Monday, August 16, 2010

memory lane: cultural sensitivity

Anna countdown: 4 days.

I'm still cranky, and still recovering my strength: staying home from school today, which turns out to be just as well, since Marcela is giving a test. Status quo.

I've been watching the firestorm of protest about the Muslim community center a couple blocks from Ground Zero in New York City, which is a pretty sickening debate for someone who holds the First Amendment as a principle rather than a hidden instruction from the Framers that schools need to teach creationism. It's an obvious step for the GOP: I've said for years that the party's pillars are racism, misogyny, and homophobia, and they've recently been losing on the latter two. A recent CNN/Time poll (pdf) claims that 49% of Americans think gays "have a constitutional right to get married and have their marriage recognized by law as valid," while 68% oppose the mosque.

(Does anyone else remember when (1) men piercing our ears was a big deal, and (2) you couldn't get your right ear pierced because that meant you were gay, and (3) that was bad?)

Anyway, the relevant story.

At Danger, my team named our software releases after drinks, in alphabetical order: Absinthe, Bellini, Cosmopolitan, Daiquiri, Everclear. (I didn't say they were good drinks, and we did pay the price, since the named drink was the primary beverage at the release party .) We got to K, and the logical name was Kamikaze, a potent and tasty get-drunk-fast choice of college students everywhere.

The suits on the third floor heard about it, and sent a rare dictum downstairs that we had to change the name. Why? Danger's hardware was made by the Japanese company Sharp, and kamikaze in Japanese is not a drink.

No one likes mandates from the suits (because they're almost always wrong), and in Danger's autonomous engineering department, this produced a lot of grumbling. I had the unpopular (and disagreed-with) opinion that it was actually a fine decision. The suits' job was to manage our partner relationships, and Japan, to put it generously, is still processing its World War 2 experience. As Americans, full of indelible arrogance and optimism and living in the world's most powerful nation, it's often hard for us to imagine a long-running, deeply-held sore spot, especially now that no one claims we could have won in Vietnam if only we'd tried harder.

But the sign at the border going from Chile into Argentina says "The Falklands are Argentine!", and Bolivia is still pissed at Chile for leaving Bolivia landlocked after their war 125 years ago.

At any rate, I was sad to not call it "Kamikaze," but it seemed like a fine choice to change it. Unlike Muslims in New York City, we don't actually have a First Amendment right to name our software releases whatever we want.

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