The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

29 March 2015
by skzb

Scrivener: Truth is counter-intuitive, software shouldn’t be

Yeah, that title sounds like a snark, but I’m sure a lot of the problem is me. I’m playing with Scrivener mostly because it will make life easier next time I do a collaboration with Skyler. I’m going to keep track of how things go as I learn this thing, and add to this post as I do so. I’m used to the Unix world in general and emacs in particular, and for me, what I loved was how intuitive everything was. The first time I created my first emacs file, back in the Dawn of Time, I was doing useful work within five minutes, and looking up what I needed to know as I went; in general, I’ve found that true of Unix stuff and DEC software, and almost nowhere else. Obviously, this may say more about me than about any particular software package.

The first annoyance I came across is author name–it appears at the top of every compiled page, just like it should.  The name of the author is $surname.  As some of you know, that isn’t actually my name. If I were to publish as $surname, many of my fans wouldn’t find the book. I would think there has to be a way to set scrivener so that when I start a new project it automagically plugs my name in. It has to exist. Why am I having so much trouble finding it?

As those of you who read the Vlad novels know, I write with a lot of dialog, a lot of italics, and a lot of lines with both.  “I know what you mean, Boss.” “Shut up.” One thing I can do in emacs (thank you, DDB!) is that I can just hit a button that defines Start Italics Here and Stop Italics Here and puts the cursor in the middle. Sweet. I’d actually be okay with a Start Italics button and a Stop Italics button. So far, however, the only way I’ve found to do italics is to write the passage, then select the text, then click on the italicize button. This slows me down and makes me think about things other than the next sentence, and that is exactly what I don’t want to be doing.

On the other hand, Scrivener gets serious props for a neat little switch that goes, “convert italics to underlining.”

Also, there’s the word count issue. My version (Windows) permits me to count characters or words. The thing is, I was taught that what editors actually want is the One True Word Count, which has the same relationship to actual number of words that a New York Times article has to an international news event: some, but never as much as you’d like. There might be a way to fake this thing into giving me the One True Word Count, or at least information to make it easier to calculate, but so far I haven’t seen it.

Anyway, gonna keep playing with it.

25 March 2015
by skzb

Haven’t Had a Good Fight in Ages

So here are some things to fight about:

1. Failing to make the distinction between sexism and misogyny is as unscientific as failing to make the distinction between authoritarianism and fascism.  Precision is important–if we actually want to solve the problem.

2. There is a certain disgust-inspiring smugness that goes with some flavors of agnosticism.  Yeah, sure, if you want to say, “I don’t know the answer, therefore neither do you,” then feel free; but not knowing something is a pretty silly thing to be proud of.  Agnosticism is a very specific epistemological position, and one that I think is wrong.  We can talk about why I think that when you lose your attitude.

3. Speaking of atheism, the fact that some atheists use their belief as an excuse for anti-Muslim bigotry says as little about atheism as the fact that some Christians use their belief as an excuse for homophobia says about Christianity.

I’m on a roll.

4. One more on religion (because if you can’t get into an argument about religion, you just aren’t trying): As an atheist–a materialist–I believe that the history of religious thought is as much a valid subject for scientific investigation as anything else in nature or society.  Indeed, I’ll go so far as to say that only as a materialist can one actually understand the development of human thought, religious or otherwise.  Point being, the atheist who simply condemns religion as an evil without paying any attention to how it developed, to its complex and often contradictory role throughout human history, to how it emerged from and then in turn influenced the society that produced it, is being profoundly unscientific.

5. Concerning literature, I believe two contradictory things: 1) People can enjoy reading whatever they want, and ought not to be judged for it–if you say, “that book is horrible and you shouldn’t have liked it,” you’re just being an ass.  2) One important part of improving our field is to be sharply critical; if we don’t recognize what’s bad, how are we going to get better?  It seems like these two positions ought not to contradict each other, but in practice it always seems like they do.  ETA: This is apart from the content, especially in a moral sense, which is a whole different conversation.

6. Obama supporters keep pointing at things Obama has done that Republicans would have supported if Bush had done them.  And they’re absolutely right; there is a lot of that going on.  They seem to be missing the fact that they attacked Bush for doing the same things Obama is doing.

7. Expanding on something I said a while ago on Facebook: There is a difference between the prejudice felt by an oppressed people, and the prejudice felt by oppressing people.  Lenin spoke of the difference between the nationalism of the oppressor, and the nationalism of the oppressed. To just toss it away with, “prejudice = prejudice” is wrong-headed.  In the real world, A is never equal to A.  The history and experience of oppression makes a difference.  If you find yourself saying, “Black people say….” you are being a racist, an asshole, and an idiot.  If you find yourself saying, “White people say,” you are just being an idiot.

8. Last but not least, something we can all fight about: driving.  People who have the attitude, “I can drive in the left lane all I want as long as I’m going the speed limit,” are jerks.  People who have the attitude, “I should be able to go as fast as I want in the left lane no matter what else traffic is doing and if you’re going slower than I want I’m within my rights to tailgate you and flip you off as I zoom by on the right,” are jerks.  Both fail to realize that driving is a cooperative endeavor, and the more we all work together, the safer and more pleasant it will be.  It’s kind of like life.


11 March 2015
by skzb

Revolution: A few disjointed thoughts

I’ve been rereading Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. I do that every now and then, because it makes me think, and because, like all good narrative history, it feels like an adventure story. A few random thoughts have popped up that I want to jot down here.

One thing that hit me is that the February Revolution began on International Women’s Day. This is something I’d been aware of, but never thought about. In fact, there was nothing random about it. Hungry, tired of the war, appalled by the brutality of the Czar’s police, and doubly oppressed, the women textile workers of Petrograd called a protest strike to mark the day. They sent to the metal workers for support, which support was promptly given. This led to additional repression by the police, and the strike grew into mass strikes, demonstrations, and, ultimately, the end of the monarchy. I wish I’d remembered this a few days ago, on International Women’s Day.

In any revolution, the key question is: will the army side with the people, or the ruling class? There are many factors that decide this question: the determination of the revolutionary class probably being the most significant. But what struck me in this reading is that the biggest factor to bring the St. Petersburg working class and the army together was a shared hatred of the police—even, at critical moments, the Cossacks, the most reactionary section of the army, attacked the police on behalf of the workers. And then I remembered this video clip.

The ruling class is caught in an impossible position. As income disparity grows, so will opposition from the oppressed. As opposition grows, the police are required to more and more reveal their true nature as the iron fist of capital. And the more this is revealed, the more the army will come to hate the police, and to side with the masses. This is why sections of the ruling class are openly talking about income disparity as the biggest problem. But that problem too, is systemic; the very forces of the market economy, that was at one time so progressive, are now operating like a juggernaut. “Progressive” capitalist politicians want to find ways to slow the beast down and postpone the confrontation, or else are operating under the illusion that it can be avoided—somehow. Reactionary politicians are aware that the confrontation is coming, and want to have it now, the way a bad poker player makes what he knows is a bad decision because he just wants to get it over with. Progressives and reactionaries will continue to make bad decisions, because no good decisions are left to them (and, yes, various people on both sides will come up with all sorts of brilliant ideas on how to solve the problem, ideas whose only problem is that they cannot be implemented; but we can ignore them.)

So repression increases, the hatred of the police by the masses increases, and this works its way into all facets of our society—the army most definitely not excepted.

I make no pretense of knowing when this confrontation will come, or what form it will take. Indeed, the one thing I can guarantee is that I’ll be as taken by surprise as everyone else. But it can’t be avoided.

6 March 2015
by skzb

That One Word: We

Many readers of this blog are U.S. citizens, and are appalled and horrified at many of the actions of the U.S. Government. Many of you who live outside of the United States have, perhaps, similar feelings about the actions of the government where you live. Many of you speak out against these things, here or elsewhere: the wars of aggression in the Middle East, drone killings of civilians, illegal spying at home and abroad, federal funding to militarize the police, torture as official policy, persecution of whistle-blowers, conspiracies to overturn governments such as Ukraine, and so on. I have often heard clear statements from many you, in discussing one or more of these issues, saying, “I hate that we’re doing that,” or, “We shouldn’t be a country that does that,” or, “We need to stop doing that.”

I am asking you now to consider that “we.” There are, in general, two reasons for someone who hates the actions of his or her government to say, “we did that,” instead of “they did that.” Some of you have never thought about it; you identify with the government which, after all, governs the nation in which you live. Others have thought about it, and feel that by using the word “we” you are accepting responsibility for these actions, and you see it as, perhaps, a spur, a reminder that you have a duty to try to stop these things.

I can respect that attitude, but I don’t agree.

The state is the executive committee of the ruling class. It is called the ruling class because it rules–it makes the decisions about where the resources of the nation should be directed. To be sure, there are elections; but these only give us the chance to pick which one of our enemies will carry out the decisions of the ruling class, or, as the song says, “choose the brand of razor blade you’d rather cut your throat with.”

Their interests are not ours. It is not in my interest for the police to be militarized, for my Afghan brothers and sisters to be shot, for my friends and neighbors to die in defense of profit, for anyone who tells the truth to risk prison or worse.

They are creating an atmosphere of terror by shooting unarmed innocents in our own streets; I’m not doing that, and neither are you. They, not we, are running this country to maximize their profit. They, not we, are propping up Israel in its war on Palestinians. They, not we, are using racism as a tool to set us against each other. They, not we, are driving more and more people into poverty. They, not we, are running the factories that are ruining our climate. And here’s one: they, not we, are spreading the lie that, because there are still certain democratic forms, it is we that are doing these things.

I do not say “they” as an excuse to shy away from responsibility; I say “they” because you can’t fight a war if you don’t know who the enemy is. And that is what they are: the enemy. The enemy of peace, the enemy of shared wealth, the enemy of progress, the enemy of simple human decency.

When there is a workers’ government, I will refer to it as “we.” Until then, when speaking of the actions of the American ruling class and its government, I am speaking of the actions of an enemy. I say “they.” You should too.

5 March 2015
by skzb

A Simple 5-Point Program For Economic Recovery

1. Close loopholes on corporate taxes

2. Significantly increase taxes on the top 5%

3. Use increased tax revenue from (1) and (2) to employ people for massive infrastructure repair

4. Raise the minimum wage

5. Nationalize all banks and major industries under workers’ control without compensation and install a workers’ government that will use state power to protect the working class from the police, counterrevolutionaries, and other thugs of the corporations

In a pinch, we could probably skip 1-4.