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           March 7, 2004 ... Marriage ............................... (Permalink)

Quotable quote from a spam I received recently: "eep opp ork aa aa, that means i love you." Hmm. If I don't miss my guess, that's translated from the secret language of the 12 Galaxies. So keep this one handy -- might as well be prepared in case you meet some sweet young femthing from Murotunikel or Xaskutanekol.

Speaking of love: Gay marriage.

It's been several weeks since the national debate ignited over San Francisco's actions, and nearly as long since George W. Bush called for a constitutional amendment over the matter -- and I feel fairly safe in saying that this has been been one of the defining debates of the year. And quite possibly will continue to be.

I've spoken out on my feelings on the matter, and expect to continue to. Briefly, though, I'm in favor of it. I'm not going to go through all the reasons here; I just wanted to point out a trend that caught my eye.

One of the most infrequently mentioned but most critical facts of the gay marriage debate is that the terms of the debate are shifting over time. A generation ago, the idea would have been basically unthinkable. A decade ago, it was a fringe concern, off the radar screen of even the most liberal politician. Even just a few years ago -- before the last sodomy law was forced off the books by the high courts -- it was a pipe dream. In 2003, almost nobody seriously expected that the Massachusetts Supreme Court would, in no uncertain terms, order the state to allow gay marriage. And now, several acts of civil disobedience later, here we are at the crossroads.

This shift has been largely driven by the increasing visibility of gays in society. They march in "Queer Pride" parades (although the parades' helpfulness to the gay cause is open to question, their visibility isn't). They stand up to be heard with every debate over sodomy laws or "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." They provide fodder for sitcoms, and recently, have even helped give straights the "Queer Eye" on relationship tips. Although rare, open homosexuals are even serving as congressmen and other legislators.

The most critical factor in gay visibility, though, is ordinary people. And it's going to be the struggles of ordinary people who drive the public's attitudes forward in the years to come.

The neighbors down the block who hold the memorable July 4 barbecues. The coworker who occasionally has his partner pick him up after work at the office. The couple raising the daughter your child goes to school with (and, make no mistake, short of a massive legal overhaul that puts draconian penalties on non-marital parenting, determined gays will find ways to rear children). Maybe even the pair sitting in your church pew:

The bid from the pulpit summoned couples of three years or less to rise to their feet, according to church attendees. Several couples stood until the window of time was dropped and couples began returning to their seats.
Boxer and Zapata, who were married in San Francisco just two days before the church service, were soon the only ones standing. But rather than being greeted with accolades, the couple was met with an uncomfortable pause as the contest moderator proceeded to confer with church leaders on whether to acknowledge a lesbian couple and give them the award, according to parishioners.
"It was so awkward," said Elena Steeves, who has been attending Santa Cruz Bible Church on and off for 15 years.
Events like this -- as traumatic as they are -- put a human face on the injustice and heartache. They make it personal. They make the issue hard to explain away with stinging platitudes.

It's one thing to say "those darn gays make lousy parents"; it's quite another to say it to the face of the Adamses down the street as they're holding their smiling four-year-old daughter. It's one thing to say "Gays are incapable of the lifetime commitments marriage requires" or "What makes their pairing worth celebrating anyway?"; it's quite another to grumble about it while watching 51-year partners Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin tie the knot after half a century of a commitment they had to maintain not only through the standard adversity of partnership but also the disapproval of society.

And that's one of the biggest reasons why gay marriage is the right thing to do: These are not abstract principles we're talking about here. These are people's lives. People who just want to live, have their love acknowledged, and be left alone to do things which harm nobody. Faced with that, the only compelling counterargument that can really be mustered would be based on a greater moral principle -- but the argument based on secular ethics is dead on arrival and the argument based on Christian ethics is unconvincing. (More on that later.)

Ultimately, laws can only speed or slow the process of social adjustment ... and the same-sex couples struggling for acceptance today deserve better than slow change.

One way or another, the gay marriage battle will not be decided by the courts -- no social fight ever can be. Not even a constitutional amendment can stop people who are determined enough, as Prohibition (should have) taught us. Gay marriage will be decided in the streets; in the offices; in the restaurants; in the homes.

And given the continually growing visibility of gays, the shape of that decision ultimately seems clear. I just hope we can collectively make the transition as painlessly as possible.

           March 10, 2004 ... Death .................................. (Permalink)

You know, I really hope that this phrase in an obituary printed in today's paper was just caused by a moment of careless imprecision:

Sunday, March 7, 2004 was the best day of Sivola's life as she slipped out of the hands of her great-grandchildren into the arms of Jesus ...
(Emphasis mine.)

I mean, yes, I get the intention, but as phrased, it's wrong on every level I can think of.

           March 16, 2004 ... Encounter .............................. (Permalink)

All I can say, friends, is I'm lucky to be sitting here typing at you today.

[My Afternoon: A

[Graphical browser 
required to appreciate today's entry.]

           March 17, 2004 ... The green blues ........................ (Permalink)

It was St. Patrick's day today. For all you people who live in sane countries out there, this is a holiday in which Americans celebrate being Irish. Of course, the country's collectively not really all that Irish, either in temperament or ethnicity -- but it's an excuse for a holiday, so millions of people go out shouting "Ay-rin go braw!", get drunk on green beer, and put a bit o' the corned beef and cabbage into the aul' stomach.

And wear green.

I've gone on record a few times in my journal as stating that I'm not a holiday person. That's broadly true, but not infallible: for example, I look on Thanksgiving with almost religious reverence. There are also certainly grey areas. St. Patrick's Day, however, is not one of them.

It's the green, really.

My family never had any strong St. Patrick's Day traditions, and so my only formative experiences with it as a kid were twofold. One, corned beef and cabbage. I never took a liking to them (The salt! Ew! The bland, limp greens! Ew!), and so St. Patrick's Day meant being forced to eat horrible food.

Two, wearing green. At my school -- as with many others, I've heard -- wearing green on St. Patrick's Day was socially enforced. There was an ancient and hideous tradition, apparently, that those without green could be pinched on the holiday. Woe to the kid who spaced out and forgot about it that morning -- or just didn't treat it as that big of a deal.

So St. Patrick's Day has always symbolized, to me, a day of forced conformity via threats of physical harassment. Oh, and bad food. Wait, what? This is a holiday? People go out of their way to do something about it?

Well, they do. I guess that it must be a cultural experience or something. Good for the soul.

I wore green this year -- although I was cranky about it, so the holiday already had one strike right out of the gate. Work was long and unrewarding -- and I made a few small but visible errors due to time constraints forced on me by unrelenting deadlines and missing staff. Strike two. Things seemed to pull up as I finally finished for the night and went off shift ... then realized I'd locked my keys insinde my car, for the first time in my adult life. A big, fat strike three, with two outs and the bases loaded. [N.b.: Having the car not stolen properly counts as an anti-strike, but I'm still working off the crankiness, so let's skip that for the moment.]

I called Bob the locksmith. (No, really, that's his business name: "Bob the locksmith." That's who I made the check out to.) Prying the door open was $75 (strike four) and five minutes' work, at which point I discovered that having left the key in the ignition and turned on for 12 hours had flatlined the battery. "Can you give me a jump, or does that cost extra?" I asked Bob with the sort of black wit that only really develops around strike five.

However, I should keep this in perspective. As bad as my holiday was, I didn't spend it driving around in the middle of the night, lost in a country with an unfamiliar language I spoke only five or six words of, looking for a building that was not only across town but two cities away, trying desperately to find someone that could give me directions based only on a map scribbled on the back of a manila folder.

No, that was the middle-aged guy who pulled into the parking lot as Bob and I were fumbling to get our cars aligned for the jump-start.

He kept repeating "Longs Drugs" like a mantra, showing us the map. Bob and I each pulled out maps of our own, trying in vain to give hand gestures and trace directions -- the fact that he was in Auburn and needed to go to Nevada City was the big understanding barrier -- until I decided I'd just escort him there. I pointed to myself and him and over the horizon, pantomiming driving motions and self-consciously narrating my charade, until he caught on.

It was an uneventful drive, at least until we got to Nevada City. I didn't actually know where the Longs Drugs was, so I almost took the wrong freeway exit until he corrected me -- and then drove in circles for a bit until he spotted the (unlit) store and peeled away from behind me to hit the parking lot.

"Thank you," he said once he'd parked and I'd pulled up alongside him. He tried to explain, I think, that he'd been hired to sweep the floors there -- at any rate, the broom-pushing pantomime is pretty recognizable. I nodded, and remembered we hadn't even made introductions.

"I'm Bax," I said, pointing to myself. "Bax." I then pointed at him.

"Traian," he told me. Try-on -- I repeated the pronunciation after him, and only later would be able to look up the name's spelling online. "Romania," he added as an afterthought. We smiled and shook hands.

"Good luck," I wished him and drove home for some sleep.

... You know, I guess St. Patrick's Day ended up serving its intended purpose after all. I avoided the Irish shtick as much as possible, but the cultural experience still ended up enriching me.

           March 23, 2004 ... Software rant .......................... (Permalink)

Just bought myself my first new piece of computer hardware in a while: A brand new external hard drive. Went to Fry's and picked it up piecemeal; an $80 case and (after rebate) a $110 Hitachi drive. Two hundred gigabytes. Two hundred. The sum total of all the storage space I possessed prior to yesterday afternoon was less than twenty.

Incidentally, Mac OSX's Disk Utility is the most moronic piece of shit ever. Oh, wait, excuse me, that's not being quite fair. It is, in fact, a MORONIC PIECE OF SHIT.

I've just been trying to accomplish the simple task of, y'know, partitioning the new drive. What did I want? A huge honkin' media drive; a small scratch drive (first in the list, so it's on the outside of the platter and is accessed faster); a decent-sized documents drive (at the end of the list, so it's on the inside of the platter, safer from head crashes) and applications drive (same); and a small, preferably PC-format partition so I can plug the drive (which is, after all, external, and has FireWire and USB connections) into a Windows box for quick file transfer.

Disk Utility can't make a PC partition. Okay, that's fine, a Windows box probably wouldn't let me plug-and-play the drive anyway, since the basic formatting is done on a Mac and the disk's directory tree isn't in the format a PC expects. Alright, no problem, I'll give up that idea with no hard feelings.

But then I set my sights lower and simply try to partition the drive into 5 Mac volumes -- the ones listed above -- of predefined and exact size.

It won't let me just type in the partition sizes because when I change focus from the window it automatically resizes it according to some mysterious formula that changes it until it's wrong and then stops changing it.

It doesn't tell me how much free space there is or how large I can set a partition before I try to grab space that doesn't exist on the drive. But if I deliberately type a number too high it freaks out and assigns either random numbers or negative numbers to the other partitions, apparently at its own whim. 4 MB seems popular. 2.54 MB has popped up, as well as 5.70 MB, 43.82 KB, and 15.60 GB. Nowhere does it actually provide an error message telling you you've typed a number too large; it simply decides it's smarter than you and makes up numbers to prove it.

There's a graphical interface thing that lets you drag the lines between the partitions to resize them -- except it only works between two adjacent partitions, and if you want to add space to the one in the middle from the free block at the end, gods help you. If you want to set it to any pre-specified size instead of just arbitrary "well, the mouse landed here", you have to type it in the little text entry box, and then everything starts freaking out again.

If I lock four partitions (the one tool it provides for finer-grained editing is a little padlock on the partitions, which you can click to "lock it for editing", except that whether it applies the lock seems more or less arbitrary) and try to type in a new size for the fifth, things really get interesting.

See, there seems to be a magic correction formula built in for the sole purpose of generating computer-simulated die rolls for the programmer's D&D game. Unfortunately, this easter egg leaked into the finished product, and is invoked whenever you try to do something rational like type in a partition size that would almost but not quite fill the drive.

Doing this causes the correction formula to kick in and change the size of the partition back to something significantly less threatening. Normally, when it did this, it would just reassign the spare space to all the other partitions just to piss you off, but since the other partitions are locked and there's no place to stow the extra space, it just changes the size of the drive. (!)

I think I've now convinced it that the drive only has 142 GB, 165 GB, and 171 GB of space even though right in the sidebar it tells me exactly how big the disk is (186.31 GB -- exactly 200,000,000,000 bytes).

The GUI is utterly unhelpful for resolving any of this. If I drag a line a little too far it'll helpfully scrunch the partition down to just 4 MB in size. In order to inform me of this change, it helpfully changes the label next to the text entry box from "GB" to "MB". In order to make it usable again I have to type a new size in -- since I can't grab the resize box any more -- but now the label's changed and anything I type in will become the size of the new partition in megabytes!

To get it to show GB again I have to type in something like "4000" which it will then automatically convert to gigabytes, realize I want to make a drive X gigabytes in size, and change the text box label back. At which point the magic correction formula kicks in and I'm left with 5.62 GB pretty much no matter what I typed in the first place.

Dear gods, I'm on the verge of giving up and going to format it with the UNIX drive utility fdisk because it's easier. For anyone who knows UNIX, yes, I realize how drastic a statement that is. But, yes, "Disk Utility" is that useless. That's really kind of sad.

(... Except, now that I think about it, I'm not sure that would help, because if I use fdisk I may not be able to format the drive into the Mac HFS+ filesystem. *Sigh ...*)

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