gifts from your neck of the woods.

When we went on our trip to visit the Southern relatives a few weeks ago, we brought with us a large plastic tub full of gifts for the in-laws and all the nieces and nephews. Because we didn’t want to bring stuff that’s readily available in the South, I shopped around for some local things.

The adults all got half-gallon bottles of pure New Hampshire maple syrup and Vermont maple candy. The kids all got some New Hampshire gourmet “granite” chocolate in rock-colored shells. I suppose we could have brought a cooler full of lobsters too, but it would have been a bit of a challenge to keep them alive that long.

If you had to do the same sort of family visit to relatives in Far Off Other Region of the Country, what kind of uniquely local gifts from your area would you bring along?

those old-timey writing tools.

There’s an interesting article up on the BBC’s website on the rise of fountain pen sales, an unlikely trend in a time where handwriting is on the decline.

The article includes an explanation by that Neil Gaiman fellow why he writes with those old-fashioned things these days, and some of it echoes my own reasons for having gone back to longhand:

I found myself enjoying writing more slowly and liked the way I had to think through sentences differently. I discovered I loved the fact that handwriting forces you to do a second draft, rather than just tidying up and deleting bits on a computer. I also discovered I enjoy the tactile buzz of the ritual involved in filling the pens with ink.

Of course, I don’t have the rather nice problem of being famous and receiving gifts of fountain pens from adoring fans all the time, so I only have about half a dozen of them. But it’s nice to see that other, rather more successful individuals in the field have come to the same conclusions regarding the merits of the fountain pen for first drafts.

on straight white male privilege.

Over on his blog, John Scalzi kicked loose a bit of a shitstorm a few days ago by posting an essay on Straight White Male Privilege. You should go over there and read the whole thing because Scalzi’s a great writer who makes cogent points, but the Cliff Notes version of it is that “Straight White Male” is pretty much the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people took issue with the premise of the essay. Also not surprisingly, most of the people who took issue are straight white males. They accused Scalzi of sucking up to the Matriarchy and being ball-less and “profoundly unhandsome”, and Straight White Male Privilege doesn’t exist except as an invention of the Feminazi Homo Agenda and whatnot.

As a straight white male, I’d like to add my two cents to the discussion in a slightly more expansive format than a comment post on someone else’s blog.

I’m not much for self-flagellation. I happen to have been born a straight white male, and I feel neither guilt over this circumstance nor a desire to apologize or do penance for it. That said, I acknowledge that Straight White Male Privilege exists, and that it has worked in my favor many times in every aspect of life.

It’s not that Straight White Male is the “easy setting” in life. In our society, it’s the default setting. The vast majority of entertainment, for example, is geared toward the assumption of someone who looks like me as both the default protagonist and customer. A lot of the novel covers on the bookshelves out there feature straight white males, and those who don’t are likely to be found in some literary ghetto within the store—YA, African-American, chick lit, and so on. From a marketing standpoint, it’s the default choice, and from a reader’s or viewer’s standpoint, it’s the default assumption. (How many of the Marvel superheroes in the last batch of superhero flicks have white skin and opposite-sex preferences? The Avengers features four straight white males, one straight white female, and one straight white demigod. The only black character is admittedly a bad-ass, but he has a supporting and supervisory role and does not do the front-line ass-kicking.)

It’s 2012, and mainstream America and its corporate marketing departments don’t mind black characters in positive roles—and very occasionally starring ones—but on the whole, it prefers its protagonists to be straight and white and ideally male. Put a strong female protagonist into a film or book, and see her subjected to instant and in-depth character analysis aiming to clarify that she’s really not that strong or upstanding—see Katniss in The Hunger Games, for example. And filling the role of Rue with a young black female had some people commenting that they felt less sympathy for her character when bad stuff happened to her. (This is despite the fact that Rue is clearly described as “dark-skinned” in the book.”)

So no—when it comes to entertainment, I don’t have to ask for anyone to cater to straight white males. We’re the heroes by default, and putting a protagonist into a movie or novel who isn’t a straight white male practically requires the creator to engage in some sort of explanation or justification. I’m the default setting.

But what about everyday life?

I’m clean-cut, reasonably decent-looking, and polite in public. People don’t watch their purses or change sidewalks when they see me walking toward them. I don’t get followed by store detectives when I go shopping, and nobody wolf-whistles when I walk past a construction site.

When I went on dates and didn’t feel that things were shaping up the way I wanted them to, I didn’t have to worry whether my “no” would be taken seriously, or whether I was obliged in any way to make myself sexually available to my date.

When I go shopping for outdoor items or a new target pistol, I don’t have to suffer any condescending suggestions regarding color choices, my likely lack of technical abilities, or opinions on what I can or cannot handle.

When I’m at the shooting range, I don’t get accosted by anyone trying to “improve” my stance.

When I interview for a job, I can rest assured that my white male face goes with pretty much any office décor without anyone fearing that hiring me will “ethnify” the office, and I know that if I get hired, I get the best possible salary among any race/gender combinations.

I get the best shot at apartment leases, and nobody fears that my presence in their neighborhood will bring property values down.

I can walk hand in hand down the sidewalk with my spouse without having to fear anyone yelling or throwing things at me.

When my love and I wanted to get married, I could have gotten a marriage license in every state in this country without having to beg for the privilege or explain to someone else why I should want one, and I didn’t have to settle for some second-class legal status.

The very ease with which I became a resident and then a citizen of the United States was one big, long exercise in Straight White Male Privilege. I came to the US in 1996, acquired Permanent Residency, and became a citizen in 2004. At every step in the process, I noticed that I was treated in a preferential manner because I’m white, speak the language fluently, and look pretty much like every other white male on the street here. The INS officers were nothing but courteous, there as no snag in the process anywhere, and I got to skip to the head of more than one line while waiting for my name to be called. (For my citizenship interview in Memphis, I walked into the waiting room after checking in with the clerk, and was called up almost as soon as I had parked my butt in a chair, despite the fact that the waiting room was full of people. They were mostly Hispanic, and I wasn’t.)

In contrast, one of my friends experienced nothing but roadblocks and delays going through the very same process, and she had to leave the country after the INS failed to approve any of her applications prior to her work visa’s expiration date. She’s vastly more qualified than I was, holding a doctorate in a medical profession that’s in high demand in the US…but she’s a black female from Nigeria, not a white male from Germany.

Is there such a thing as Straight White Male Privilege? Damn straight there is. I know this because I’m very aware that I am enjoying the benefits of it. And it had nothing to do with my merit or the content of my character, just a lucky roll of the genetic dice. Anyone who says it doesn’t exist (or who claims that straight white folk are actually the persecuted underclass these days) lacks the ability or willingness to walk through life with open eyes and put themselves into someone else’s shoes.

Recognizing this fact is consistent with observed reality. It doesn’t make me ball-less, or un-whatever, or a tool of the Matriarchy or the feminists or the gays, or whoever is trying to mess with the red-blooded Americans these days. It doesn’t mean that I have to give away my possessions, walk around in sackcloth, and purify myself through pain and self-abasement every day to atone for the misfortune of being born a straight white male. But it does require that I go through life a bit more aware of the fact that I have a leg up on others in many ways. Just so I don’t end up being an ignorant asshole and pass up a book because the face on the cover is black, or claim that I felt less compassion for a character because the movie’s director cast her with someone who doesn’t look like my daughter. Because boy howdy, does the country already have plenty of those morons.

hey, you! psst! need some colored plastic bricks?

We need an appropriate thug handle for this guy, who got busted for sticking his own bar codes on LEGO boxes and then fencing the discounted sets on eBay.

The puzzling part is that he’s a VP with SAP in the Bay area. The article says that he sold thirty grand worth of LEGO sets on eBay, but that’s chump change for someone who likely makes a quarter million a year. I’m guessing it’s a mental thing–some people have weird compulsions. Either that, or it was for the thrill–a middle-aged exec version of base-jumping. Having sold stuff on eBay before, I’m not sure I’d want to deal with shipping thirty grand worth of plastic bricks to hundreds of buyers if my day job nets me 20k+ a month.

What a German White Boy crime, though. I wonder how he’ll rank in the prison hierarchy?

“What are you in for?”

“Armed robbery, aggravated assault. You?”

“Uh…fencing LEGOs.”

the standing desk, one year later.

Last May, I started the big standing desk experiment to help me beat my by-then chronic sciatica into submission. I started out with a coffee table on top of my regular desk, and a month or so later, I liberated two standing desks from Borders at their Everything-Must-Go sale. That means I’ve been using a standing desk as my main workspace arrangement for twelve months now, so I figured it would be a good opportunity for a long-term opinion on the whole standing desk thing.

After a year of standing up to work, I wouldn’t want to go back to a chair. In fact, whenever I do sit down in an office chair, my lower back and butt start to get progressively more uncomfortable, until I get to the point where I have to stand up and move around again after ten or fifteen minutes. It took about two or three weeks for my legs and feet to get used to all the standing, and for the first month I had a bar stool nearby so I could rest my lower chassis for a bit whenever things started hurting a bit. After a month or so, my legs adjusted, and then I was able to stand pretty much for eight or ten hours without problems.

You don’t really stand for that long in front of the standing desk, which is sort of the point. You shift your weight and change positions all the time, and it’s very easy to step back from your work, stretch or do a lap around the room, and then get back to your work, all without the inertia inherent in having to push back the chair and getting out of it. I feel less fatigued during the day, and the afternoon slump is no more.

What has it done for my back? I am pain- and symptom-free the majority of the time. In the last few months, I’ve had two instances of careless lifting where I tried to move heavy boxes by myself without help, and both times I gave myself that stabbing pain in the lower back that usually gets progressively worse and then sidelines me for a few days. This time, I kept moving and walking after the incident, and in both instances, the pain had subsided completely within a few hours. I really do think that standing at my desk for a year has strengthened the muscles in my lower back enough to keep things on the straight and narrow, as it were, although I’ll always have to be careful with heavy lifting and remembering to bend the knees and not the back.

So yeah–standing desk? Huge fan, and definite convert. If you have lower back issues at all, you may want to give the standing setup a try. Just give it a week or two at first, because during the first few days, your brain and your feet will definitely insist that it’s a dumb idea, that you OMG CAN’T WORK LIKE THAT, and why don’t we sit the hell down already? Also, get one of those rubber anti-fatigue floor mats to stand on, and your feet will thank you, especially if you have laminate or hardwood floors in the house.

I mentioned that I have two standing desks from the old Borders in town. I got to keep one, and the second one has been confiscated by my dear wife, who is also a standing desk convert now. She’s thinking about requesting a standing setup for work as well. And a bonus benefit is the fact that the standing desks clutter up the place less than the regular desks we had in the living room before. The standing desks have a smaller footprint–both of them side by side are just a little bigger than my old office desk by itself–and you don’t need to use the space in front of them for chairs.

 

a good dog.

With the current construction at Castle Frostbite, a large part of the porch area is strewn with various bits of handyman detritus. On Thursday, our old dachshund matriarch Guinevere took advantage of an open door and went out there to explore. She came back in with a three-inch gash in her chest, inflicted by a nail sticking out of a board somewhere. While she was very unconcerned about the hole in her chest, being able to look into your dog is generally a cause for owner concern, so I went to the doggie ER with her at 10pm.

Guin has always been a tough-as-nails dog. She shrugs off injuries, and getting poked with needles at the vet doesn’t even make her flinch. The vet examined her as she was on her side on the table, and she didn’t even stir when the vet poked around the wound.

“This doesn’t seem to bother her at all,” the vet said. “I bet she’d let me stitch her up with just local anesthetic instead of having to put her under.”

“You don’t know this dog,” I said. “She’d probably let you do it without any anesthetic at all.”

So they scooped her up and brought her into the surgery room in the back, and fifteen minutes later, Guin was all sutured up. When the vet brought her out, they praised her incredible stoicism.

“I clipped her nails when we were done with the stitches,” the vet tech said. “The expression on her face when she saw the clippers was all like, ‘Are you freakin’ kidding me?’ Then she just put her head back down and sighed as if to say, ‘Whatever, let’s just get this over with.”

Guin will be fifteen this year. She’s still the queen of the pack, but these days she delegates much of the perimeter security patrolling to her offspring while she takes long naps in warm and cozy spots. She gave birth to seventeen puppies, three of which are living with us. She has raided countless trash cans, and she’s the only dog I’ve ever known who has figured out how to open child safety latches on cabinets. I hope she’ll be with us for a bit longer, and we’ll miss her when she’s gone, because there’s no other dog like her. Proudly defiant, bold to the point of rashness, yet loyal and loving and entirely admirable for her almost cat-like independent spirit.

Here she is, hanging out in front of the pellet stove:

And here’s young master Henry photobombing his grandmother:

housekeeping note.

To keep comment spam down, I’ve set the control panel to require comment approval for your first comment. Once you’ve left a comment and it has been approved, further ones don’t require approval. So if your comment doesn’t show up right away, have patience–I have to manually clear them.

 

tiny dinosaurs.

The girls are getting big. They’re now roaming outside of their coop, but they tend to stay very close. (For the chicken experts–we have five Barred Rock hens and five Ameraucanas.)

hello there. mind the moving boxes.

I’ve moved the blog over to its own domain on the server space we already rent. Hosting my own blog gives me a little bit more latitude with WordPress, and it means you won’t get served with ads at the bottom of each post.

My old blog’s export file is too big for the WordPress import tool, so until I can figure out how to get all the old content imported into the new blog, you’ll need to go back to the old digs to search for archived content.