Daily Archives: August 8, 2004

Women Blog, Too! #10: Cyclopatra

Between the Iraq blogs and LitBlogs, I’ve sort of bailed on WBT the last couple of weeks, so to make up for it (a little, anyway) I’ve got a real tasty one for you this week. Cyclopatra is one of those blogs where everything is on the table, from family news to complaints about her work to politics to philosophy to– Well, you get the idea. I’ve seen dozens like this but rarely are they as well-written, as honest, as funny, or as perceptive as this one.

Cyclopatra (the blogger’s handle is the same as the name of her site) is a free-lance programmer with a client-list that is from Hell, and some of my favorite posts are the ones where she vents on this or that management style/technique/ploy designed to drive her nuts and give them an excuse for not paying her at the same time. Perhaps that’s because it warms the cockles of my working-class heart to know that these bozos don’t treat the professionals they deal with any better than they treat us, but it might also be because Cyclopatra is rarely in better form than when she’s ripping their entrails out by the roots and stomping all over them.

He disapproved of my database design, despite not knowing what it is or how to design a database, and despite my assurances that I could report on the data therein in any format he pleased, if he would only deign to whisper that format to my eager ears. He rejected one almost-invisbly-changed screen as too ugly, despite the fact that he designed it himself and demanded the change that I made. And he accused me of not testing my code (for the 15 millionth time; you would think this man had never enountered Windows before, considering his expectation that he should never encounter so much as a hiccup in his software usage, even of beta software) without ever describing a single bug he had enountered – apparently I was too breezy in my description of moving new code to the beta site. Now, I’ll grant that ‘let’s hope nothing explodes’ was a fanciful construction, and that my intended joshing tone was probably not adequately conveyed by the too, too stark screen-text that it was printed in, but is it too much to ask that he wait until he actually finds a bug before he excoriates me for failing to test the code that I write?

Sarcasm as beautifully placed as the knife of an expert between the fourth and fifth ribs at an upward angle is always a pleasure to read, let’s face it; we can dream about saying such things to our own private Nemesis and watching them wilt. It’s as satisfying as a hot fudge sundae on a hot summer day, and one settles into the fantasy with a long, happy sigh. ‘If only I could say that and get away with it….’

But her talent and her interests go further than slicing her enemies up in pieces so small you could feed them to Japanese tourists on a bed of brown rice, pleasant as that is to behold. She is remarkably candid in discussing her life and relationships, even for an anonymous blog. In a post titled ‘Everything is catching, yes, everything is catching on fire’, she gives a riveting account of her grandmother’s recent injury.

Last week my grandmother had to take a letter down to the mailbox. She’s eighty-six, but she’s healthy, and while she doesn’t drive anymore, she’s still fairly spry – she gets tired easily, but she can get around and take care of herself, and she can still cook dinner for the whole family when she gets a yen to.But my dad had had the dogs out last weekend, tied to a lead that gave them plenty of room to run and frolic around while he mowed the lawn. And he didn’t roll up the lead and put it away when he brought the dogs back in. And my grandmother tripped on that lead, and tumbled down the driveway. She broke both her wrists – not just broke them, but fell to the concrete with bloody, white shards of bone poking out just under each hand.

My mother heard her scream as she went down, and she dropped the load of laundry she had been carrying out to the laundry room, and ran out to find out what had happened to my grandmother.

As much of a bad grandchild as it makes me feel, I am glad I wasn’t there at that point – I don’t deal well with other people’s blood and injuries, and I probably would have had hysterics or fainted. My grandmother was trying to sit up, nearly passing out from the pain, with her hands dangling at the ends of her wrists, the bone poking up over the unnatural angles her limbs were making. I know this because my mother told me the story later, in a tone of quiet horror that made it obvious, even over the phone, that she was still seeing the woman who gave birth to her and raised her greying out on the driveway with blood running down her wrists and her skeleton exposed to the air.

This is vivid writing that has you standing on the driveway next to a badly wounded woman, wondering what to do. And even when you’ve finished reading, you find yourself thinking later on: ‘What would I have done if it were my grandmother? Would I have been able to keep it together?’

That kind of ability as a storyteller is a gift, and Cyclopatra is good enough to bring it to subjects not ordinarily thought of as ‘stories’. Sometimes it seems she can make a compelling story out of no more material than what’s inside her head at any given moment. In a post called ‘Epiphany’, she brings that skill to one of those small moments in life when the curtains part and the Wizard is revealed to be in the one place we weren’t looking. One night, while dealing with a coding problem, she had such a moment.

And then it hit me. It was exactly like every description of epiphany you’ve ever read. A sudden blinding light going on in your brain. Being hit upside the head with a hammer you can’t feel. A feeling like the ground shifting underneath my feet: I had been going about it all wrong the entire time.In retrospect, it seemed unbelievably simple. I was trapped in my own assumptions. I was receiving points, therefore I was storing points. But the points themselves didn’t matter – they were just a way of receiving user input. What mattered were the boundaries of the square I was drawing. Once I started to think of it as four lines instead of two points, everything fell into place. I have to rewrite half my code now, but it’ll be easy, because half the mucking around I was doing before was to translate points into lines.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this sort of instantaneous paradigm shift before, where the whole world just sort of moves a few inches to the left and shows you a new picture. I think I’m glad, because as helpful as it was, it was unsettling. Most of the time I like the earth to stay right where it is when I’m standing on it.

Don’t we all? But how many of us recognize the moment when it’s on us? And how many of those would be able to stand their ground with the earth spinning around them and recognize it as ultimately a Good Thing? Cyclopatra is one of those rare humans who can not only see these small moments and recognize their significance, she can describe them in such lively terms that she takes you right into the heart of them–physically, almost. Take the little post she wrote about frozen grapes.

[A] deathly stillness has settled over the city, bringing with it heat and humidity. We haven’t hit the godawful 100+ temperatures of last summer (yet, knock on wood), but we’re all wilting, opening every window and sliding door in the house, praying for a breeze, and trying to find out how much it would cost to get central A/C (more than we can afford).In the midst of our tribulations, though, L has brought us frozen grapes. A memory from her childhood prompted her to place a bag of seedless red grapes in the freezer, and she brings out little bowls of them in the evenings, when the heat refuses to disappear with the sun. Each one is like a miniature popsicle, bursting with sweetness and an icy bite of refreshment. We’re eating them like popcorn.

Heat or no, she almost makes you wish you were there with her.

That’s the charm and the magic of Cyclopatra. Anybody can make lemonade out of lemons; it takes a real master to make a whole summer come alive with a little thing like frozen grapes.

Note: I have only one small complaint about Cyclopatra, and that is its total lack of visual distinction. She’s not only using one of the earliest and least pleasing of Blogger’s templates, she’s done nothing to individualize it. Perhaps a programmer who specializes in making other people’s sites look good is like the carpenter who never fixes his own house–when the long workday is over, the last thing she wants to do is more of the same.

I can understand that but she’s doing her site and her talent a disservice. A blog this good deserves a look that matches its uniqueness, its depth, and its iconoclastic, highly personal flavor.

PS. Be sure to check out her ‘Kossack Blogroll’ (did she spell it wrong intentionally?). It is one of the longest and most eclectic collections of links I’ve ever seen.

Say Again?

A headline in today’s NYT screams: Diplomacy Fails to Slow Advance of Nuclear Arms!

KENNEBUNKPORT, Me., Aug. 7 – American intelligence officials and outside nuclear experts have concluded that the Bush administration’s diplomatic efforts with European and Asian allies have barely slowed the nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea over the past year, and that both have made significant progress.In a tacit acknowledgment that the diplomatic initiatives with European and Asian allies have failed to curtail the programs, senior administration and intelligence officials say they are seeking ways to step up unspecified covert actions intended, in the words of one official, “to disrupt or delay as long as we can” Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear weapon.

I’m sorry? What diplomacy? You mean that half-hearted meeting in Asia where the US let Japan do all the heavy lifting and then refused to back its proposals? Or the gesture that doesn’t even qualify as ‘half-hearted’ to have some members of the EU and one or two of the other Arab nations intervene with Iran? the gesture we made just before we abandoned the whole project?

If what the Bush Admin has been doing qualifies as ‘diplomacy’, then I qualify as a nuclear physicist because once I read a book title with the words ‘Nuclear Physics’ in it. Powell has been trying, I grant you, but he has two crucial difficulties: first, he’s doing it on his own and getting no support from Junior; and second, since the UN speech before the onset of the war has been shown to have been made up almost entirely out of whole cloth, he’s got a massive credibility problem–nobody believes anything he says.

I have a radical suggestion to make:

Could we at least try actual diplomacy before we declare it to be a failure? The results might surprise you.

But then, the neocons aren’t really interested in diplomacy, are they? Only in the appearance of it. If it worked, they wouldn’t be able to go ahead with their plans to invade South Korea and Teheran, and that just wouldn’t do.

The Imperium marches on !


A LAT editorial notes that the process of beginning–not doing it, just starting to do it–of obeying the Supreme Court’s order to let the Gitmo detainees have access to lawyers and courts has been moving at the speed of light. A stop light.

Yagman’s efforts to force Justice Department lawyers to justify Gherebi’s continued imprisonment have provoked a blizzard of paperwork, court motions and foot-dragging. But there’s been little progress toward a face-to-face lawyer-client meeting, let alone a hearing on the merits of his case.Gherebi’s case is hardly unique. Lawyers across the country trying to represent Guantanamo clients report that the government is, as one put it, “trying to neutralize the Supreme Court decision.”

The Pentagon has let a few detainees meet with a lawyer as a goodwill gesture, providing the lawyer agrees to let officials listen in and promises not to ask about conditions of the client’s confinement or if he has been abused. However, the government is contesting almost every motion and writ, tying up the cases as it continues to claim, incredibly, that the Guantanamo detainees have no constitutional right of access. At the same time, detainees are pressured to plead their cases before a military panel without the due process guarantees available in federal court, a move some are resisting. (emphasis added)

Gee, I wonder why. Does the term ‘railroaded’ come to mind?

It has been a full two months since the SCOTUS decision and the military authorities at Gitmo haven’t even begun to comply. What’s happening there takes foot-dragging to a whole new level–the level of paying no attention to it whatever. They are simply going on as before while making a few token gestures here and there. After two months it’s fair to ask: ‘Are the Gitmo authorities ignoring the court order? And do they intend to go on ignoring it until they bully the detainees into accepting military tribunals rather than civilian trials?’

Given that we now know that what’s been going on at Gitmo is even worse than the most cynical and pessimistic among us thought, can it be that the military is trying to drag this out until after the election in order to spare Junior yet another scandal? And since the military is, in essence, the final enforcement arm of the govt, who’s going to make them obey the SCOTUS order if they continue to flaunt it? The Florida State Police? (Not that they have jurisdiction, mind you, but they’re the closest.) The National Guard? Are we willing to make the services discipline each other? If the Army continues to pretend the SCOTUS decision is unimportant and doesn’t apply to them, are we going to send in the Navy to bombard Gitmo from the sea and order the Marines to land in full battle gear to take Gitmo by force? I hardly think so.

The Gitmo authorities clearly believe that by being off-shore they are above the law and can do what they like–or not–and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. Well, isn’t that the reason Bush established Gitmo in the first place? So it would be outside the realm of any possible domestic oversight or intervention? Still, it’s hard to believe, even in BushAmerica, that the military would be so contemptuous of civilian control unless they had orders to do so from civilian authorities like, for example, Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld.

The restrictions on the lawyers are telling: maybe they can see their clients but only if they agree not to ask them about ill-treatment and torture? Almost makes you think the military is afraid of the answers, doesn’t it? Only the naive think that the previous scandal caused the Army to abandon what it euphemistically calls its ‘softening-up’ techniques; scaled them back, possibly, but no more. Army officials continue to defend the techniques by asserting that they’re working, providing reams of ‘intelligence’ we wouldn’t otherwise have. Of course the quality of that intelligence is something they rarely address and only when forced to–it seems it’s been pretty useless overall.

So what we have here is a military that has been engaging in at best dubious and at worst illegal interrogation techniques in an off-shore facility patently untouchable by civilian authority–not even the Supreme Court cuts any ice here–that is protecting its own ass and that of the president by thumbing its nose at a legal order from the Highest Court in the Land and practically daring them to do anything about it.

This is getting uglier by the day and nobody is covering it. So what else is new?