The Statement of Steven Siwy

I don’t usually write about work, because that’s my real name up there, and writing about work on the web is a fantastic way to lose your job.  For that reason, I’ll try to be deliberately hazy with any identifying details.  But I must speak, for this may be my last communication with the outside world.

My immediate superiors have decided to get some machine for the reception area that pisses out fragrance into the air.  It’s basically an industrial-strength Glade plug-in, because your business is growing, and you need next-level choke-the-air-with-perfume solutions.

The miasma now looming over my desk, like the threat of devourment by an unnamable Great Old One dressed in tapered khakis and a pink Newport News twinset, is named, I’m told, “Fresh Air.”  I imagine one develops a sense of vicious irony, working for a company that makes fragrance-pissing machines.

But now my breathing grows labored, my sight grows dim, and I fear I can type no more.  Blasphemous magenta flower-print patterns dance at the edges of my vision, and beneath it all, across the nose-withering gulfs of time, I can hear the music of the insane pipers who dance endlessly around the throne of the blind idiot-god of olfactory chaos: “Potpurri-ri!  Potpurri-ri!”


Quote of the day

My purity is based on the fact that nobody offered me much money.

Leonard Cohen

That article comes from a link in the comments to an essay about the evolution of the song “Hallelujah.”

…I should add that all of this comes via a Sidelight on Making Light.

Failed his saving throw vs. mortality

Aw, man.  Gary Gygax died.


I bought the D & D basic set when I was, like, eight, I think.  I didn’t have anyone to play it with until I got a little older and a) thus, so did my younger brother, b) some kids around our age moved in up the street.  So I contented myself with rolling up characters,  reading the monster descriptions in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and drawing dungeon maps on graph paper.  To this day I write in all caps, having developed the habit because it made my writing more legible on graph paper, which we also used for our homemade character sheets.

Anyway, D & D was hugely influential, on me and on our culture, so I lift a flagon of mead to Gygax’s memory.

Today in Stuff I Find Fascinating

Robert Farley has made the case that the Air Force shouldn’t be its own branch of the military.  It should be folded back into the Army and Navy, with, according to my basic understanding of his argument, the Army taking over its tactical roles and the Navy taking over its strategic roles (especially w/r/t nukes).

The whole ensuing discussion on that article is interesting to me, and I bring it up because of his recent post on the subject.  I don’t have anything to add, I just think it’s worth reading.

Wait, I do have something to add.  I’m all for the Navy taking over the Air Force’s space defense mission.  Every SF space-battle scenario I’ve ever seen equates spaceships with naval ships, and maps the structure of a navy onto space fleets.  So obviously, our species has already decided which branch of the service should handle space defense.

Spaceships, not space planes.  QED.

Of COURSE it’s freaking sexist

So Obama gets asked at a press conference about some negative ad that Clinton aired about him, and says this: 

“I understand that Senator Clinton, periodically when she’s feeling down, launches attacks as a way of trying to boost her appeal,”

‘Cause gals are so emotional, y’know?  They get to feeling down from time to time.  Some might even say “periodically.”  And during those times the claws might come out.  Know what I mean, fellas?

It seems to me it takes a lot of effort to argue that Obama wasn’t using standard male shorthand about women’s motivations – or rather, the unspoken, pervasive idea that men act because of motivations and women react because of emotions.

I hear that kind of shit all the time from other men.  And I think the idea is so pervasive and implicit that it can almost literally defy explanation sometimes, as now (not that I’m not going to try).  What I mean is that as I try to explain this, I know that many, if not most of my readers (all eight of you) will think that I’m straining at gnats, seeing things that aren’t there because I’m predisposed to do so ’cause I’m always trying to be all liberal and feminist and whatnot (you know, fuzzy-headed, dare I say emotional).  That I would make the case that sexism is so systemic and pervasive that this comment can just drip with it and even someone who normally spends a lot of time making the feminist case will miss it sort of pre-emptively disqualifies me from making that case.  As zuzu says, putting it in the context of a dogwhistle:

Another way to send your message to your target audience while maintaining deniability is to go the wink-wink-nudge-nudge route, where you know that many people not in your target audience will pick up your meaning, but because you’ve crafted your statement to be facially innocuous, anyone who objects will be accused of being hysterical, hypersensitive, or overreacting.

And I’d add that the meaning will be picked up a lot of the time without your intended audience even realizing they’re picking it up, because it would be like noticing that people in our culture are constantly personifying the concept of an ordered universe into a male sky god named “God.”  The luxury of not having to notice that your society is structured to your advantage is what’s been called the fog of privilege.

Please see also:


MadKane (via Avedon Carol)

Shakespeare’s Sister:

Once again, I’ll note that the same person who is almost universally regarded as an orator of unrivaled competence, who is heralded as a linguistic maestro gifted with the talent for launching a political movement with the mere power of his well-chosen words, cannot believably claim to not have had the slightest inclination that “periodically feeling down” might be construed as having a double meaning as applied to a female opponent.

And Jeff Fecke, also at Shakesville.

Free SF!

The title is a description, not a command. Tor is giving away free .pdfs of some of their titles, at the rate of one a week, and they’ll email them right to your own personal inbox, if only you ask. Not only that, there’s a contest involved. I’m signed up, of course, because if there’s anything I like more than a book, it’s a free book transmitted directly through the ether into my home.

And of course, there is also the Baen Free Library.

The adventure of links

Sorry I haven’t posted much lately. I blame the ennui. Other people have posted some stuff, though.

Matt Selman: The United States of America vs. Wesley Snipes:

DEFENSE ATTORNEY: The defense would like to call to the stand… Blade.

PROSECUTOR: Objection. Blade is not a real person, but rather Mr. Snipes in sunglasses and fake vampire teeth.

JUDGE: Overruled. I’ll allow it.

Digby: They Will Not Stop

I wish I knew how either Clinton or Obama planned to deal with this, but I confess I haven’t the vaguest idea.

Matt Yglesias: Fear Factor

The real world doesn’t work this way. If Saddam Hussein wasn’t frightened of George W. Bush and the United States of America in 2002, then he was making a big mistake. He had good reason to fear Bush, just as Iranians would have good reason to fear John McCain. The trouble is that international relations isn’t zero sum. Even America’s relationship with someone as odious as Saddam wasn’t zero sum. We were able to take action that was incredibly harmful to Saddam personally, and to the cause of his followers in Iraq, but it was also incredibly harmful to the United States.

And more Yglesias.

Chris Clarke: Killing Whales for Empire

The issue is profound and usually mortal injuries that whales and dolphins, and likely other types of marine life, suffer, directly or indirectly, from exposure to intense bursts of artificial sound such as active sonar pings. Mass strandings of cetaceans have been documented after sonar tests in the Bahamas, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere. On her blog Cocktail Party Physics, Jennifer Ouellette has posted one of the best summaries of the issue I’ve seen, discussing the political and scientific angles.

The midlevel active sonar pings being discussed range around 230dB. Water conducts sound much more readily than does air, and 300 nautical miles away from the test zone, the ping may only have attenuated to about 140dB, about like standing next to a military jet taking off. That’s also the level the Navy has set, after study, as the loudest underwater sound to which one of its divers can be safely exposed. Cetaceans, with senses of hearing unimaginably more sensitive than humans’ — humpbacks have been observed carrying on conversations across distances of hundreds of miles — get a whole lot louder sounds than that “safe level” if they venture within 300 miles of a test.

Jill at Feministe: Framing

Dear fellow progressives,

Please, please stop using the term “identity politics” as a negative. “Identity politics” is a term adopted by conservatives (and moderate-to-right-leaning lefties) in an effort to insult the political action of women, people of color, the LGBT community, and other traditionally marginalized groups. It assumes that advocating for gender, racial or sexual orientation equality is about promoting particular “identities” as opposed to doing what white men have always done — engaging in the political system, often in a self-interested way. If you’re going to use the term “identity politics,” go for it — but own it as a good thing. We are all influenced by our identities; but since white, straight, Christian male is the default, it’s only commented on when the rest of us voice our opinions.

Stephen Fry: Why I love smart toothbrushes and loathe internet plug-ins

The problem is that Nokia claims ownership of some elements of Ogg, which is essentially the file format for the streaming and delivery part of the codec. This was news to me: I thought Ogg was as Open Source as Vorbis. Anyway, Apple doesn’t like the idea of its QuickTime not being the baseline video codec and, of course, iPods don’t read Ogg Vorbis audio. So it seems it’s going to be the same old mad world of plug-ins and incompatibilities for the near future – unless, that is, you all subscribe to the Working Hypertext Application Technology Working Group mailing list ( and exert pressure. Despite the high ideals of W3C, it is often closer to Swift’s Isle Of Laputa than anything sane – indeed, an angry developer recently compared it to Orwell’s Minitrue. Oh dear. All things that are human are also frail and foolish. Never mind. I am sure thousands of individual voices can be as influential as two big corporations.

On a happier note, I have added to my collection of unnecessary but pleasing technological doo-dads. I have not spent any time in the bathroom with you yet, so I am very happy to report that Oral-B has come up with a mad new electric toothbrush. It is so over-engineered as almost to defy description. A base station, where sits and charges the toothbrush itself, transmits by radio to a receiving element. The receiver substation is a plastic cartouche complete with obligatory LCD screen called a SmartGuide (phrases compressed with UpperCaseLetters such as this are DeRigueur for today’s sad MarketingPerson), which gives a reading of how long you’ve brushed, and how long you’ve got to go in each of the quadrants of the mouth, according to “professional” brushing standards recommended by dentists. It also tells you the time and rewards you with a smiley face when you’re done. Sigh. I think I’m in love.

On that last one, I’m still unable adequately to express my joy about Stephen Fry’s blog. It’s like, he couldn’t just be erudite and British, he also had to be erudite and British about gadgets and web standards, like he’s Joel Johnson’s Watcher or something. It is to swoon.

Quote of the Day II

Anil Dash, to whom I linked downblog, ruminates upon history:

A side note: The most amazing thing about the Ice Cube-as-sitcom-dad evolution we’ve discussed above is not that the Crazy Motherfucker Named Ice Cube is now Disney-ready, but rather that Snoop can get away with wearing these pimped-out 80s-style clothes! Indeed, Eazy E had called our Dre for exactly that kind of outfit, if I remember correctly. There was a mocking photo of Dre in a baby blue outfit, released sometime around that 5150 album where Eazy E had the Black Eyed Peas (!) join him in making a dystopian Christmas song about how horrible life is. Now Eazy’s dead, Snoop’s appropriating the look that used to be worth mocking, the Black Eyes Peas are making overwrought musical presidential endorsements, and Cube is Ward Cleaver. And Dre is still making beats. Who’da thunk?

I hazily recall that I myself recently held forth to my special lady friend on the subject of The Fate of Ice Cube, in the bar toward the end of the night. I think she finds it amusing when I get to the point of delivering soliloquies on the state of hip-hop/the blogosphere/my newfound love of Warhammer 40K novels. And by “think,” I mean “hope.”

Quote of the Day


Kate Harding, at Shakesville

For the record, if any of y’all were hiding your support for Clinton under a bushel, don’t think that just because I favor Obama, you can’t talk her up if you want. It’s not like I won’t gladly pull the lever for her in November if she gets the nomination. (Like Harding, for instance, I think she has the better health care plan.)

The dreams that should’ve died; the ones that kept you lying awake when you should’ve been all right

When I were a lad, in our senior year we got to write up little profiles for ourselves along with our photos for the high school yearbook. These commonly included a favorite quote, and the one I used was “When in difficult country, do not encamp.”

Ha! Good one, brain! Did you know that I was only a couple of years away from fixing to encamp like a motherfucker, psychologically speaking, for the next decade or so? Perhaps you did. You do enjoy irony.

The depressive’s habit is to be an extrapolation fiend. There are no mere phenomena; everything’s a synecdoche for some deeper truth, and those deeper truths are always bad. Did I break up with a girl this one time? I am incapable of relationships, and probably unlovable. Do I write only sporadically on my blog? I will never be able to finish school, and am probably a shitty writer and not too bright. And so on. Why move, if there’s nowhere to go, and even if there was, you’re not good enough to get there?

The project to replace that kind of thinking with something more like, “Hey, this is some shit that happened,” is an awful lot like what Joel Johnson’s talking about in this 43 Folders post, called The Economy of the Heart.

Also, from the comments, I’m thinking I might want to look into the work of Pema Chodron.

…and here’s a related idea: personal retconning.

Both Super and Fat

So I guess it’s Mardi Gras today, as well. Um, show me your tits?

Alternatively, tell me stories of voting today, if you live in one of the primary states (and I know I have peeps in Massachusetts, New York, and Illinois who might be reading this).

If you didn’t vote, and don’t want to go to all the bother of untucking your shirt, then use this space to discuss what you’re getting Barack Obama for Valentine’s Day.

Going to the polls today

Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s voting for Obama in New York:

I know perfectly well that Obama, for all his idealism, is well inside the “centrist” consensus on how America ought to conduct itself in the world. He was against the Iraq war from the start, and that means a lot to me, but he’s also not someone who’s going to make the kinds of radical changes to American foreign policy that I would make on Day One if I were in charge. He’s not an insurgent; he’s the standardbearer for a faction of the country’s political elite. I believe that, on balance, this particular faction happens to comprise many of the the smartest and most conscientious individuals from within that elite. So I’m supporting Obama and his train, people like Samantha Power and Robert Malley and Lawrence Lessig, just as a peasant might cheer for an aristocratic faction made up of reasonably decent individuals against other factions made up of out-and-out thugs. Not because the peasant doesn’t know the game is rigged, or doesn’t have the wit to imagine a better world. But because incremental change matters, and because the right incremental changes can lead, like water flowing downhill, to bigger and more profound ones.

Also, while I am a radical in analysis, I am an incrementalist in practice, because life is short.

And all that said, I don’t loathe Hillary Clinton. I’ll support her against any of the Republican candidates, certain against John McCain, a man whose basic foreign policy position is War With Everyone, Forever. And I think if she’s the nominee, she can beat McCain. I have a lot of reservations about some of the people she’s liable to bring in her wake, and the thought of a “Clinton Restoration” makes me tired. But the particular variety of frothing hostility she inspires in a lot of people makes me more inclined to support her, rather than less. And if she should become the nominee, two words will constantly remind me why I should get off my ass and vote for her: “Supreme” and “Court.”

You should, as they say, read the whole thing, even if you’re not voting today.

…and if you need any more convincing, Obama has the vital XKCD endorsement.

UPDATE: That’s what I’m talkin’ about! All love to my Nutmeg Souljaz.

Going to a book club meeting would require getting out of bed

Somewhere on the web, I do not remember where, I read a recommendation of Inglorious, by Joanna Kavenna, as a good book worth reading, especially if the reader has the experience to appreciate everything Kavenna gets exactly right about having a depressive episode. I’m not very far into it yet, but I’m enjoying it quite a bit (though it’s a hell of a pivot from the last book I read).

This is a cover letter that Rosa, the protagonist, writes, which is probably the most perfect example I’ve seen outside my own head of the very cover letter I feel like a fraud for not writing every time I apply for a job:

Dear Madam, I am a person of inconstant aims and mild destitution. I find this combination of qualities excludes me from many jobs. But working together, I’m sure we can exploit my talents successfully. I still have a cream suit, a relic from a former life. I am unexceptional in every way, and eager to serve. You can find me in a borrowed room, in west London. Yours faithfully, Rosa Lane.

I can see why the Publisher’s Weekly reviewer quoted on the Amazon page would say “but Rosa’s repetitive, nonresolving woes give the novel an unpleasant quality, something like Leaving Las Vegas meets Groundhog Day.” The novel’s prose style is halting to the point of almost resisting the reader (though lovely and erudite in a way that makes me miss having a decent vocabulary). But for Christ’s sake, the point-of-view character is depressed. Repetetive, unresolved woes are maybe, y’know, to be expected. Upon seeing that bit, maybe someone more generous than I wouldn’t have thought Oh, precious, was it unpleasant for you to read about that? My heart bleeds. but I couldn’t tell you for sure.

Holding out for a citizen

Via Graham, this is a rather impressive collection of celebrities singing along to one of the most impressive speeches a politician has made in my lifetime.

I’m voting in the Democratic primary on Tuesday, which is the first election with national implications since 2001, when I moved up to Massachusetts, in which my vote might actually make a difference. I’m voting for Obama, but not because I think that we need some Great Leader to save us. I don’t think democracy works that way. Or at least, I don’t think democracy should work that way, if it’s working correctly. Democracy should depend on the rule of law, it should depend on institutions, and it should depend on frustrating, tortoise-slow bureaucracies that exhibit not a whit of common sense, but function in the aggregate to produce the most opportunity for the most people. Obama’s not going to deliver us. No one person, certainly not a politician, can make a country great, or save it from peril. Bonnie Tyler notwithstanding, heroes are for comic books and fascists.

The reason I’m voting for Obama is, quite simply, because I like what he’s telling the nation. I have problems with some of his policies, and I have no love whatsoever for his habit of adopting Republican tropes when trying to criticize Clinton on Social Security or health care. I’m wary of his economic team. But he’s running for President, not Personal Embodiment of the Legislative Majority, so I’m more concerned about foreign policy, and what he’ll do with the bully pulpit. As far as foreign policy goes, he seems just fine (and if I’m being completely truthful, I have to say that it would make me proud of my country’s place in the world again, after such a long, long time, to elect a black man President). As far as the bully pulpit goes, holy shit. I realistically don’t think I could ask for a better figurehead for my country, or for the political party that’s going to have to clean up the Republicans’ mess again. When I vote for Obama on Tuesday, it’s not going to be a vote for a savior. It’ll be a vote for a little of that hope he keeps talking about – not more, but pleasingly, surprisingly, not anything less, either.

UPDATE: Added some links for context.