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.

higher, further, faster




All right. This was a significant picture for me, because in the entire MCU thus far, this is the character I was least familiar with. I knew Ms. Marvel, how she lost her powers to Rogue in the pages of X-Men and then became Binary, and I was vaguely aware that Kelly Sue DeConnick had transformed her into Marvel’s leading heroine in the last 10 years, but I assumed that the origin story would need to be cleaned up and simplified a LOT for the MCU, which meant that I was experiencing a truly new lead character for the first time since, well, Phil Coulson.

I was also lined up for a 1995 period piece. And that stuck kind of close to home. I also made a decision in 1989 that wound up putting me on the shelf for longer than I wanted, and the spring of 1995 was the first time I thought to myself that “someone who doesn’t have to prove anything” would be my life’s aspiration. You can imagine what line really stung, I suppose, if you’ve seen the movie. That era was a real nodal point, too: the 1.0 version of Netscape Navigator released, the opening of the Internet to anyone who could get access to a computer and a phone (and a credit card, I suppose), a real sense that the world was opening up into something new and exciting and unexpected.

I remember what that was like. I also remember getting the first letter about my academic status at Vanderbilt that summer and being bewildered at how I suddenly found myself on the precipice, something completely unprecedented in my entire academic career. Of which, as I say. But for now, it was the inverse of Capt. Danvers’ experience: I was being confronted with the fact that I was not as powerful as I had been led to believe. And I had to reckon with who I am and what I was, after a lifetime of being steered toward the small pond and told not to think too highly of myself. 

Also, it turns out that she has the exact power set I would have imagined for myself back then. Flying. Indestructable. Strong enough to throw a ballistic missile aside, and spewing pure rage out of the hands sufficient to punch a hole in a planet. Yeah. Me at 23 would have clicked with that in a heartbeat. These days, it’s more about teleportation and just being able to wish yourself somewhere better.

But I do love the distinction drawn between the MCU’s two O-3s: Captain America always gets up, because that’s what a hero does and that’s what he has to do to ensure that things turn out OK. Captain Marvel always gets up, because fuck you that’s why.

I was programmed to be Steve. I’d a hell of a lot rather have been Carol.

the problem of stuff

So Apple has announced the PowerBeats Pro. They’re basically AirPods on steroids; at $249 the cost is a solid $90 more than the AirPod equivalents with no wireless charging (of which more in a minute) but the battery life, sound quality, noise isolation and customizable fit are all supposed to be far superior. Which makes sense, on paper. The charging case might be too big for a pocket, but at 9 hours that might not be a problem (especially if you can go one ear at a time or something, or charge all day at work, or…

Actually, let’s think about this. I bought the BeatsX for $100 about a year and a half ago, and for the most part I’ve been reasonably happy with them. The little wing things and ear tips mean they fit reasonably well and keep other sounds out, the fact they hang around my neck makes me less wary of losing one accidentally, and the fact they charge with a Lightning cable makes it easy to use them with my phone because I can top up from the same cable. But the BeatsX don’t quite make it through a full day, and you definitely want to make sure they are fully charged by 4 PM if you’re heading up to the city.

And the annoying thing is – that’s $100 for, right now, a little over 18 months of use. How long can I expect these to last? Given that the battery life is already not what it was, how long can you expect any regularly-used built-in battery device to last anymore? We got acclimated to buying a new phone every two years, and then when we started keeping phones longer than two years, we had to pony up for battery replacements to keep them viable. How about AirPods? Will you get two years for $160? Three years? Can you reasonably expect the Powerbeats Pro to last almost twice as long as the AirPods? And for goodness sakes, will any of these things ever have battery replacement as an option so we don’t keep throwing away more electronics?

Ultimately, there’s a good case here that you just need to pay the price for something that has a replaceable battery and can be used with a cord in a pinch. I don’t know offhand where that might be found, and there’s the age old problem of not wanting to carry big over-the-ear cans everywhere, but it drives home a point I’ve thought about for a while: it’s getting harder and harder to put money on things you know aren’t going to last. This isn’t $19 for a replacement level pair of corded earbuds, this is the same money I paid to replace my iPhone SE. $249 is more than I’ve spent on most phones in my life. 

Still, I suppose I should be grateful they came out at all. The AirPower fiasco – Apple cancelling a product without ever shipping it, over a year after announcing it and less than a week after having it featured in the instructions for the new AirPods – is one of those things where you can say without fear of contradiction “this never happened when Steve was around.” Folks will point to the white iPhone, and that was indeed slow off the mark, but 1) it was a colorway rather than a whole new product and 2) eventually it shipped. We’re still waiting on the alleged new Mac Pro. The HomePod took forever to show up. The original AirPods were delayed past the holiday season, and the new ones were allegedly held for the AirPower mat which never showed up. Apple announces things now with nothing but a season, if that, as an anticipated ship date. A far cry from the days of “this is available for purchase today,” even if FCC filings and Chinese supply chain leaks make that sort of thing impossible now.

I was just about able to commit to $99 for a pair of wired Bluetooth earbuds. I don’t know if I can go over double that, especially when nothing seems to last more than a couple of years anymore. That’s bad arithmetic.

drip drip drip

After months and years of being absolutely airtight, the Mueller team is slowly starting to leak in response to the media’s credulity in accepting the Barr whitewash. They’re making it known that the report is not an exoneration, that it looks bad for Trump, and that – critically – they explicitly prepared executive summaries and abstracts that could be quickly or immediately made public and were not.

It’s not surprising. We all knew that Barr was there for one reason: stonewall the report. And while it might seem surprising that a credulous media bought the spin without question, why wouldn’t they? After all, “there was nothing to see here” is not only an exoneration of Trump, but of their own indolence in failing to pursue or report on this. If there was no collusion and no obstruction, then they can’t have been asleep at the switch, right? 

Which is why the clapback is coming now. And loudly. The press in this country has either been complicit or afraid of its own shadow, and at some point any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice. The first duty of journalism was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That includes comfortable journalists.

state of play: oh who knows anymore

So Theresa May has apparently finally caved and agreed to start meeting with Jeremy Corbyn to cobble together some kind of compromise that can reach 325 votes. This was inevitable, because there was never any hope of doing this deal purely within the Tory party, and the fact that it took her until four days past the original deadline to accept this is the final indictment of what a horrible job she did. But this is also a bigger deal inasmuch as it concedes the Tories are broken beyond repair. They rode the tiger for years and it finally ate them.

I still think we end up with no deal, just because it’s the same problem as when the GOP couldn’t pick an alternative to Trump: there were so many options and everybody thought their alternative could be the last one standing, so nobody would prune down the decision tree enough to get behind one alternative to the worst case. And then the worst case won by default. I see no reason that May, the Tories or the Brits are any brighter than Americans.

Oh yeah…the EU also has to go along with all of this nonsense, including a second extension. That ought to go over well.

state of play: 14 days to doomsday

So the third meaningful vote has failed. A bunch of Brexiteers caved and supported the deal for fear of the alternative, and a bunch more didn’t, and even though they only lost by 58, the government has now seen its Brexit plan go down to defeat for the third time in 2019 – and hopefully the last.

So now what? As our friend Rob Watson said, the branches of the decision tree are slowly being pruned away. None of the alternatives in the so-called “indicative votes” commanded a majority. The negotiated May agreement is in one MP’s words “deader than Monty Python’s parrot.” As it stands right now, we are on a glide path to a no-deal Brexit two weeks from today unless something can be formulated to give the Brits more time.

Here’s the problem now: someone is going to have to work across party lines to do a deal. I say this because Labour will never be able to claim a majority as long as Jeremy Corbyn is in charge, but the Tories will fall apart as soon as they split between hard Brexiteers and the rest of the party. The Conservatives, as in the US, have been riding the tiger so long that as soon as they try to climb off they will be eaten, and right now, they’re desperately trying to avoid that.

Which Theresa May could have avoided. She could have held off on Article 50, she could have reached out to Labour from the beginning, but she thought she could do it all in-house, and then called an election and got her ass kicked to the point where she could no longer do it in house. Once the DUP was the key to her majority, the choice became either a softer Brexit or the return of the Troubles. 

So what happens now? I still think it’s going to be a hard crash in two weeks with unforeseeable results. The alternative now is that the UK kicks the can way way way down the road, or else negotiates a cottony-soft Brexit with a custom union and soft border in Ireland. Which the UKIP types will howl “is no Brexit at all”, and then you probably wind up with Brexiteers deserting the Conservatives en masse for UKIP again, and then you have three parties (Labour, Tory, UKIP) and a couple of meaningful smaller ones (SNP and LibDem) and, very possibly, the beginnings of multiparty government on the order of Italy or Israel with similar consequences for stability and the future of British politics.

And more than ever, I suspect we wind up with Scotland going its own way and back into the EU, and with Ireland unified again in my lifetime – especially if remaining in the EU proves more lucrative than remaining tethered to a disintegrating UK in the wake of a hard Brexit. 

Meanwhile, this pretty much nails everything I’ve been saying all along.

Apple errrrrthang

Remarkably, for all the talk about Apple’s TV service announcement, we ended up with absolutely no material details. We don’t have a date, we don’t have a list of channels or services, we don’t have a price. All we have is the use of a + sign, which since Google gave it up has become the new hotness (ESPN+, Disney+, now Apple News+ and Apple TV+). In fact, we don’t really have a firm date or price on the Apple Arcade app (not that some of those games don’t look intriguing to me) nor on the forthcoming Apple Card (which if you’re willing to be tied to the Apple ecosystem looks like—)

Time out.

We really are getting into these silos where you have to pick your ecosystem for everything. Apple, Google, to a slightly lesser extent Amazon, to a considerably lesser extent Facebook and Microsoft: time was you would have an ISP and they get you online and provide your email and maybe even some webspace to go with your USENET feed, LOL. Nowadays you buy a phone, and with that phone comes the ecosystem of mail, calendaring, App Store, virtual digital assistant, GPS and mapping application, digital wallet, online document tools and photo storage, instant messaging/text application, streaming music service, digital bookstore, and now – television service AND revolving credit AND AND AND. Although to be fair, once you’re tied to all that other stuff, throwing in HBO and a no-annual-fee Mastercard is basically lagniappe. 


The Apple Card is a mildly attractive proposition, and would probably be even more so if I wasn’t already on three credit cards – one of which I would long since have cancelled except I’ve been a customer for 20 years and can’t do that to my credit rating. But for a college kid who wants no fees, no hidden traps, something smoothly integrated with the phone with easy-to-read billing and actionable information, this is probably a godsend. I know I would have been a lot better off with this at Vandy than with a handful of $500-limit cards that quickly got out of hand.

But it’s that weirdest of Apple events: something that leaves you walking away with nothing in hand but the promise of a bunch of amazing stuff coming Real Soon Now. And in some cases, not even that. Apple is obviously paying over the odds to try to jumpstart a Prestige TV experience and make up for lost time against the Hulus and Amazons and Netflixs of the world (and doing so just as Google appears to be giving up), and appears to be rebuilding the old Newsstand app as some sort of streaming all-you-can-eat solution for curated published print news (which we used to just call “news”), and even seems to be on the same subscription gaming service tip as Google, with their just-announced Stadia platform.

And this is bad. See, we seem to have decided that instead of actually owning anything, you will pay a monthly nut for everything in perpetuity. Cable bill? We’ve whopper-choppered that into separate fees for Amazon and Hulu and Netflix and HBO Now. Music? Apple Music or Spotify, and no more of the Jobsian “you bought it you own it, it’s yours” approach to music. Now we’re gonna pay every month for video games? I know I was an early advocate of the concept of “cash on the freakin’ barrelhead” as a business model for Silly Con Valley, but nobody wants to sell you anything any more. They want to rent it to you, forever.

Which makes sense. After all, as I decried long ago in this space, Silly Con Valley isn’t in the business of selling things that last. Your grandad’s old WWI revolver can still shoot someone dead. Your ’66 Mustang can run just fine. Your peacoat will last you the rest of your life. Close your eyes and think: what is the oldest electronic device you currently use? Phone? Fitness band? DVR? How long did you get out of your last digital watch? The shift to “services” is part and parcel of an ephemeral world, where you will pay and pay and pay for things you didn’t think you could get a monthly bill for.

Gary Shteyngart said it, and William Gibson co-signed it, and I concur: “If only my books came with ejection seats.”

Mueller time

I think the Mueller report was always doomed to be a letdown, because it was an artifact of a different time: an investigative report produced by a respected arbiter which would then be turned over to proper legal channels for appropriate action. This might have worked years ago, but it was never going to function under a 21st century GOP administration, because that sort of process relies on a system that respects process and has room for shame and consequences. That’s not what we have right now.

William Barr – who was hired to do just this, put a “respectable” face on a whitewashed stonewalling – has fulfilled his mandate: filter things in such a way that “exoneration” becomes the cat-toy the press uncritically bats around. Nancy Pelosi knew this, which is why she’s been working to downplay the notion of impeachment for weeks now. She knew damn well that there would never be 67 votes in the Senate, at which point, you do yourself more harm than good. There’s still plenty to investigate, and the report will provide a fine jumping-off point for House hearings on all manner of topics (as well as ones that have been back-burnered ahead of the report), and that will be fine.

Because we were never going to be let off the hook for this. There’s no get out of election free card. There’s no undo option. The only way we are going to end this is at the ballot box, by a big enough margin that it can’t be bent or played off or rigged. Infinity Stones aren’t real, there’s no going back through the quantum realm, we have to ride this turd all the way to the ground and hope we survive the splatter.

second impressions

The Charge 3 has one minor flaw: it’s a little too secure. By which I mean I keep having to re-enter the PIN to enable Fitbit Pay more often than I thought I would. Other than that, it seems to be getting the job done in multiple ways. I do get notifications on the arm almost all the time – I think it might have dropped one or two, but so did the Apple Watch, honestly, and it’s a hell of a lot better than what I was getting from the Alta. The NFC payment has actually worked most places (although because of Lent I haven’t tried it on vending machines, which is where it was usually an attractive nuisance). The breathing exercise only has settings for 2 and for 5 minutes, but that seems to be fine, and in fact the efficacy of the vibrating alarm is such that I now have alarms set for breathing exercises morning and night. 

And best of all, I don’t have to plug it in every night or take it off to shower. Although I will take it off to shower if I’m already over my 10,000 steps for the day so I can top it up, and as a result I haven’t even got close to running out of juice yet. And that is a singular accomplishment.

In a lot of ways, in fact, this feels like the final form of the Pebble that I first bought this time four years ago. The Pebble was a bit experimental (and in a lot of ways, was meant to be the methadone to keep me off the Apple Watch until my heart rate got out of control during the stress-meltdown of 2015), and like the Apple Watch was still bumping around the question of what is a smart watch for? The Charge 3 has refined that down to the same thing as everyone else: notifications and fitness tracking, and maybe payments. Anything fancier than that is right out – hell, even the Apple Watch’s music controls are superfluous to requirement if you can just hit up Siri through the headphones–

Hold up.

The new AirPods dropped today, same price as the old ones, with the option to have wireless charging in the case (or to just buy a wireless charging case to use with your old ones). The biggest difference in the new ones, aside from a new chipset and slightly better battery life? Is the “Hey Siri” function always on. Which is big. Because now you don’t have to take your phone out of your pocket. You could have one bud in and say “Hey Siri” and there is your virtual assistant ready to skip ahead or play a different playlist or give you directions, possibly. That is another huge step toward the JARVIS future.

I’m tempted by the AirPods anyway. I know there’s still something to worry about with all the Bluetooth through your dome piece, and I’m not insensitive to that, but there is a utility to the AirPods that I don’t have with any other wireless headphones I’ve ever owned, and it is this: the thing will charge in its case in your pocket. Which is to say, if I walk out the door in the morning, I know I would be good until I got home at night. I can take one out, top it up in 15 minutes, switch ears, top the other one up, and go all the way through – whereas with my BeatsX, I know if I don’t juice them up around 2 PM, they won’t go until bedtime, which is no small consideration if you think you’re going to be taking the train up to the SF Giants on a semi-regular basis this year.

My only concern is I don’t know for sure if the AirPods are going to fit my ears and stay there comfortably. It’s not a small ask, and it’s a big fail if you lay down $160 for something that doesn’t fit. And I like how low-key the BeatsX are, except the battery life is starting to suffer. But small practical steps toward a more wireless future…if anything happens to the BeatsX, I know what the first option is going to be, cashflow willing.

But in the meantime, the Charge 3 has almost everything I need and absolutely nothing I don’t, for half the price and five times the battery life of my old Apple Watch. That’s a good get.

state of play: 9 days to doomsday

So apparently the EU has had enough to know they have had enough. They will not countenance a delay that goes past May 29; any longer than that and Britain must elect European Parliament members and then you have the spectacle of Britain as a participating member while still negotiating their exit, a circumstance which opens the door for all kinds of shenanigans.

My old mate Rob Watson (who interviewed me on a street corner in Georgetown 17 years ago when we both had hair) has said that there are three options for Parliament: 1) pass the May Deal, which has been rejected twice and cannot be brought up again in this parliament without material changes, 2) revoke Article 50 and call the whole thing off, or 3) crash out on the 29th with no deal. He also cheekily mentions option 4: “try to think of alternative to 1-3”. Which mode of wishful thinking has really been at the heart of Brexit all along: the idea that somehow Britain can build a wall and the EU will pay for it and pay more to go through it.

Because no one knew what Brexit meant. Formulations like “Brexit means Brexit” only show the caliber of glib indifference that has driven this whole process. A majority of MPs knows this is a bad idea with worse consequences, and they are paid to know better, but Theresa May cannot stand up to the know-nothings in her own party. Neither could David Cameron, who scheduled the referendum for fear of defections to UKIP. The Tories made the same mistake the GOP made in the US: they countenanced ignorance as a pillar of support and are now paying the price. The honorable thing to do would be to do a deal cross-party, call it off with Article 50 altogether, and call an election with the notion that the parties will seek a mandate for what is to be done. Or at the very least, to arrange the simpler steps of a Norway-esque membership of the EEA and customs union and pass it with Labour votes and then fall on the sword.

Not that Jeremy Corbin has covered himself in glory. He could probably get the general election he wants by doing that Norway-Lite deal with his own MPs and waiting for the implosion across the aisle, but the general election is the priority and is a good example why the Democrats need to steer well clear of Bernie Sanders this time out. No one in the Cabinet, government or shadow, has been willing to de-prioritize the political requirements long enough to save the country, and it is for this reason that I am more convinced than ever that a no-deal Brexit on March 29 will be the final outcome. 

Theresa May doesn’t have a plan beyond finding a way to have Parliament keep voting on her deal over and over and over until it passes. There weren’t enough votes, so she pulled it, then she put it through anyway and got clobbered, and then she made some facile changes to the deal and got clobbered again, and now in all likelihood intended to use the alternative of no deal at all to blackmail Parliament into passing the deal at the eleventh hour – until John Bercow stood up for Parliament and refused her a second (or third, or arguably fourth) bite at the same apple. 

The votes are there for a soft Brexit. They were there a year ago. This could have been a piece of piss, but Theresa May had to do this all within her own party and thought she could bring her nutters around rather than stand up to them. Which just goes to show she didn’t look across the Atlantic at all.