matters. Speaking on the Nova episode "Crash of Flight 111", he tells this story. One day he was at the facility where the investigators were reconstructing the aircraft from the thousands of fragments recovered from the Atlantic, conducting a family visit.

I was ... doing a visit with a family from France ... and there was a little guy, he was three years old, and he was all over the place. And we did the standard tour, with some English and some translation, and at the end of that I always make sure that I ask 'is there anything else that you want to know?' And the little guy ... I got it through interpretation, but that didn't take any of the emotion out of it. He asked 'is this daddy's airplane?' And [the translator told him] 'yes'. And he said 'why is it in so many pieces?'. And I said ... 'that's what we're here trying to figure out.' And that just about blew me away. I'll remember that a long time. Forever.
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I'm listening to KUOW, a Seattle NPR station, live via the web in Boston. I do this fairly often, as the hours during which they run Morning Edition and All Things Considered correspond with my go to work around 1 p.m. schedule a lot better than the Boston Station.

Right now I'm listening to an hour long interview with the Governor of Washington, Gary Locke. Live, real time, with calls from listeners. The interviewer (and the callers) ask serious questions. Governor Locke answers them, often displaying mastery of the details, but also frankly admitting it when he's not up on something. And he does this once a month.

Let me repeat that: The Governor of the State of Washington gets on the air live, once a month, on the region's main Public Radio station, and answers citizens' questions.

People in New England always treat me like a slow child when I talk about good government, as if I must be retarded to think things like things like the President of the State Senate's being the brother of the local crime boss aren't normal and acceptable. I can't imagine the Governor of Massachusetts opening himself up to this kind of public scrutiny on a regular basis. Nor, frankly, can I imagine that if he did, the dialog would be as elevated as what I've heard here today.

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I record Charlie Rose on my ReplayTV every day. A couple of times this week, it was preempted for coverage of the Mass. legislature meeting in constitutional convention over the "crisis" caused by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court having decided that homosexuals are people too. Today I decided to actually play some of that in background while doing something else. I'm glad I did.

Sen. Diane Wilkerson is a black woman who grew up in Arkansas. GFN.com, which I found courtesy of news.google.com, summarized her speech:

On the Statehouse floor, Sen. Dianne Wilkerson eloquently argued that offering gays the option of civil unions was fundamentally unequal, and recalled her experience as a black woman growing up in Arkansas to make her point.

"I know the pain of being less than equal and I cannot and will not impose that status on anyone else," Wilkerson said. "I could not in good conscience ever vote to send anyone to that place from which my family fled."

Wilkerson's plea echoed last week's Supreme Judicial Court's affirmation of their November decision, saying giving civil unions to gays amounted to the same separate-but-equal idea favored by segregationists and outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in its Brown vs. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

What they don't say is that she was in tears as she talked about some of what her family had lived through. What they don't quote, that I think deserves to be, is the core of her powerful and heartfelt speech:

"For me, this is about one simple principle: the principle that one group of citizens cannot be almost equal to another.... I could not deny to one group of citizens what I live every day in pursuit for all others. Simply put, this is a civil rights matter. And as such, I feel strongly that it was never intended that such matters be left to the public to decide by popular vote. Everything we know about the climate and tenor of the day in May of 1954 tells us that had Brown vs Board of Education been put to popular vote, things would have turned out differently. As was Brown, today's vote is about a civil right.

"I represent the Capitol City of Boston ... including the plaintiffs in the SJC decision, the Goodridges. I am both proud to be their Senator, and ashamed that we stand here today talking about them as if they were not human beings, or as if they are less deserving of the rights and protections our Constitution affords them. I can assure you --- I know them --- they feel, they care, they love, and they are deserving. And I say again that this is a civil rights issue.

"Historically we look to the sacred document we call the Constitution to define rights we hold dear. It is not a document where discriminatory language belongs."

There's more, and it's all worth listening to. She speaks of standing against the Black Clergy on this, which is clearly hard for her. She speaks more of her family's experience of second-class citizenship. And she speaks more of how this is, to here, simply an issue of equality.

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I have too many books. (Or too few bookcases, but it would be a bad idea for me to own any more bookcases unless I also owned a house to put them in.) Most of My sf and fantasy are already in storage, and I have about three shelf-feet of books I've bought in the past year or so, sitting in boxes or on tables or otherwise scattered around the house. So right now I'm going through my bookcases, pulling a few to put in storage that I don't expect to have a sudden urge to consult in the next few years. Some of these are old friends: The Art of Literary Research and The Scholar Adventurers, inspiring introductions to the career I thought I would follow, twenty odd years ago. Will it Make a Theater?, a book on how to turn cheap and unlikely spaces into magic dramatic spaces; The Life and Times of Chaucer. Books on Heraldry; a social history of Greenwich Village in the early 20th Century; style guides; books on programming languages I don't use and probably never will. Many, many more.

And on a bottom shelf, an old friend --- one that definitely won't be going in a box. Printing It, subtitled "A guide to Graphic Techniques for the Impecunious". Because I was able to persuade my high school principal that letting me do what I wanted was better than having one of the only three National Merit finalists they had ever had drop out, I spent my senior year in high school at The Evergreen State College. Evergreen's a special place, founded in the 1960s and fueled by idealism about holistic approaches to learning. Rather than individual courses, Evergreen has "Coordinated Studies Programs", where all of a student's work is focused around a single theme or idea or period, though many subjects may be involved. My first term I took a program with a large writing component, that had as another aspect studying the history of the book. The final term project was to publish something you'd produced.

This was before desktop publishing; I'm not sure anyone who's grown up with Macs and laser printers can appreciate just how daunting an idea this was. Printing It, which was assigned reading, made it possible. Looking through it now, it remains a delightful book, chock full of good advice and "you can do it!" spirit. My booklet was offset printed from camera-ready copy I pasted-up by hand, and I stitched each copy by hand. Sadly, I don't have a copy any more. But it was a great experience, and as I think about it, is probably one of the main sources of my sensibilities about keeping things simple.


Oct. 11th, 2003 04:39 pm
xela: Photo of me (Default)
I recently realized the solution to the problem of a filing system at work: Our information isn't especially systematic. I decided that the right answer to this is how I understand the earliest libraries worked: put stuff on the shelves as it comes in, and index the hell out of it. So rather than a classification system, my (probably wrong, but usefully wrong) understanding is that you would go to the library at Alexandria and look up "Eratosthenes" in the catalog, and be directed to a dozen or so totally arbitrary shelf locations.

Not to put down Dewey or the Library of Congress or anyone else who's subsequently come up with a classification system, this was a brilliantly simple idea. And it would work far better than any classification scheme for the sort of stuff we need to file at work. Though I may have some trouble selling this.

But today's epiphany is that this idea is exactly what I need to organize my stuff. Number a bunch of pendaflexes and start dropping stuff in them, adding an entry to a four-field text database as I go. (The only necessary fields are file number, date added, and a freeform text description. I also included a date field for when I throw things out eventually.)

I just went through a box of cruft that's been cluttering my office floor for months. The stuff in it worth keeping, which was most of it, is now in pendaflexes in my filing cabinet --- and I didn't have to invent a filing system or try to come up with descriptions that would fit on a folder label. Just decide it's worth keeping, toss it into a pendaflex, label the pendaflex with the next number, and type a brief description into the database.

Really, I'm not the sort of person who generally gets excited about filing. But. But, well, right now I'm excited about filing.

xela: Photo of me (Default)
Can't sleep. I keep thinking about the "Bush Doctrine".

This is not the American way.

This is not the American way. America doesn't start fights. America doesn't fire the first shot. America stands strong and ready, and makes it clear that attacking us is not a good plan. But we don't strike the first blow.

Our most aggressive modern President, Theodore Roosevelt, said "walk softly and carry a big stick." Of course, President Roosevelt knew what it was like to be shot at on the battlefield, unlike the chicken hawks in Washington who are so anxious to send other people off to fight and die.

There may be legitimate reasons to attack Iraq. Their refusal to comply with the terms of their surrender at the end of the Gulf War certainly demands a more concrete response than the handwringing and hot air the UN has come up with to date.

But Iraq is a special case. Dealing with Iraq does not require us to reverse 230 years of American policy.

The Bush Doctrine would make America no better then the schoolyard bully who beats up anyone whose face he doesn't like.

xela: Photo of me (Default)
I just caught a few minutes of Peter Jennings' "In Search of America" thing on ABC, in which people who work for the Pepsi/Frito-Lay empire talk with evangelistic zeal about conning people the world over into eating more junk food. These people are sincerely convinced that what they're doing is good and important and promotes world peace, or at least have mastered the trick of faking sincerity.

And Americans wonder why people hate us.

I believe in markets. I think market capitalism does a damned fine job of developing products and technologies that can make people's lives better. But that's not what always happens, and I would hope that people who find themselves in the business of selling people things that aren't so good for them would feel a little bad about it — would innovate by coming up with better, more beneficial products. But instead they have all these clever people innovating to find new ways to sell the same old shit. Listening to the guy running the Dutch Lays operation gushing about getting their products into schools, I could hear the thing he wasn't saying: "Hook them while they're young."

Admittedly, it's not on the moral level of tobacco: I don't know how people who work for tobacco companies can stand to look at themselves in the mirror. And I'm too much of a realist to expect people to feel bad about working at companies like Pepsi or Microsoft that make products that are really not good for their customers. But to watch people celebrate that sort of work, with almost religious zeal, was too much for me. I watched about 10 minutes of it, and turned it off, muttering something to myself to the effect of "this is Satan" — a very strange thing for me to say.

This is what America is to most of the world: we come into their cultures, and we manipulate them. We sell them bland, crappy food, and bland crappy entertainment, and convince a lot of them that they like it. At least at first, until they — maybe — develop a little immunity to marketing, or see some treasured native institution die.

I'm not saying that the export of American business techniques and products and ideas is an unmixed curse — but neither is it by any means an unmixed blessing, and I don't think most Americans have the first clue about that.

In my own limited travel, and from all I've heard from people who've traveled to far more distant places, they don't hate us. Americans seem to be greeted warmly around the world. It's not americans, it's America they hate, because of what America imposes on them.

I think we owe it to those people, who treat us so warmly despite how they feel about our country, to try to better understand their feelings, and maybe to put some brakes on the American cultural steamroller.


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