final impressions

Nine weeks on, I haven’t missed my Apple Watch at all. The Charge 3 has had its flaky moments, but they are few and far between, and I have to take it off to charge once a week (usually Wednesdays, as it happens). The sleep tracking and step counting seems reliable enough, and the notifications are as reliable as they were on the series 0 Apple Watch – which is to say, not perfect, but close enough. Aside from the occasional need of Duo Push at work – which I have contrived to reduce to once every couple months – I haven’t missed the Watch in the least.

And this concerns me. Because I also find myself grasping for my personal iPhone SE instead of the iPhone X on nights and weekends. My iPad mini from Christmas 2013 is still mostly functional and I have no plans to replace it. And the first phone since the SE that has tempted me to spend my own money is…the Google Pixel 3A, the $400 mid-range version of the Android flagship. It’s not difficult to see why the iPhone isn’t really in a growth spurt: too much money for not enough improvement over the pocket rocket of three years ago.

This is of serious concern, just because every dime I’ve made since 1997 has been in some way connected with the support of Apple products. As I approach 50, there’s no getting around the fact that my professional life is tied to the Beast of Cupertino and that if they start to falter, I may find myself in a hell of a fix. The move to “services” is no comfort: I don’t think anyone is going to need support administration for AppleTV+ anytime soon.

The trick is going to be this: is a premium-and-service Apple going to be something that people continue to buy and just keep and use longer, or is the “cheaper and good enough” model going to do them like the 1990s again? After all, if they can’t compel me to keep laying out money, how are they going to lure cash out of wallets of people who don’t depend on them? 

so which is it?

Are things really worse now than they’ve ever been, or are we just now able to see it more clearly? Is it just because of YouTube and cameras that UFO sightings are down and police brutality reports are up, or is the state of the world getting materially worse?

Why can’t it be both?

There’s a very good case to be made that technology is letting us see more of what was always there – the hate, the ignorance, the general bullshit. But twenty-five years ago, if you wanted to be a white supremacist terrorist, you had to find people through badly mimeographed flyers and post-office boxes, try to build some kind of bomb, and hope that one of your pals wouldn’t turn out to be an undercover FBI agent. Now it’s as easy as buying an AR-15 and several magazines, posting a rant on the same message board you learned everything from in two clicks off Google or Facebook, and going on a shooting spree while live-streaming the whole thing.

A lot of this shit was always with us, but we had at least established some unwritten rules that said it was wrong, and even if people didn’t follow the rules they were obligated to acknowledge the breach. What has changed is that the quiet parts are now said out loud – which means that yes, it was always bad, but also there is now nothing against saying them out loud, which is a worsening. One of our political parties is trafficking in the kind of talk that as little as twenty years ago would have been beyond the pale even for the kind of Southern Republicans who had just taken control of Congress – although they went to great lengths to bend the curve of what was acceptable and pave the way to where we are now.

And now people have the gall to talk about how dishonest this era is, as if the 21st century doesn’t sit on a quivering foundation of lies and bullshit and choose-your-own-reality. And that’s why the next challenge, if we survive, is the struggle to write the unwritten rules into law. This administration, the Confederacy at its apotheosis, is about codifying the underlying racism that was starting to find itself on the ropes as its practitioners aged out of power. Conversely, we need to be writing the guardrails into law to prevent yet another Republican minority presidency running wild. Income tax disclosures? Mandated by law. Electoral college bound to the result of the popular vote? Mandated by law. Anything that was “tradition” or “the way it’s always been done” or otherwise limited only by norms and manners? Has to be mandated by law, because norms and manners are worth nothing if you have a big enough asshole.

And the risk you take at this point is that people don’t care. The indolence and indifference, the tuning out of “it’s just politics” and “this isn’t important to my life”  is all it takes for one side to dig in. You won’t get a Watergate reckoning now, and you may not get an electoral solution if you don’t take all three branches of government – and the Supreme Court is probably lost for a generation at this point, which means you’re back to trusting that the norms of stare decisis and judicial review are all that’s preventing nine old men from wrecking shit for the rest of our lives.

It’s past time to fight, but it’s also time to start making plans for losing.

one device

So I ordered a new Bluetooth keyboard for use with my phone. It’s a pretty good size, not pocketable, but neither is it as big as the default Apple wireless keyboard. It’s the sort of thing that could go in the travel bag if I wanted to do this abroad.

I’m still carrying the iPhone X, despite the fact that it’s bigger than I want, simply because it’s impossible – or at least highly impractical – to carry two devices. Even though everything is in the cloud, or most of it anyway, it’s just easier to have one device with all the work apps and all the personal stuff and the Downtime protocol to weed out what runs when. And nobody wants to have to keep track of two phone numbers for you, which means that unless literally everyone in your life is on iMessage, you’re going to have to have some kind of hack to use a different phone. In my case, it means creating a group in Signal with both my numbers and a friend’s number for every friend I want to have unimpeded contact with me. Which is a hack. A workable one, but still a hack.

I’m reminded of the old slogan “what’s on your PowerBook is you.” That was an era when the only place I ever saw Apple specs was not at the Apple stores (there weren’t any) nor on the Web (there wasn’t any), but at college bookstores. It was an era when you’d have all your papers on the laptop, I suppose, or maybe programs if you were taking computer science. Now it seems like everything is in the cloud, enough that an iPad is probably more than enough for work – but at root, your phone is in that spot now. What’s on your phone is you. It’s your camera, your daybook, your Personal Data Assistant in a way no PDA could ever be at the edge of the 21st century, because it’s always on the network and always on your person and because asynchronous communication is the stuff of life now whether it’s Slack or WhatsApp or whatever.

And it’s only getting worse, because of 2FA. Two factor authentication is a functional necessity of modern life, a crucial tool to ensure you don’t get hacked or fleeced or worse. Because what’s on your phone (and in the cloud) is you, the locks have to be tight. Which means some sort of 2FA…which probably only runs on one phone at a time. So if you’re going to break out a second device, you also need to have Duo installed. Or Google Authenticator. Or LastPass’s tool, or something. And having two separate 2FA pieces is…problematic. And we’re back to one phone for everything.

Which means that you need the perfect phone for you. Whether it’s screen size, battery life, hand ergonomics, whatever – your phone is too critical to your daily life to be anything less than a perfect fit. And the iPhone X is bigger than I want, but Apple won’t make anything smaller. Maybe that’s my itch to keep looking at things like the Pixel 3A, the first Google-branded phone since the original Nexus One to draw my attention (and the first Android phone to do so at all since the original Moto X). It’s possible to turn out a phone that does everything you need and nothing you don’t and bring it in for half the price of a flagship device. I still think that you could make the perfect phone by putting the chipset and components of the iPhone 8 into the body (and battery) of the original Moto X, with its customizable polycarbonate and 4.7” OLED display and 2200 mAh battery (still bigger than any non-X non-Plus iPhone ever made). And it would be one-handable but not too small for Kindle or video consumption, frankly.

But that’s the problem: the 3A is not materially different from the X in terms of hand size, and for all the chattering bullshit about how Android is open and flexible, I can’t find one single current Android device with a screen smaller than 5.2 inches on the diagonal. You can have small, or you can have current, but you can’t have both. And moreover, you can only lock down Android so far. Google still has you by the nuts, and unlike Apple, they don’t make any bones about how important your data is to their business model. And if no one on Android is going to make a one-handed phone anyway, there’s nothing to do but punt while acknowledging that we crossed the finish line in 2013 and peaked in 2016 and that it’s not your imagination: things really are worse than they were before.

Of which.

three thousand























There were two enormously dissatisfying issues with this picture for me. It’s not going to stop it from the first billion dollar opening, it’s not going to prevent it being a bow tied on top of the MCU to this point, it’s not like you can’t live with the way things work out, but there are two GIANT PROBLEMS that bother me.

One is the way we skipped ahead to five years in the future…and then bring everybody back. “Bring them back, don’t change anything else.” And just like that, everybody that was gone, all those names on the monuments in San Francisco, everyone that the survivors mourned and tried to move on from…is back. That’s an insanely complicated proposition to handwave away all by itself before even considering the bigger problem: it was bad enough when aliens descended from New York. Now half the population disappeared. And came back. And there’s no reason to think it couldn’t happen again, or something like it. They allude to the fact that governments are falling apart, and I can’t fathom how that doesn’t continue and worsen. As Fred Clark has famously argued, September 11 shows us what happens when three thousand people are unexpectedly killed by something we can identify. Now imagine a third, or half of the planet, disappeared into thin air. The crippling implications for the insurance industry alone, never mind religion or geopolitics or the like – it’s not the loss of population, which only drops us back to the 1970s or so, it’s the fact that it happened, that it could happen. You can’t go back to an ordinary world with field trips to Europe. That would be…psychopathic.

It would be different if this were meant to be the end. We mourn our heroes, we celebrate our victory, and we say “and the rest of them all lived happily ever after to the end of their days.”  I wouldn’t have this problem if this were the final page, but it isn’t. So we’re going to have to pretend that everything somehow goes back to normal, or else we actually grapple with the consequences of what happened. Which is probably why all the TV shows are done (or as good as) and starting over with different stuff elsewhere. I understand wanting consequences, not wanting to say “it never happened,” but if you say it did, then you can’t gloss over the implications of that and pretend the world is back to our normal.

Which leads me to the other thing.

This almost certainly makes me an asshole and a bad person, and I don’t care: it was tremendously satisfying that Tony Stark tore Steve Rogers a new asshole in the first five minutes, and Steve just had to sit there and take it, because Tony was right. Right about the threat from above, right about needing to stay together being more important than how we stay together, right about how “we’ll lose.” And when it happened, he didn’t have any of the Avengers with him. Steve Rogers put his feelings ahead of the planet, the planet paid the price, and at the end of the day…Tony dies. Tony takes his one in fourteen million six hundred and five chance, snaps his fingers, and dies to destroy Thanos and his empire. Tony loses his life, leaves behind his wife and daughter…and Steve gets to go back in time and live out the full life with Peggy that he never expected to have.

Resentment is corrosive, Tony says, and he swallows it because the world is at stake. And he gives his life to win. That strikes me as colossally unfair on a very personal level: you are responsible, you do what has to be done, you swallow your pride and do what is required of you, and in the end it costs you everything. That’s a little on the fucking nose for me. Although I suppose in a way, it’s the inverse of Thanos: one cosmic individual’s determination to accomplish the mission no matter what can only be confounded by another’s.

One thing Tony did get, though, was that trip to 1970. We all know how conflicted he’s been his entire life about his father, and it goes all the way back to the very first Iron Man movie. He got that moment, got to clear the mechanism, and you could say that in a way he got the same thing Steve did: resolution to the great unfinished business of his life. Hell, just for Peggy’s sake, I’m glad things worked out for her eventually to get Steve back – although that confounds an awful big bunch of stuff if you think too hard about it.

And that’s the real trick. Kevin Feige is out there saying that Spider-Man: Far From Home will be the real last film in Phase III, and I’m hoping they at least make some kind of effort to say where things are going and what the world looks like now. Because if we blow by it all, ignore what happened, and pretend everything went back to normal somehow, Marvel will have done itself a substantial disservice – and its fans with it.

marvels and infinity

Sarah Halley Finn is a superstar.

She may not be a household name, but she probably ought to be, because she is head of casting for Marvel Studios. Which meant that she was the one, all those years ago, who thought that Robert Downey Jr was a perfect choice to play a spectacularly gifted talent with substance abuse issues. Okay, that could have been typecasting, but even so: the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe spins out of that decision and the ones around it and after it.

Iron Man first came to my attention when my sister, the paranormal YA writer, was at SDCC and saw the panel, and was nonplussed at best by the constant self-congratulation about what a great job they’d done bringing Tony Stark to the screen. And then the movie came out, and…well, you could see why they felt that way. Because they’d done it. Nailed it. Created a flawed and believable character on an arc of increasing self-awareness, given him one best friend who felt real and authentic (“How was the Fun-vee?” Is exactly how my DC teammates would have rescued me in the desert) and another one who felt like more than The Love Interest (especially with the epic “and then you LEFT ME THERE” at the end), created a mentor with a perfect heel turn, put Stan Lee in as Hugh Hefner, and created a comic book movie with no actual super-powers and a sense of contemporary scale and grounding.

The timeline of the thing is what boggles you. This really is an eleven-year story where all the pieces matter. A dud like Iron Man 2? Still sets up the creation of War Machine and the sense of hubris that, coupled with PTSD, will lead to Ultron and Sokovia and the Accords and the events of Civil War, which is why the Avengers aren’t there when it all happens. All because at one point, Tony Stark thought he could privatize world peace.

RDJ has had two lines that absolutely got me long after. One was last year, in Infinity War, where Bruce tells him that the name is Thanos, that he sent Loki, that was the attack on New York, that’s him, and Tony’s reaction is a quiet “this is it.” The thing you’ve dreaded for six years, the inevitable moment of reckoning, the thing you can’t run from or hide from or escape is finally in front of you. That felt real.

The other, of course, was an ad-lib to Bruce about the thing in his chest that kept the cluster of shrapnel from gnawing its way into his heart. This circle of light keeping him alive. And he said “it’s a terrible privilege.” And that stuck with me, still does, because in one stroke he summed up what it’s like to be me. What it’s like to be anyone, really, what it’s like to be alive.

Marvel Comics were only a big part of my life in adolescence for maybe three or four years, tops. I was mostly an X-Men guy, but I was out before we ever heard the word Genosha, so I missed the entire run of the 1990s and the All Mutant Errrthang era of comics. Deadpool and Cable and Gambit and blah blah blah, all after my time. The initial X-Men series of films left me cold, especially when they butchered the whole Phoenix story (Bryan Singer left the X-Men for Superman and killed both franchises deader than fucking fried chicken), the Fantastic Four movies were shake-your-head bad, and Spider-Man, while successful, didn’t seem to be going much of anywhere. Certainly there was no notion that you could ever cross these over.

And then, forced by the necessity of having sold off rights to every profitable franchise in the 90s, Marvel had to start from scratch with only one character anyone had heard of (and still identified mostly with a TV show). Fast forward less than ten years, and in The Martian, what is Mark Whatley’s reference for “I could fly around like”? Iron Man. Not Superman, Iron Man. That’s how you know you’ve shifted the conversation. Because they did another Iron Man. Then a Shakespearian drama. Then a period piece. Then crossed them all over. And at every step of the way, it was possible to say “this is where they’ve overreached, this is where they’ve gone too far, they aren’t going to be able to sell this” and yet, it always worked out. Guardians of the Galaxy. Ant-Man. Doctor Strange. Every time you think they’ve gone frog-sticking without a light, it works out. Eleven years ago, if you’d said that a space-opera epic starring Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Don Cheadle, Paul Rudd, several actors you’d never heard of, and a talking CGI raccoon was about to be the first billion-dollar opening weekend in movie history, you’d have been laughed out of Hollywood. 

Think about that: Marvel is about to open its fourth movie with a violent talking raccoon as a frontline star.

This is very much like the last Harry Potter, or the last Sopranos, or the last Breaking Bad: you don’t know who lives and who dies. But you care about all of ‘em. You believe in every single character arc that brought us to this place, even when they were truncated at best like Hawkeye. There’s going to be loss. There’s going to be tears (don’t get me started on the last five minutes of Guardians of the Galaxy 2, especially ‘they came’). I’m not ready to see Tony Stark lose his life trying to stop the thing that he spent every moment of the last six years working to stop. 

And yet, I’m also ready to see what I hope will be a satisfying ending, and a depiction of how you can come back from the end of the world – not easily, not without cost, and not back to what you had, but that you can come back at all. Because I need that in my life right now, looking around at 2019. I just want to see a path back out of the dark for somebody.

I guess we’ll find out in about 72 hours.

flashback, part 105 of n

The glasses first appeared around third grade. It was startling how much clearer everything looked, and I could read the chalkboard a lot more clearly. Unfortunately, the brown plastic frames with their super-scratchy plastic lenses were pretty much bang on brand for the school nerd in the early 1980s, and by eighth grade I had started putting them in my plaid-button-up-shirt pocket for most of the day unless I actually needed to see what was doing.

I got contacts in December 1985, and it felt like a new world was opening up. I had super powers! I could see without assistance! Now certainly my life would transform for the better! And then 1986 turned out to be the worst year of my life to that point (still arguably in the top three or four, depending) and I got braces, so my facial appearance was back to a mess. And then…conjunctivitis. MASSIVE conjunctivitis. I had to give up the contacts for six months, which means new glasses. These were different. The lenses were tinted gray rather than brown, and the frames had actual metal, but they were still absurdly thick – and yet, not so horrifying to drive away my first girlfriend.

After that, the insurance paid for a new pair every year, so January 1988 meant new black plastic frames with thinner lenses, and those were my go-to for two years and change. 1989 saw my first and only pair of prescription sunglasses for almost thirty years, which got a lot of run in the summer as I drove around in a car with glass tops under a blazing Alabama sun. And then, I graduated, it was time to go to college, and I hadn’t had my eye exam yet. And I outright asked for something that would look better than what I’d been wearing, and they fitted me with these round tortoiseshell-look things that were a little bit off the Venn diagram of Harry Potter and I Love The 90s, but it worked. I at least didn’t feel like as much of a yutz.

And then, in the summer of 1991, I tried out the disposable contacts. I had one pair for two weeks, and it was the strangest feeling being able to wear actual sunglasses again, and it felt (again) like I’d had some cybernetic enhancement that would set my vision straight. And I reluctantly went back to a new pair of glasses, this time small enough that the lenses weren’t absurdly thick, and wore those for a year…and then, in 1992, the insurance started paying for disposable contacts, and that was the very end. Those 1991 glasses were my only prescription glasses for a decade, and I might have put them on a dozen times between 1992 and 2002.

Then in 2002, I was inspired by my girlfriend’s glasses with their magnetic clip-ons, and decided I must have that, especially since my old glasses were a decade old. The new ones were impossibly small, and it turns out that’s not the most effective thing for sunglasses. Lesson learned. Never thought of going to them full time, even after I paid to have transition lenses put in the frames a few years later. 2011 came round, and I got another pair of glasses with Oakley frames that looked half-Snowden, half-Google Glass, and wore them sporadically at best. 

It was only in early 2018 that I carried out an experiment, largely driven by the fact that my cousin seems to manage regular and prescription glasses without a fight. I broke into my flex-spending stash and bought two pair of Ames frames from Warby Parker, one with sunglass tint and one without, and found myself wearing them more and more and more…until this year, when I bought a third pair with the transition lenses. I haven’t put my contacts in since, as far as I can tell.

So what happened? After almost thirty years, I’m back to being a “glasses everyday” wearer. And not just any glasses, but ones that make me look older if anything, the sort of glasses that say “I’m launching a Gemini mission at 6 and serving a federal warrant on the Klan in Indianola at 10” – maybe it reads as hipster, I don’t know, but probably not on an aging and sagging 47 year old. I guess it became part and parcel of not needing to prove anything – of simplifying my life, of not wanting to take lenses out every night, of not wanting to wake up with my contacts in, of not having to pack a whole extra array of toiletries for travel. It means a life that least little bit simpler. And if there’s one thing that life needs to be in 2019, it’s simpler.


Ten years ago, the talk of South by Southwest Interactive was an app called Foursquare. Its creators had started with an app called Dodgeball, which used SMS to check people into venues and was sold to Google and left to die. When its creators left the confines of Mountain View, they started another company to do the same thing, only with the advantage of Smartphone Time. Turns out that built-in maps and GPS and enhanced data service make that a much simpler prospect than it was in the days of the RAZR.

Ten years on, Foursquare has built its own sort of map and social grid. And they’ve remained independent, selling aggregate map information to other companies rather than selling out to Google or Facebook or the like. And they did kind of screw up by  splitting into two separate applications and messing with the whole check-in mechanism, ruining one of the most successful attempts at gamification in the smartphone era. And yes, I get nervous that there’s all that location data for me in there.

But it was extraordinary at the time, even if it was plainly meant for people ten years younger than me. It gave me a record of places I’d been, things I’d done, and the people I’d been out with. It was data that proved the existence of a social life, kind of sort of. Granted, most of the people I have friended through it no longer live near enough to me that we check into a place together, but that’s a broader issue. Instead, I can look back and see a stream of check-ins across Europe in 2010. Or Japan in 2015. Or Disneyland. Or see when I last visited some place that I hadn’t seen since 2011, in the case of one of the downtown wine bars. Scroll back far enough and you can see peregrinations around San Francisco back when that was a desirable thing to do. Or things that used to be, like Z Pizza or Dan Brown’s Lounge or Soarin’ Over California. Or things I forgot I did, like Vanderbilt happy hours or my 2015 ER visit for my back or the Sunset Festival.

I have more past than I remember. That’s what makes Foursquare – and this blog – important.

flashback, part 104 of n

I was attractive in 1989. I don’t know how, I don’t know why, and the photographic evidence of the era provides no clues – only more bewilderment. Terrible center-parted hair, badly tinted coke-bottle glasses, braces that I couldn’t seem to get shut of, and a wardrobe consisting entirely of either white concert-style t-shirts or pastel plaid short-sleeve button-ups, topped with a Members Only jacket five years too late and a gray fedora. In theory and on paper, I should have been a circus clown, and instead, four different girls found me attractive at some point in that year.

The last of those was an anomaly about which I hadn’t thought in years, maybe decades, aside from the snark at one of her pageant titles. Because she was a pageant girl, a cheerleader for a decade before we got together, the sort of high-achieving queen-bee sort that, in an exurban Southern high school setting, might have been the Platonic ideal of “who should I not be with, ever.” And yet, we dated from early October of 1989 through January of 1990, as I was filling out my college applications and getting ready for the inevitable future for which I’d waited my entire life.

Looking back, I think it was an experiment for both of us. I was probably the very last thing she would have thought of going out with, especially since she’d just had a long-term alpha-dog sort of boyfriend who had gone off to Auburn a year ahead of her. I never dated from my own high school, and was still reeling from my exposure to the wider world in June coupled with the reversal of personality and fortune around my common-law girlfriend at the time, and after being in limbo for a month, I called up this girl who had expressed a mild interest at one of the academic events of the summer and gave it a shot. 

We went to movies, I think, but by virtue of where she was located it was tough to see anything that started after 7 and still get her home on time. It was a prolonged drive deeper into the sticks from home, on two-lane roads that gloried in the name “state route”. I barely met any of her friends, and…well, I didn’t have that many for her to meet. My friends had all graduated the year before and I was at hammer and tongs with most of my senior class, and I was keeping score at scholar’s bowl practice as ‘me versus the world’, so there really wasn’t anyone to whom I could introduce her. Or wanted to. We sniped obliquely at each other about our odd-couple matchup, as I sat on her bedroom floor desperately trying to figure out how to solve the even-numbered problems in my AP Calculus textbook.

I guess with thirty years of hindsight, I was just marking time until I got out and got on with my life. This was an attempt to see what would happen if I’d had a more normal high school experience. Small pond, low ceiling, call it whatever you like. Ultimately she didn’t care about Doctor Who or Casablanca, and she was an Auburn fan, so we didn’t really have much to talk about besides school. And we never once had a word of conversation about “what happens next.” By the time we split up – well in advance of Valentine’s Day, and in a way that ensured I wouldn’t be seeing any more of her, which you can get easily down south when Dad taps on the window with a flashlight – I still didn’t know for sure that Vanderbilt wasn’t going to be happening. But once that was revealed, it was a sort of echo: the dream of escape had run on the rocks, so I was going to have to settle for something nearby and make the best of it.

Would that I’d had the sense to break up with undergrad after four months.


The Mueller report is what it is because of impeachment. There is no legal doctrine around what allows a president to be charged with a crime. There is plenty of legal doctrine around impeachment. Impeachment is, legally speaking, the proper remedy for the conduct alleged (if not outright documented) by the report we saw yesterday.

But it won’t happen for two reasons. For one, the non-Beltway public largely seems to be tuned out. I don’t know if it’s ignorance, approval or disinterest but you can hardly distinguish between the three under the circumstances. And for another, the GOP’s entire doctrine consists of a lack of shame and a willingness to brazen it out for as long as it takes, confident that there will be no circumstances.

There will be no impeachment, because the Senate will never convict, at which point you’re wasting your time. If the public doesn’t care enough to be interested, then there’s nothing to be gained by whipping them up. Best bet at this point is victory at the polls in 2020 and somehow tip the Senate, and then embark on a good solid two years of putting into law all the unwritten rules that made this possible. Shackle Silly Con Valley within an inch of its life. Soak the 0.001% for 90% of their income. Codify the release of income tax returns for every Presidential aspirant. Demolish the Electoral College by hook or by crook.

The system is broken. We probably only have one shot at repairing it. If we don’t, it’ll be time to look at real estate in Galway.

freedom from consequences

Once upon a time, we had the tools to deal with assholes. Society mattered. One’s name mattered. The good opinion of your peers mattered. The unwritten rules mattered. But assholes used those tools on people for being different. For being black, for being female, for being gay, for coloring outside the lines – and so we lost those tools. Think about how impeachment is tarred as being an inherently political and unsuitable tool, and think how it got that way. When the unwritten rules don’t matter that much, it’s not a big leap to decide that the written rules don’t matter that much either, and then all you have to do is look pious and say “we should focus on moving forward” and then “why you bringing up old shit” and that’s how you skate on any consequences for the Iraq War, or tanking the US economy, or undermining the country in the face of hostile foreign action. 

The moral rot of the 21st century really began in 1988, when George HW Bush decreed that anything was permissible in the service of winning elections. Then the talk radio hosts and Newt Gingrich decreed that anything was permissible in the service of winning, period. Norms and guardrails began to deteriorate, culminating in a perjury-trap impeachment. And then in 2000, the reasonably-clear intent of the voters was decreed obsolete. After that, especially in wartime, it was a short hop to decide that facts and reality were whatever you wanted them to be, and the bottom fell out extra-quickly after that.

Because once you’ve punted on reality, punted on the rules, and decided that anything goes no matter what, and that anything is acceptable if it helps you win, you get what the GOP did in America and what the Tories did in Britain: an open embrace of ignorance and thinly-veiled racism in the service of staving off defeat. “Economic anxiety” became the fig leaf for an appeal to “we can make things like it used to be” that for some reason never summoned up the spectacle of unions or high marginal tax rates. The problem is, once you hitch your cart to ignorance, those who prey on stupid have a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun…and that’s where Facebook came in.

Facebook’s principal achievement has been to leverage ignorance for profit. Twenty-five years ago, openly racist screeds full of lies and calumny could only be obtained furtively. Now they can be routinely piped straight to your browser window, thanks to a deliberate decision to optimize for the most provocative and outrageous content possible. Dumb people, people too dumb to know how dumb they are, get a steady diet of lies and reinforcement. Lack of awareness? Lack of empathy? The misbelief that you’re fully and reliably informed? Silly Con Valley normalized it, propagated it, got rich off it, and then sure enough, when it lit the world on fire, all the paste-eaters in hoodies in Menlo Park and Mountain View and Palo Alto began their hooting chorus of “who could have known, we are working hard to solve the problem, no one could have foreseen” – and will probably skate.

And all the proof you need is Elon Musk – smoking weed on camera, clapping back at regulatory agencies on TV, spewing the precise and exact sort of Twitter bullshit that he placed his company in jeopardy by spewing in the first place. No sane CEO would ever have done this in days gone by; this is the behavior of someone who has come up with the those that consequences are for other people. Failure is fine; there will always be other investors, there will always be more money, and a Lucas Duplan or Elizabeth Holmes can and will ride that freedom from consequence for as long as no one knocks them off their asses. 

And there’s an opportunity cost to all this. Unicorn valuations and hockey-stick growth mean that there are good ideas out there that won’t see the market or come to fruition because the ROI isn’t fast and sexy enough. Half-wit frat bros will sit on the judicial bench for decades to come, ensuring that one Bush v Gore will inevitably lead to hundreds more and make the cleanup generational in scope. Cultivate enough stupid, and you guarantee that the future won’t be driven by American innovation, and you only have to look at WeChat and “social credit” to realize where things go if you let the wrong people drive.

Trump isn’t an accident or an anomaly. We were a good thirty years getting here. We’re going to be longer getting back.