flashback part 117 of n: thirty years and climbing

I found out on the evening of February 28, 1994 that I had been accepted at Vanderbilt for grad school – complete with a prestigious fellowship with more money associated than any other offer I’d had. The next day I ditched all classes, got in my car and drove to Nashville to ram-raid the bookstore and have lunch at Old Spaghetti Factory. And at that point, I was basically done with undergrad in my mind except to play out the string.

For thirty years, I’ve said that attending BSC was the biggest mistake of my life. I stand by that. But only slightly less a mistake was the misapprehension that somehow, graduate school would launder my undergrad experience – that it could actually be what I’d been told college would be from the time I was five years old, the place where I could pursue my interests and feel belonging and be self-actualized as a person. Grad school can be many things, but a do-over on college is absolutely not one of them, as I learned to my cost.

But that was in the future. To me, it felt like a second chance, like vindication, like being received at last. If I’d had the sense God gave a golf ball, I would have taken the opportunity for a completely fresh start and a total do-over, but I didn’t. I was going away for school to a new city with different interstates and different TV and radio stations, but I was staying together with a girlfriend who was already showing signs of serious mental instability. Which might be why I stayed with her, because heaven knows BSC was not great for my mental health, and I thought I owed her that much. So it goes.

But all those regrets and recriminations were also in the future. What I had instead was a quiet spring, full of humid orange sunsets through fresh green leaves and leisurely drives in my barely-year-old Saturn. Classes were more an afterthought than ever. Vampire’s hours were in effect. A handful of people would go to the grocery store at midnight for ice cream. Once, we drove up to Jasper to the 24-hour Walmart just because it was there and we needed something to do. And as graduation approached, I was increasingly gripped with regret – that I’d never actually pursued starting that college bowl team, that I’d spent three years with my first girlfriend instead of trying to build a life of my own, that there hadn’t been any evenings out on the dorm quad patio hanging out with friends. And as I was walking back to my room alone on that last night before graduation, I blurted out to the night “there’s so much I still haven’t done.”

That, honestly, is when it began. That was the seed for three decades of angst and despair and wishing for a better past and endless hours and days and years of trying to find a way to make the pebbles have been worth counting. And yet, the next day, when I walked into Boutwell Auditorium to the soaring organ strains of “Pomp & Circumstance” and saw the blue and pink lights behind the college seal on stage, it was with a tremendous sense of mission accomplished. The job was done. Now I could do what I want with my life. And maybe if I’d cut all the ties then and moved on completely, that feeling would have stayed…but that took another three years, by which point I was done forever with Birmingham. Or so I thought.

It was in 2006 when I finally cut ties for good, after the David Pollick fiasco which I correctly predicted would come to no good end. A growing sports program, one in Division I which had won a Big South men’s basketball title and sent a baseball team to the NCAAs to beat an SEC team, was axed in favor of Division III because it was “unaffordable” – then they added the most expensive and problematic sport a school can play and built an on-campus stadium for it and then dug a lake for no apparent reason and built an all new fraternity row. They couldn’t have given me a bigger middle finger if they’d come to my house and shat in the driver’s seat of that old Saturn. And thus did BSC finally disappear down the black hole, the same as everything in my life before 1998 (and soon, it seemed, everything before 2007).

I started to get things back. I exhumed Vanderbilt and turned it into most of my personality for the better part of a decade and a half, mostly as a way of coping with being squeezed between Stanford and Berkeley. I recovered my high school, thanks to Facebook, at least until Facebook turned to shit. But there was never any attempt to go fishing for the remains of my time on the Hilltop, because there wasn’t anything to fish for. No friends. No connection. Nothing from those four years I wanted to relive or remember that hadn’t been done more effectively in the 21st century in Arlington or California. And honestly, it was not difficult to draw a line from 1990 to 1997 that would deposit me on the steps of National Geographic after seven years of a life lived on offense rather than defense, where I’d actually had the experience I had been told since kindergarten would allow me to be myself and thrive and be validated as a human being.

But in kicking BSC down the well, I set myself up. Once I had only Vanderbilt as a touchstone, a reset, I was forcing myself to start from a higher bar. It was as if I’d hit a double, stolen third, then decided I was born on third base and kicked myself for never making it home. Thirty years on, sat in the courtyard of U Fleku where I’d been in 1992 and enjoying the dark beer instead of staring at it in dread and intimidation, I realized just how far I’d come. That kid who still had so much left to do had no idea how much, and how far. Four continents, a half dozen more countries, National Geographic, Apple, marriage, California, home ownership, electric vehicle ownership, the Internet in my pocket. From this end of three decades, it’s a lot easier to feel like it all came good eventually, even if it took longer and went rockier than it could have.

I’m not going to say “it was all worth it,” because it really wasn’t. Just because you can walk on the leg you broke once doesn’t mean it was never broken. There were lessons I would have been just as happy not to learn, especially since I didn’t seem to learn them until I was flat on my face. But I made the best of it. I learned I could write a little bit – the basketball team never included the campus paper in their annual media scrapbook before I became sports editor. I learned my way around computing a little, enough to know I would really rather have a Mac, and we know how that turned out. I clung to Chapel at Six, which thirty years later would be the first step toward realizing I was actually Episcopalian. And I learned to value those times when you do get to hang out with other people and have a good time, and conversely, to value those times you have to yourself with no obligations. And if you plug BSC back into the gap between RLC and Vanderbilt, suddenly the trajectory looks a lot more impressive, and I have a complete 22 years in and around Birmingham – a place I will claim now in a way I didn’t have time to wait for then.

And the rumblings are that Alabama A&M – the historically Black land grant college that so many of my brother’s teammates attended – is offering $52 million to buy the campus, retain much of the faculty and staff, and open a Birmingham campus. A public HBCU in a residential college setting in a city defined by its Black history. And if that’s the fate of my undergraduate alma mater, I will be thrilled, because that would mean it was reincarnated as a place that genuinely fits its city, fills the needs of its people, and engenders pride in one of its forsaken sons.

Maybe it conquered me once, but at the end, I prevailed. Maybe that’s what I did eventually win in the end.

the Man

It’s weird not to have your phone. My beloved 13 mini is getting a badly-needed battery replacement, and hopefully the next one won’t be as urgent because Bluesky has fixed their app to cut down on power drain, but for a window of two hours during a workday I am away from home with no phone. It feels like time has rolled back about 20 years, as I wander around with a backpack looking for sufficient free wifi to get online and work. No podcasting, no streaming, just bouncing back and forth between windows and trying to stay in the shade.

Apple ignited the personal computing revolution twice: once with the Apple II, and once with the iPhone. That’s what caused cyberspace to evert; now we don’t go online, online is all around us. I have everything I need for work on my laptop, other than 2FA. I have everything I need for personal use, other than a phone number, on my iPad. But only my iPhone can cover both. The phone has become an extension of my brain, the appendage I use to see into the parallel universe around me. It is the reason I can walk off in a random direction in a foreign city I’ve never visited without hesitation or concern. It is the reason I can stay stretched out in bed until an hour into the workday without missing a beat on actually doing my job. It’s where most of my social life is. Apple’s old PowerBook advertising slugline is far more appropriate for their most successful product: what’s on your iPhone is you.

And this is why that iPad ad is worrying: absolutely tone-deaf given the present situation of tech. Made in-house where nobody thought to say “hang on a minute” first. Symptomatic of a company that in the last twenty-seven years has gone from the brink of extinction to the richest company in tech, the prestige brand in hardware, and ironically the only company at the forefront of technology whose profit stems from goods and services rather than advertising and data mining…other than Microsoft. And lo and behold, here comes the DoJ to break up a monopoly, and irrespective of the merits of the case, the fact remains: Apple has become The Man.

But that’s because technology has become The Man. The Silicon Valley ethos was allegedly a reaction against the mainframe IBM do not fold bend spindle or mutilate computing culture. But at some point, that got completely swamped by the get rich quick ethos pouring out of Sand Hill Road and Stanford and washing along a tide of the kind of people who would have been junk bond traders from Wharton rather than CS50 dropouts in Shallow Alto if it hadn’t been for the 2008 financial crisis. And just like then, the money decided it must be the brains, and now we have what we have now: a cult of VC awash in ayahuasca, eugenics, freshman-dorm-pothead philosophy and the rock-solid belief that they are the highest caste stood on the edge of paradise if only their lessers would have the decency to submit.

Tim Cook isn’t a bad guy, Auburn and Duke affiliations notwithstanding, but he is a logistics guy. He makes the trains run on time. Under Tim, you know what’s coming: there’s going to be a new iPhone announced on the second Tuesday of September every year and it will be in stores on the third Friday of September, and a new upgrade version of iOS will be released on the third Wednesday of every September not because it’s ready, but because the new phone drops in two days. The process is a fine tuned machine, the envy of the industry. But he outsourced taste to Jony Ive, and as a result, everything crept up to become ever thinner, ever more expensive, ever an expression of design rather than design for life. Pace William Gibson, being able to tell that something was designed is a sign it wasn’t designed well, and one decision after another – USB-C only for everything on the Mac, flat design on iOS with a minimum of visual cues, a smaller battery in the phone to make way for risible 3DTouch technology and then the removal of the headphone jack to get the battery back up to snuff – suggests that actual utility was trumped for a decade by Jony Ive’s vision.

Now the wolves are at the door. The Vision Pro is the first AR headset worth criticizing, but it’s also $3500 and selling like hemorrhoid cream. The creative community that sustained Apple through its darkest years is genuinely pissed off and not without reason. And the Silly Con Valley fixation on AI as the new blockchain, the new Bitcoin, the new get rich quick scheme that doesn’t require actually making anything, means that now Apple has to either keep up with producing bullshit as a service or craft a meaningful story as to why their vision for machine learning is actually better and more sensible and safer and reliable. And there are rumblings that like so many head coaches in the age of NIL, Tim Cook is looking at the changed landscape and thinking “this would be a lot easier if it were someone else’s problem,” and at that point, who knows. It’s not hard to see a new Amelio or Spindler running the company into the ground – after all, their dominance is largely American; the rest of the world runs on Android and WhatsApp. I could get by without Apple on a personal level – it would be less elegant, more of a pain in the ass, and my whole life would be constantly filleted for advertising and training large language models, but I could get by. (The Google Pixel 8A is actually a very attractive device that should be lighting a fire under Apple in the $500 space, but who even knows if they want to sell a phone for less than four figures any more.) But my entire professional livelihood for that entire 27 years has relied on the Mac and other Apple goods, and I have probably fifteen years before I can retire.

I really need Cupertino not to fuck this up.

travelogue part 4

I went down to the local at 2:30 this afternoon, just in time for happy hour. A pint of robust porter for $7, cheesy bread, and a pleasant hour and a half of just sitting around in the neighborhood bar and grill. Assorted folk on the rail, a couple of tennis moms at a bar table, a gang of high school bros congregating around fries in a booth. It felt like the neighborhood spot, the place where folks come for everything. It doesn’t hurt that it shares a parking lot with a Starbucks and a grocery store, all within walking distance.

And then, two miles away and easily bikeable, is the actual downtown. Alternately in another direction two miles away is the actual downtown of the next town over. There is a cozy village here, as materially accessible as Shepherd Market is from the Park Lane. And if I’m willing to hop a Lyft, there’s the Duke. Or Trials. Or O’Flaherty’s and Dr Funk, the latter of which is the closest thing to Mr Fogg’s without going up to the city.

Walkable is a big part of it. I need to be walking more. I need to be going to the gym again, doing something to get the kind of exercise I did on this trip. But I also need to embrace the cheeky pint. Yes, bird never flew on one wing, but instead of depending on an afternoon or evening, I need to be willing to pop out for an hour for just the one, the way I would (and did) in London or Amsterdam or elsewhere. And if I’m going to do that, then I need to be downtown more, availing myself of the no less than four perfectly good options for “just the one.”

I have my stuff. I have all the stuff I could need. I have books, podcasts, fresh earbuds at last. I even have some stuff I didn’t have after the 2022 trip, like an indoor pub night space at home and a local church community to connect with other people. The lesson from this trip is that until they run a light rail down Foothill Expressway or install a canal next to the back patio at Fibbar Magee’s, I have all the pieces I need to live locally the way I want to in Europe. The trick is just to do it. If a few bucks is the price of perfecting the illusion, find someplace else to skimp and spend that few bucks.

Break out the lightweight blazers, the cotton caps, and put the socks back in a drawer until November. Spring has sprung.

travelogue part 3

Dublin and Amsterdam had more in common than you think. Both acutely aware of their history, both served by trams down the middle of main thoroughfares, both dominated by an iconic beer brand in their taverns and restaurants, both places where you could get by entirely in English without a bit of bother, and – on this trip at least – both gray and rainy almost the entire time bar one morning and early afternoon of pleasant sun without being too hot.

But Amsterdam, for all the novelty of the canals and the road system they create where pedestrians, bicycles and tiny speck city cars can occupy the same space, felt to me like English-speaking Paris. It came off as a bit smug, a bit spiky, a bit “oh it’s you,” and this was not helped by the preposterous light rail system where you are obliged to tag on AND off while also entering and exiting the car through different doors. More than once the doors were slammed on us before we could get out of the train and in one case they actually pulled out while we were still trying to disembark, and we had to make our way back on foot.

And the other thing that was hard to square was that you got that “oh…Americans” that almost everyone gives you in Europe (there’s a reason I always identify myself as Californian), but Amsterdam – for all the pot and prostitution – is the country that gave us colonial capitalism, chattel slavery, the Orange Order in Ulster and Boers in South Africa. It was tough not to have a snarl of “we learned it from you.”

Ireland…well, I’ve mentioned before Pete Brown’s like about how most countries have a motto like “God and my right” or “Get off my land” while Ireland’s is “a hundred thousand welcomes” and it certainly felt that way. The person behind the counter will give you what you need, whether it’s a pharmacist sizing you up for decongestant and cough suppressant or a barman offering you a cup of coffee to space out those pints. Every time I’m in Ireland, all I can think is how human the scale of life is – I know my cousin and I joke about the Irish retirement plan, but whether it’s Dublin (larger than San Jose) or Galway (the size of Mountain View) or Ballyferriter (the size of a peanut butter sandwich), every Irish place feels like somewhere I could be comfortable and not feel like the world around me is going to Hell. Which is probably why I need to spend two and a half weeks living in Dublin so I can see the downsides and have some perspective, or at least find some more political podcasts to see what’s wrong there.

The other thing that sticks out to me from this trip is the specialization. There were drugstores, but they weren’t all purpose like a CVS or Walgreens, they were strictly selling medical stuff. There weren’t any big box stores, just clothing stores or electronics stores or grocery stores. It felt like a throwback to the main-street pharmacy of my small town childhood, which coupled with everyone’s personable nature…well, it’s hard to explain, but it feels like what Alabama could have been like if the state had made better choices for the last hundred years or so.

So that’s pretty much the story. The obvious question now: lessons learned? Things to bring back? Of which.

travelogue part 2

The last time I saw Prague was in January 1992, only a little over 2 years past the Velvet Revolution. I was 19 years old, able to get by with barely-passable German far more easily than English, and in my memory the 700 year old beer hall was serving a giant liter mug of midnight-black beer with a head you could set a quarter on and too strong to contemplate.

When the lady behind the counter at the hotel asked us if we’d visited Prague before and I said “32 years ago,” she got a look I couldn’t place and then said “well…welcome to the new Prague.” Which, I get it – today Prague is the Nashville of Central Europe, the home of wild drunken stag nights, a place where the car service from the airport includes “lap dancers” on a list of offered amenities, a reasonably-priced party town for the young and wild-spirited, very much in the spirit of its Belle Epoque past as the spiritual capital of Bohemia.

Prague feels European. By which I mean to say, you know you are not in an English-speaking or American-influenced country. The fact that they don’t use the Euro adds to this; converting koruna to dollars and back took me most of the week to figure out (although I’m not going to lie, beers for $4 or less is magical). Forty-some years of Communism didn’t bother taking down the art nouveau architecture, with the result that it feels like a less expensive and more accessible Paris. After a couple of days in the nice hotel, which I ruined with the worst bout of food poisoning in my life (never eat “shrimp quesadilla” in a landlocked country), we wound up in the Flora neighborhood, and thus began one of the stranger weeks of my life.

It’s a weird dynamic to wake up, eat breakfast (something I only seem to do on vacation), kiss my wife goodbye as she heads for the office, and then be left to my own devices to kill time from around 9 to around 4. I was working remotely, on the sly, and 4 to midnight approximated 7 to 3 in California, which was enough to fake out the company and play it off as though i were still in the front room of my own house. So I had six or seven hours to kill with random perambulations, after which I had to come back to the room and go to work – after which I had to lie down and try to fall asleep, which proved impossible. I don’t think I fell asleep before 2 AM any day i was working, because you really do need time to let your mind wind down.

The other quirky thing is that when you wake up on Central European time, you have a bunch of stuff to get through on your phone from the day before – and then you basically have five or six hours of radio silence before the East Coast wakes up. For someone who refreshes his phone more or less constantly all day, this was unsettling. Everyone I knew was asleep or at work themselves and I was left to my own devices – a sense that hit me in Budapest in 1992 when I woke up at 2 AM all alone in the Hotel Ifjusag. But three decades on, I had resources I didn’t have back then – an iPhone, Internet access, and a much better sense of urban exploration.

So I set off, on foot, secure in the knowledge that Apple Maps could get me back where I needed to go and my transit pass on the phone could be my magic carpet for trams and buses and metro alike. I sought out that 700 year old beer hall, which turned out to be a little over 500 years old, and the giant intimidating pitch black beer turned out to be a half liter of brown lager with a typically Czech head and only 4.7% ABV, and it was delicious. I drank Pilsner at the first bar that ever served it, and while I will never be a Pilsner drinker, I get how it managed to conquer the world. I took a tram up past Prague Castle and found myself in the tiny neighborhood of Novy Svet, with its winding medieval cobbled streets and a coffee shop a step down into a centuries-old building. And I walked through Flora, a pleasantly quiet mostly residential stretch that nonetheless had bars and trams and plaques commemorating resistance fighters in 1945.

It was quiet. It was pleasant. It was far from the worst place to be an expat working remotely for a company back in the US. And in a lot of ways, it felt more normal – the Atrium Flora mall across from the hotel was like a mall from days gone by, with a cleaners and a McDonalds and clothing stores and a newsstand and a tobacconist and a toy shop. Not like the “everything is geared toward the Chinese luxury tourist” malls in the Bay. It felt like a place I could spend a lot of time and be all right, language barrier notwithstanding.

And this is crucial: I wore a BSC hat out in public, willingly, for the first time in at least 18 years. Because I was closing the loop. I was there for the kid who didn’t know that in three decades, his biweekly take-home would be more than what it cost to send him on that trip back then. For the kid who didn’t know anyone, who felt as completely lost in Birmingham as in Bratislava, who was too callow and too Baptist and too scared to know his way around a cheeky half. I always reply to anyone who says “it gets better” with “when and how”, but if it actually does, sometimes you have to take a moment and acknowledge it.

Of which.

travelogue part 1

It was in a random neighborhood in Denver last October where the thought first occurred to me: brick is what I key on. There’s precious little brick left in the Bay Area, thanks to 1906 and 1989 and the unsuitability of unreinforced masonry as building material in earthquake country. But the neighborhood of early-20th century low brick buildings of two or three stories reminded me of Asheville, or of the bits of the Southside of Birmingham that first tipped my notice back in 1985. And then a walk through the France section of EPCOT in November confirmed it.

The neighborhood as urban village: that’s the thing I always seem to imagine. The confluence of old brick buildings, some centuries old, the presence of canals from an era before rail, the presence of streetcars or trams for anything that’s too far to do on foot.

The apotheosis of this, of course, is Shepherd Market. A tiny square with a couple of side streets in and out and a couple more pedestrian passageways. Inside: restaurants, barber shops, a couple of corner shops with soda and magazines and knockoff phone chargers, no fewer than four pubs, a tobacconist, a pharmacy, a hardware store. Apartments over almost all of them, many associated with centuries of practitioners of the oldest profession until only a couple of decades ago.

We’ve stayed at the Park Lane four times now – five if you count the one-night stopover at the end of the trip – but I only realized Shepherd Market was there at the end of a previous trip. These last two times, it has been where I get my haircut and straight razor shave, where I grab my first pint of the trip at Ye Grapes, where I can be assured of grabbing a couple bottles of Coke Zero to take back to a hotel that seems to have a deal with Pepsi in every country. It is a place of imagination: that perfect other realm where there is no job, no American politics, nothing to think about other than where shall we go today and what do we feel like doing.

In William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, Cayce Pollard thinks of London as “mirror world” – different plugs for different electricity, different light switches, different weight to the coins and different denominations. I feel that, big-time. A world where a pint of beer is a hefty and generous measure, but where as likely as not it’s barely 4% alcohol by volume. A place where fountain soda is basically unobtainable other than at American fast food chains, and God help you if you want a portion larger than a half liter even there. A place where coffee means espresso and is served in a thimble, a place where ice in a beverage is one piece at best the size of a Monopoly die. A place where I eat more vegetarian food in a week than I do the rest of the year in America, because it’s plentiful and better. A place where the wheat doesn’t put my wife’s immune system on monkey tilt. A place where instead of dealing with rideshare apps and their casual exploitation of distributed servantry, you put your hand up to hail the best cabs in the world – or climb to the top of a double-decker bus and enjoy the view from the front.

And yet, even as London is our own personal Disneyland, our friends there are contemplating getting out. Because just as Austin and Nashville and Birmingham can’t escape Texas or Tennessee or Alabama, London is trapped in England, in Brexitland, in a tabloid press culture and a non-urban population incapable of relinquishing imperial pretensions, A city that was the financial capital of the planet and the greatest cultural melting pot of our time until voters outside the M25 decided that they could vote themselves a British moon on a British stick. I know about all of this, thanks to BBC Sounds and Londonist and the sardonic remarks on BritBox panel shows, but when I’m in London it feels like something that never touches me, like what it must be like for people who don’t know or care or think about politics. I can just be. (Especially since for all its own bigotries, English conservatism doesn’t seem particularly hell-bent on ending abortion access or burning books. Their attitudes toward trans people are desperate, but that’s another post.)

London is what I think of when I think of getting away now. The Palm Court of the Park Lane, indie-chill music overhead and a glass of Auchentoshen on one big rock to hand, memories of our honeymoon or the time we just decided to live in London for three weeks and pretend we were wealthy and retired. Winding cobbled streets, a cheeky half of cask ale literally around almost every corner, the entire Mr Fogg’s chain of delightfully immersive cocktail parlors. A mirror world. Work doesn’t matter, politics doesn’t matter, we have no obligation but to enjoy ourselves and take lots of pictures. Sit in the club room with a fizzy clear lemonade (and maybe just the least splash of cognac on top) and use a big piece of hotel stationery and my favorite blue-black pen to write out what we want to see tomorrow.

But there was more to this trip than London. Of which.

it is finished

Birmingham-Southern College is shutting down.

I don’t know how to feel about this.

I stand by my previous remarks: BSC was the biggest mistake of my life. Fortunately, years of drugs and therapy have helped me understand how I made that mistake, and how much of it was not of my doing, and how much harm I did myself from years of trying to go back and keep fixing that mistake and the others that spiraled out from it. And I suppose thirty years after graduation, it’s far enough in the past that I’ve learned to walk around the broken step that leads to the black hole.

It’s hard not to feel weird about seeing a big chunk of your past detach itself, like a calving glacier, and disappear beneath the waves. The only people I can really talk about this with are one or two folks on Bluesky, people whose government names I don’t even know. When I left BSC, it was with essentially no friends but my psychotic girlfriend, and when she finally cost me my Vanderbilt career – or caused me to cost myself said career – I was left with a void that I spent literal decades trying to either fill with meaning or retcon into something else. At some level, I think I hoped that somehow BSC would do what Birmingham accomplished, and evolve into a place I would again be happy to claim and be associated with. I think they could have, and they were on the right track, but they had too far to come and started far too late to make it.

After hearing the news, I found myself out in the shed digging for some stuff I’d boxed up. A sweatshirt. A pennant. The ubiquitous opaque container. A few caps. The pewter engraved flask I bought myself because I didn’t have anyone else to buy it for me. The football jersey I had made for myself at a point when transitioning straight to Division III with football would have been a fun and interesting swerve and not a blindsiding comedown based on a fraudulent vision. And the class ring – not the bespoke design that was yet another dose of Vanderbilt envy, but the stadium-top 90s style with its degree that I never used adorning one shank. Except I suppose I did use it to get into Vanderbilt, do the resume laundering and collect an MA that would give me a leg up at NGS and Apple.

I mean, the things I was taught at BSC pale next to what I learned, and how I fell into a life lived on defense rather than offense, and how that manifested itself for a quarter century. And when I disavowed it in 2006, I felt none the worse for disclaiming it. And at some primal Celtic level, I am grimly satisfied that bad conduct has had consequences, even thought a lot of people are going to suffer as a result. I hope Miles can move in, or UAB can take the opportunity to establish a presence and a residential college, or something at least happens to preserve Yeilding Chapel and the planetarium.

The fight song didn’t have words, the alma mater was a direct word for word lift of Vanderbilt’s, and the only campuswide traditions were getting thrown in the fountain by your friends and having smoke blown up your ass by everyone in authority, but it was a thing that happened to me for four years and now it’s not there anymore, and will not have an opportunity for redemption.

So it goes.

without a light

If there were any doubt that Merrick Garland is a mediocre hack with banana pudding between his ears, I don’t know why, given the desultory reluctance to do anything about the events of the January 6 attack on Congress. But the announcement of an antitrust suit against Apple yesterday should have dispelled any questions.

There are plainly things that Apple could be dinged for. Mostly because they already have, by an EU determined to take a chunk out of the hide of American tech companies. And the things they have been dinged for are illuminating, as are the things they haven’t. The EU didn’t view Messages as an issue, because unlike the US with its fixation on “green bubbles”, literally everyone in Europe is on WhatsApp – which is in the App Store. They said nothing about “super apps”, because WhatsApp is a product of China’s authoritarian marketplace and nothing anyone in Europe uses any more than they do in the United States. They did say a lot about the App Store – and Apple is already deploying the framework for additional App Store options to be run by third parties. Whether that works has yet to be seen, but it’s in progress.

The problem with the DOJ suit is that it seems to have been whipped up three years ago by someone without any experience of tech, and not touched since. “Green bubbles,” about which some people are entirely too much in their feelings, are a product of carriers sticking with SMS and MMS to the point Apple felt the need to build their own superior solution (as did Facebook, twice, and as did Google, more times than anyone can remember, and as did Signal, which is the one you should be using). Things like the Amazon Fire Phone failed not because of anything Apple did, but because it was shit on toast.

In the macOS settings, you have three options for apps: install from the App Store only, install only from the App Store or from verified developers, or install anything from anyone. Option one is what the iPhone has now, option two is what Apple is moving to for iOS in Europe, and option three – which is not the default in Android at all, for what it’s worth – is asking for Ed Earl Brown to fling down his phone with the same disgust as his virus-riddled HP Pavilion running WinXP. I suspect that implementation of something similar in iOS – choose from these three levels of security and buy the ticket, take the ride – is probably inevitable and will disembowel a huge chunk of this case, as will the RCS implementation in iOS 18.

It seems like most of the DOJ’s case is based on vibes, like suing Apple because they should have built Messages for Android or because super apps should be a thing or because CarPlay shouldn’t be superior to the typical car infotainment system. It’s a piss poor case, honestly, but that means nothing with the right forum-shopping and a good jury draw. But the real dagger is that this case seems to revolve far more around the harm to Spotify or to Epic than any harm to the end-user, and the fact that this is rhetorical flagship case – rather than going after Google or Facebook – uncomfortably suggests that Puddin’head Garland is far more worried about the well being of companies than people. Which makes it just as well he didn’t wind up on the Supreme Court, really. Shame Doug Jones couldn’t also have wound up at the DOJ instead.

let’s get ready to rumble

I skipped the State of the Union for what feels like the 26th consecutive year, and am no worse off for having done so. To all accounts, though, Uncle Joe delivered the goods in a setting where everyone was primed to expect Weekend At Biden’s. Followed by a former Machine SGA president from the University of Alabama delivering the breathy baby voice horror stories of any Sunday night Baptist service. Between the two, we have begun the 2024 campaign in earnest: the first collision between reality and Cable News Make Believe, with democracy itself at stake.

Because there’s no hiding it anymore. No pretending there’s some kind of miracle get out of rematch free card, no matter how much CNN and the New York Times want to wish it into existence. Donald Trump will be representing the GOP for the third straight election in a world where his record of venality and incompetence has been festooned with multiple criminal charges in three separate jurisdictions, half a billion dollars in civil liability, and four more years of delusion and conspiracy theory that looks far more like dementia and decompensation than anything Biden has ever exhibited. And in most polls, he’s running neck and neck with the President.

And to make matters worse, the rigged judiciary is breaking things his way – the case that should be the end of him is in limbo with a judge he himself appointed, somehow, and he is being transparently protected, and the system shrugs. But then, when it took Merrick Garland two years for his pudding brain to cough up “maybe we should be investigating a a coup attempt,” it’s hardly surprising.

For some reason, we decided that investigating and prosecuting someone who was running for office was inherently a political act, without considering that in doing so, we basically grant criminal immunity to anyone running for office. And the instant someone worries about the implications for potential political violence, the terrorists have won. The most successful practitioners of terrorism in America have always, always been the racist right, from the Klan to the Birmingham bombers to Tim McVeigh to the January 6 insurrectionists. Yet we cannot devote one percent of the energy of post-September 11 to pushing back against a coup attempt by an anti-democratic mob.

I don’t know. Every Democratic win seems to just make the Enemy more intractable and the political press more supine. Things that would have been career-ending twenty years ago are blithely ignored now. Consequences are for people who aren’t rich or white enough. And even if Biden clocked 40 states and 370 electoral votes and 55% of the popular vote, does anyone think for a second that Republicans would shake their heads and say “well we got beat” rather than start back in on denying reality and threatening lives if they don’t get what they want?

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr, age 81…you have less than eight months to save the world. And even then, it still won’t be saved for good.

a fugitive looks at fifty-two

I know how Wile E. Coyote felt.

As long as you keep running and don’t look down, you won’t fall. As soon as you consider your circumstances, you’re cooked. On a day when the Supreme Court aided and abetted the Trump scheme to kick the can past Election Day at the same time New York refused to indulge his “appeal bond on layaway” scheme, it’s difficult not to consider that we are hanging by a thread in so many ways. If you state it factually, “a bad president who lost fair and square and attempted to use violence and fraud to remain in power is attempting to get re-elected to avoid the consequences of his actions, and could win” is facially insane. And yet.

In a year where I reluctantly acknowledged the God-shaped hole in my being and began working on filling it, it’s perhaps obvious to say that I’m taking a lot on faith – faith that the system can take the strain again, faith that enough people will pull the lever for the cause of democracy and consequences, faith that I won’t have to make hard choices about how to live in a world where America would willingly put that melting garbage turd back in the Oval Office. Faith that somehow things will work out. Faith without works is dead, so I will have to figure what I can do to help do the work of making sure it doesn’t happen. But that work is hard for me to engage with and not cripple myself with anxiety and fear along the way.

Meanwhile, we can stay in the house for the foreseeable future…but who knows how long we can afford the property tax in retirement. We dodged a bullet on needing legal assistance for the last 12 months…but who knows when someone will appear out of nowhere to make trouble. I’m still working 100% remote…with no agreement, no policy, and nothing to say they couldn’t shitcan me at any time for not having come into the office for months. Nothing is promised to you in this life, but it’s difficult to think about how much that actually means. For someone who’s always running around trying to find certainly, it is an exceptionally challenging way to live.

And I haven’t had much to say on here for a while. Baseball might get me back into sports, but aside from being dragged along into the Super Bowl, I haven’t kept up with Vandy basketball or even watched that much Saturday morning Premier League lately. I’ve been skipping podcast episodes rather than contemplate American politics. I feel decent, mood-wise, as long as I don’t think too much, but I also take longer getting out of bed in the morning or bringing the laundry in to fold or remembering to shower and shave. Missing a trip to the pub is a shrug rather than a “when am I going to make this up.”

I’d like to want to do stuff again. I have assembled all the pieces to do stuff, just not the motivation and desire. But a good chunk of that could be the cocoon, the effort to preserve my sanity by not allowing myself to be too much in this world again. I’d like to believe we could reach a point where better things are possible. I’d like to believe the best days are still to come.

For now, I’ll take as consolation that I still want to believe.