Addendum on racial insults

Since posting on socially acceptable racism a few days ago, I’ve found there are some people who think it’s perfectly fine for them to engage in racial insults, because they aren’t really racial insults but code terms that mean something else entirely.

May I suggest the following guideline: If you’re using a term which a reasonable person, not familiar with your private in-group code, would take as reference to people’s ancestry or superficial physical characteristics, and you’re using it to insult or mock, then you should be very careful to use it only with people who speak your in-group language, and you should think about why you have to use such a term even then. Also, don’t ever count me as part of your in-group for that purpose, even if you’ve told me about your neologism.

There are ambiguous cases, since words have multiple meanings and shift over time, and insults can be in the eye of the beholder. What I’m talking about here is blatant special pleading, the notion that it’s OK because you’re different.

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Mac disconnection

I ordered a Lenovo F360 disk drive from MacConnection. Note that carefully: from MacConnection. For a Macintosh. With a MacConnection logo showing on the page, and nothing to say it won’t work with a Mac. After a few weeks of being out of stock, it arrived, and I plugged it in. All it will do is beep at intervals; it shows no sign of appearing on my computer. A look at the manual reveals that it only works with Windows.
Lenovo Nothing I do gets the computer to recognize it. A search on the drive name with “OS X” or “Mac” turns up nothing relevant.

I don’t think I’ll buy any more alleged Mac stuff from MacConnection.

Update: They apologized and authorized a full refund with no restocking fee. I’d still rather deal with a business that checks the products it offers more carefully.

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Socially acceptable racism

Insults based on skin color and superficial features ought to be universally condemned. People’s albedo is not an indicator of their character. Still, there’s never a shortage of stupidity and hostility, so people keep doing it. The best we can hope for is that reasonable-minded people will verbally slap them down for it. Among people I care to spend time with, this usually happens.

There’s a disturbing pattern I’ve noticed, though, where people sometimes get away with skin tone-based insults among people who’d usually never let such a thing go by. The common factor is that the ones being insulted are “white.” Bizarrely, the people making the insults usually are too. At the ConChord filk convention, a blithering (light-skinned) idiot whom I won’t name told me libertarians are “privileged white boys.” Others were around to hear it. I immediately broke off the conversation, but I didn’t hear of her taking any other heat for it. I’m pretty sure one person gave her a stern talk in private, though.

Since then I’ve seen similar things, even by people in the filk community, who should be above physiology-based insults. Just recently I saw a post by someone I haven’t met, but who’s associated with filk, where she said that she would not say to a certain person, “Dude, you are so white” and “So white. So cis-straight-able-bodied-UMC-male white. Wow, I bet you’re Christian, too.”

In a comment, I gave her an out, saying it’s OK if unreasonable things pop into your head as long as you know better than to say them. She just dug herself in deeper, claiming her deductions from the person’s skin color were logical. She didn’t seem to think there was any reason not to say those things beyond the obvious consequences to her. I don’t know how much light she reflects, and it doesn’t matter. The problem is the failure of the light bulb inside. There were lots of comments taking her side on other things she wrote, even making pious liberal statements, but none of them addressed the racial insult either positively or negatively. That’s the real problem: not the existence of isolated bozos, but the willingness of people in the community to approve them by selective silence.

To put things in perspective, hostility to the light-skinned is a tiny problem in the US compared to hostility to the dark-skinned. People who hate dark skin don’t read this blog, though. Anyone who even fantasized addressing someone with “So black. So gay-crippled-female black. Wow, I bet you’re Muslim too” in the presence of any of you would be left as an unidentifiable smear on the Internet pavement. But when you say either one, you endorse the other. If you can use the color of people’s skin as a measure of the content of their character, then it all comes down to personal color preference.

In today’s America, being insulted for having a dark skin often carries the pain of humiliation. Being insulted as a “privileged white boy” gave me only the pain of proximity to a jerk. The problem is that one jerk gives encouragement and fuel to another, and if you give a pass to one, you give a pass to all.

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New Hampshire Liberty Forum

The New Hampshire Liberty Forum, February 20-23, is now accepting registrations. I’m a bit put off by the militaristic style of the page; it’s just whimsy, I think, but “redacting” the exact location of the conference really was going a bit too far. If you scroll down and read carefully, you’ll find out it’s at the Crowne Plaza in Nashua.

I’ll most likely be there. It looks as if there will be some good speakers, and probably some people I haven’t seen in quite a while.

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The risk of Comcast’s home hotspot feature

This week I got a letter from Comcast informing me of a new feature:

Your XFINITY® Wireless Gateway broadcasts an additional “xfinitywifi” network signal for use with XFINITY WiFi. This creates an extension of the XFINITY WiFi network right in your home that any XFINITY Internet subscriber can use to sign in and connect.

In other words, Comcast is turning its customers’ cable modems into WiFi hotspots that other customers can use. They provide assurances that “we anticipate minimal impact to the in-home WiFi network.” In my case, that’s probably true. I live in a condominium, and any other Comcast customers in Wi-Fi range presumably have their own equipment. Still, there is a risk. The police are sometimes dumb when investigating criminal activity that’s been connected to an IP address and assume that the holder of the address is responsible for anything that goes through. I wouldn’t want my house raided and my computer impounded if someone accessed child porn through my equipment.

For reasons I don’t understand, unless it’s just to make it difficult, you can’t opt out online; you have to call 855-845-6834. I did that, and the process was reasonably straightforward. One thing I didn’t like was that I was asked to give the last four digits of my Social Security Number (or my “social,” as people like to call it when they want you to feel comfortable about giving it to them). I wasn’t asked for my Comcast account number. There’s really no excuse for asking for a Social Security Number for anything that doesn’t involve a financial transaction or official government business. Give the last four digits, and the search space is reduced to 100,000 possibilities.

As a related issue, I might have occasion to use Comcast’s Xfinity hotspots, and I wonder how I’m supposed to tell a real one from a spoof. Anyone can call their hotspot “xfinitywifi” and set it up to ask for a Comcast username and password. It’s inevitable that some crooks will try it.

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The potlatch spirit

Just in the past week, I’ve noticed a significant increase in nasty driving during the evening commute. More drivers are abruptly changing lanes, often multiple times, and speeding into tight gaps. The time they gain from this is negligible, and they contribute to traffic congestion, as I discussed in an earlier post. I think this is a result of the start of the Season of Good Will.

People are trained to talk about “commercialism” when they discuss this sort of behavior, but that explains nothing. Commuters are traveling to businesses to make money, and that’s as commercial as anything gets. The problem with the shoppers isn’t that they’re buying things, but the reason they buy the way they do.

Some North American tribes had a custom called potlatch, in which people with high status would go wild giving gifts to raise or maintain their rank. In popular legend, this sometimes led to gift-giving feuds in which the loser would go broke. Christmas has become a nationwide potlatch, in which people buy expensive gifts out of obligation rather than good will. As Tom Lehrer put it, “It doesn’t matter how sincere it / Is, nor how heartfelt the spirit. / Sentiment will not endear it, / What’s important is the price.”

When people are on a mission to spend lots of money because it’s demanded of them, they aren’t going to think well of other people. If they’re thinking of what they’ll get in return, they know a lot of it will be expensive junk they’ll have to return or stick in the closet. This isn’t commerce, it’s stupidity, and it makes them think of everyone else who’s out doing the same thing as enemies. Some of them take it out on anyone else who’s on the road.

I’ve opted out of the whole thing, and my friends know it. I neither expect nor give Christmas presents; when I give gifts, it’s to the people I want to do something for, at a time which works for us. On December 25, I celebrate Newton’s birthday. Letting the Christians have Christmas back, as long as they don’t try to impose it on the rest of us, may not be such a bad idea.

New filk archiving project

Thanks largely to the efforts of Lauren Schiller, the science fiction and fantasy collection at the Cushing Library of Texas A&M University is adding filk to its holdings. They don’t have a web page specifically on this yet, and I don’t know if they want their email addresses publicized, but if you’ve got materials to donate, contact me privately and I can pass along the contact information.

I’m planning to donate my copy of A STF & FSY Songbook, since I just keep it safe and have a photocopy if I ever want to use it, along with some of my old filk cassettes. Jeremy Brett wrote in response to my inquiry on these items that “at this point we are welcoming any and all materials relating to filk, and plan to continue this open-ended collecting strategy for the foreseeable future.”

Please spread the word on this. I’ll provide additional information as it becomes available.

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Kate Bartolotta’s “What Is It Really Like to Be an Introvert?” has shown up a few times on my Twitter feed, and a lot of what she says is relevant to me. I like this in particular:

When you care about someone, you choose to communicate with him or her in ways that show you love and respect them. If your cup is filled by lots of interaction with others, go for it! Be in tune with your own needs, and enjoy the way that time with others energizes you. If someone you love is an introvert, and needs time to him or herself, tune into and respect that as well. We don’t do activities alone because we are sad or negative or depressed. We do it because that’s what fills our cup back up.

However, the way she puts it implies a false alternative — at least it’s false as it applies to me: “The best explanation I was ever given (and maybe one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my adult life) was that while extroverts are energized by connecting and spending time with others, introverts need inward-focused alone time to recharge.”

Most of us need time alone and time with others, and we gain a kind of energy from each. The difference is in the extent and kind of our needs. Going insane from isolation is a common trope in fiction, but I think I’d go crazy faster if I never had a moment to myself. However, when she says time with others entails “giving out energy rather than receiving energy,” that’s not quite right. If that’s all there is to it, the people she spends time with are just taking advantage of her altruism.

Rather, there are benefits to time spent with others, but there are also costs. After a while, the satisfaction I gain levels off, but the fatigue continues to grow. I need time with my thoughts, my books, my inner and outer music. I need to digest what I’ve assimilated from my interactions with people.

The need for silence, the benefits of text-based communication relative to face-to-face, and the distinctive boundaries of each person are all good points. I just think the single “cup of energy” model could be better put a different way. Interaction with people is like food. If some of us consume only a little and leave the rest on the plate, it doesn’t mean we don’t like it, or that it costs us energy to eat it. It just means we fill up faster.

Guest post: Kathleen Sebelius’ mentality

Eyal Mozes sent me the following in an email and invited me to quote him in my blog. Giving him a guest post is the easiest way to do that. The remainder of this post is by Eyal.

As you may know, federal employees either have gotten or will be getting back pay for the period of the shutdown, making the shutdown a paid vacation for them (at the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the National Institutes of Health where I work, they got their back pay last Friday; I don’t know about other federal departments, but definitely they’ll all be getting the back pay).

Contractors such as myself, meanwhile, will not be getting any back pay for that period. Depending on the specific government department, some contractors may “generously” be allowed to work overtime for pay (which is normally not allowed) for a limited time, to make up some of the pay we lost; there’s been no final decision about that yet. But it’s already been decided that there will be no back pay.

In this context, I’d say that the following email – received this past Friday by all employees and contractors at HHS – reveals a lot about Sebelius’ mentality.

From: Sebelius, Kathleen (HHS/OS)
Sent: Friday, October 25, 2013 10:21 AM
Subject: Important Announcement: Back Pay

Dear Colleagues,

I´m delighted to report some news that will hopefully bring you some solace and help us all put the discomfort caused by the government shutdown behind us. Today, in addition to your regular pay, all of you will receive back pay for the time the government was shut down. If you have a question or notice an error, I encourage you to contact your human resources office or e-mail

I know the last few weeks have caused unnecessary stress for many of you and the delay in receiving your paychecks has strained your budgets. You did nothing to deserve this hardship and you should never have been put in this position. That´s why I made the timely delivery of your back pay a top priority. And I want to especially thank the staff in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration who worked to process more than 100,000 files to make sure this got done on time.

I hope this back pay also serves as an indication of how much the President and I value you and your public service. The work you do on behalf of the American people is incredibly important. It makes our Nation healthier and safer. And although you often receive far too little credit, the shutdown reminded millions of Americans just how vital public servants are and demonstrated the broad ways in which all
of you make a difference in their lives.

Of course, many of our initiatives and projects were disrupted by the shutdown, and the short term budget agreement makes our jobs unduly harder. But it is our responsibility to redouble our efforts and focus all of our energy on getting our important work and programs back to full speed. Millions of Americans are depending on us to do just that. And although there are never any guarantees in Washington, the Administration is hopeful that there will be a long term solution by January 15, 2014.

Again, thank you for your patience and professionalism during these challenging times. And thank you for all you do every single day. Have a great weekend.


Kathleen Sebelius

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