Plinkin’ out loud again

The iPhone 9, so called, has the body of the 8 with the guts of the 13. Including the 13’s single camera (no tele or ultrawide) and lack of 3D Touch. Also presumably lack of 5G. But as an 8, presume no Photo ID (who cares) or Animoji (OK that hurts). No dual or eSIM (could be a problem later).

But also: proven components, no 5G, no possible USB-C, no radical new tech. For better or worse. And based on current offering prices projected forward, I can get a 128GB, which is all I need. Otherwise I’m paying the not-inconsiderable premium to go from 64 to 256 with no stops in between.

And the iPhone 12 has 5G, which is poorly distributed and not pervasive or proven. With, apparently, Apple’s antenna of their own design rather than Qualcomm’s. Which suggests, chillingly, that the phone has to be thinner than 8mm. And given that people are now mentioning a new side-mounted TouchID, that’s an ever-growing number of new parts.

Too, think about the changes. The 4 famously had antenna issues, while the 4S added Siri and a better camera. The 5 through work, first LTE device, turned out to be a dog on Verizon – and the 5S went 64-bit and added TouchID. The XS got a newer, more efficient processor than the X. The new style hardware has a world of issues the first time out, it seems, and the legacy of Jony Ive seems to be “never buy the first iteration of an Apple product”.

Why not get an unlocked phone that I know will be a step up from what I have now (by my lights), get myself onto the long-desired personally-owned device again? In a year when I know I have to buy the new Apple Watch to replace my Fitbit, is there something to be said for just paying $500 for the new phone now instead of $1200 in September? And then maybe in a year and a half, justification for the 12S or whatever it turns out to be, once 5G is pervasive and the technology is worked out?

It sounds like the iPhone 9 is coming in March, just like my favorite iteration ever, the iPhone SE. Four years on, maybe it’s a sign: save your money, get the known goods, and when the new hot fire comes out? Let somebody else go first.

the call

California actually has a primary sooner than June for once. I don’t remember the last time California was in a position to have influence on the primary race, an odd spot for the largest of blue states. Which means I actually have to think about it.

I have.

Let’s start with this: it is preternaturally fucked that Iowa and New Hampshire are still allowed to have a voice in this process at all, let alone be the dispositive first states that winnow the field. Too small, too white, too demonstrably conservative, and Iowa in particular with their wackadoo caucus scheme that is less historically traditional than the Super Bowl. No. In 202X, when next we have a competitive Democratic primary season (if ever), Iowa needs to ride the fucking bench and New Hampshire needs to be close behind.

Next, it’s absolutely shameful that there are four – FOUR – candidates over the age of 70 in this race. No one will rid us of the boomers, the worst generation in human history, and it’s unconscionable that we have a very real chance of yet another proxy fight over Vietnam in the Presidential race for who knows how many times in a row. But here we are, in all likelihood.

It’s not a great crop, but let’s take a look.

STEYER can fuck right off. President of the United States is not an entry level job in politics. Ditto to the late unlamented Andrew Yang. A strong party would never let either of these clowns near a debate stage, and it’s risible that they were there and Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were not. If the last three years aren’t proof enough, write it on the Washington Monument with a fucking laser beam: NO MORE AMATEURS.

BLOOMBERG is also right out. Sure, Manhattan is the 7th largest state by itself and mayor of NYC is uniquely positioned in American politics. But Bloomberg is a Republican who is only in this race because he’s choosing to spend a billion dollars instead of enter primaries for the first month. That should be unconscionable for anyone all by itself, but it speaks to another issue: the GOP was never held to account for Junior Bush. Ever. And then it was all “well Obama has to reach across the aisle to these people who want to spit in his eye”. Now the GOP has given us Trump, and the argument for Bloomberg is “the Democrats, especially voters of color, need to suck it up and elect a candidate that Ed Earl Brown is comfortable with because you have to coddle Trump supporters with an old white man so they don’t get scared.” No. Fuck that noise. For some reason, unity always means that the left has to give in to the right. The right in this country has never been asked to give anything. Fuck Bloomberg and fuck his shitty news org.

BIDEN breaks my heart. I know why he didn’t run in 2016, and I know he feels like he could have stopped this, and I know he wants to try, and God bless him, but the moment’s past. He had a good run, he was a loyal teammate, and he has borne as much tragedy as anyone should ever have to bear, and if it turns out he is the guy I will do all I can for him. But he feels more like a desperate grab for a do-over more than anything else.

SANDERS shouldn’t be on the podium for one reason: the nominee of the Democratic Party should be a member of the Democratic Party. Setting that minor quibble aside, I question whether the “Bernie Beats Trump” crowd has grappled with this: like Obama in 2008, Bernie got an easy ride in 2016 because He Wasn’t Hillary. A press corps that has salivated to preach the death and burial of the Clintons for two decades and more was never going to sandbag the closest competitor. And now, a seventy-something Jewish atheist socialist thinks the press isn’t gonna tear the bark off him? Made worse by the fact that his campaign has drawn a whole lot of the worst assholes of the left, an army of sentient Caucasian dreadlocks who dismiss concerns of sexism or racism because all politics is economic and all’s fair in love and war, and the enemy isn’t the right, the true enemy is the insufficiently left. It makes perfect sense that his most hardcore fans think he’s the savior. Jesus is a good dude but his most hardcore fans are horrible too.

BUTTI- BUTI- BU- PETE. Set aside the question of whether a gay candidate can win. It’s not a small question, but set it aside. Because if he weren’t gay, you’d be looking at a McKinsey alum who’s never won a race bigger than mayor of a Midwest college town and who’s too young to have seen The Empire Strikes Back in the theater. It doesn’t pass the laugh test. Young men in a big hurry get elected President because in their young life they’ve wound up in the Navy and then into the Senate, or they’ve been a multi-term governor of Arkansas by the time they were 40, not mayor of South Bend, Indiana. They say Pete is doing big in Silly Con Valley, and I believe it, because shooting a giant firehose of money at underqualified young white men is what this place does best.

KLOBUCHAR is someone I don’t know as much about as I should. I know she’s supposed to be on the moderate side of this field, and I know she was supposedly mean to her staff, and I know she supposedly ate a salad with a comb once (which is some damned good adaptability if you ask me) but she only seems to have got hot after finishing third in New Hampshire. The fact that there are supposedly three tickets out of Iowa and she finished fifth means that somebody’s conventional wisdom is wrong. I would like to know more, but if someone like me is asking to know more in February of primary season, I worry about whether they’re ready to contend. Honestly, this feels a lot like “we’re going to bet the minimum, wait to see the flop, hope Biden folds and be ready to bet big when he does” and it feels to me like that’s the kind of thinking that got Jeb Bush rusticated from the GOP race four years ago.

All you need to know about GABBARD is that I was in Honolulu during the 2018 ballistic missile alert, and she tweeted that it was a false alarm, and I said to my wife “I need to hear it from someone who’s not a nutter.” When there’s a chance you can be nuked, and you can’t trust someone who offers you a lifeline of hope, you sure can’t trust them in the White House.

God, what a pile of rocks. Anyone left?

Oh.

Ah.

Yes, the candidate is 70 years old. Yes, the candidate has some problems around their disproven quantity of Native American heritage. Yes, the candidate has had some staffing issues. Yes, the candidate was probably wrong to come out for Medicare For All as a viable policy option, especially since it’s unlikely that we’ll see 218 Representatives and 60 Senators to pass it and 5 Supreme Court justices to defend it in my lifetime.

But Elizabeth WARREN is the best of a bad lot, and a bad lot doesn’t mean every piece of the lot is bad. She has credentials academic and political. She has a signature issue of punching back against the financial shenanigans and house of cards that collapsed in 2008 and at the perpetrators who skated free. She has done the homework, in excruciating detail, to the point where “Warren has a plan for that” is a groan-inducing cliche. Well, cliches don’t get that way for being false.

More important is that she seems to enjoy being out there. It’s not a chore. This was one of Hillary Clinton’s problems: unlike her husband, she could never make it seem like she’d rather be on the campaign trail than anywhere on Earth. The Warren selfie lines are the stuff of legend now, and she is as bright eyed and bushy tailed at the end of them as at the beginning. That’s not nothing, especially for a 70 year old candidate.

And I get how Native voters have a beef. I am not saying they are wrong, nor that they should suck it up and vote for her anyway (in the primary, anyway, more on that in a minute). But a woman who was raised in Oklahoma in the 1950s and 60s could absolutely have been told things about her heritage and taken them at face value. I did. Although it was certainly never enough for me to attempt to trade on, by a long shot. I’m not saying it’s right, because it’s not, but I can see how it would happen, and I have real issues with it being weaponized against her by people with no standing to do so who plainly do not have Native interests in mind (cf. “Pocahontas”).

I also acknowledge that the campaign has had stumbles and flaws in other areas, some more meaningful than others, and those are all fair too. But go up the list. We don’t have any flawless candidates. We had some candidates who were better than the ones on that list who didn’t make it to Iowa. Republicans always fall in line, but for some reason, Democrats have to fall in love. I don’t. I need someone who can win.

And that is the real conundrum. The most important criterion for a candidate is “Must Beat Trump.” But how do you know? Can you balance homophobia against sexism and figure age for weight and say “this is the most likely winner”? Can you move the balance between what lures back supposed Obama-Trump voters and what brings out the biggest base turnout for the Dems generally? Is the most likely winner the one who would make the best President? Does that even matter if the one who would make the best President can’t win? There comes a point where you’re talking yourself into eleven-dimensional chess.

But it’s not. It’s simple. Pick the one you think would make the best President. And then, whoever wins the primary, support the shit out of them in November. I have my doubts about some of these candidates and their hardcore ultras, and what would happen if some third party interloper backed wittingly or not by Russian ratfucking jumped into the scene in July. (It’s not lost on me that a lot of the Sanders-Gabbard types were screaming twenty years ago that there was no difference between Gore and Bush.) But after finishing third in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire, and having her political obituary written with fewer than 10% of the votes cast, Elizabeth Warren was on the podium last Tuesday shouting out her rivals, congratulating them, urging everyone on to the fight. That tells me a lot.

Look, I will pull the lever for the Democrat in November. I will vote for Bernie and his band of Twitter dicks. I will vote for Bloomberg and his thinly veiled brand of corporatism with a human face and no guns. I will vote for Eddie “Pete” Haskell despite the fact he would never get that reference with fifty years on TikTok to look it up. I will cringe and cross myself and pull the lever for Joe one more time. I will figure out who Amy Klobuchar is and give her my support. I would suck it up hard, mark the ballot for Tom or Tulsi, and see about liquidating our house to buy into the Malta Sovereign Wealth Fund to obtain EU citizenship because we might have to do that anyway.

But of all of them, the one that might put a flicker of hope in my heart, the one who I think can start on January 20 to do the most to try to crawl this country out of hell one inch at a time toward daylight, is my vote in the California primary on March 3, Elizabeth Ann Warren.

What the hell. You gotta die of something.

the good old days

Pace Macklemore and Ke$ha, I wish somebody would have told me then that someday these would be the good old days. Twenty years ago, in the snow outside Ireland’s Four Provinces, a new pair of Dr Martens and a new obsession with Irish music and a new home away from home for what was rapidly becoming Our Gang.

I don’t think I realized until years later that it was an anomaly to have television. They would pull down a screen and run a projector during the World Series, or on an election night, but on a typical Saturday, you only had the musicians or the jukebox. I don’t think I ever ordered any beer but Guinness, although I did have a weakness for the occasional Blackadder, Guinness cut half with cider. (Which is apparently a Black Velvet anywhere outside DC, but I go with what I was told first, and besides Black Velvet is Guinness and champagne.)

The pub would ultimately come to stand in for DC, I think. I missed the pub, and came closest to reproducing it with a mixture of two bars in San Jose, but what I really missed from 2007 on was that sense of purpose, of camaraderie, of being on the one road – north men south men comrades all. I had my troubles in DC, and there’s no diminishing them, but I don’t remember ever questioning my purpose or who I was as a human being from 2000 to 2004. I was a loyal specialist in the Rifles of the EUS, and that was sufficient. And I went looking for a California pub at a time when I was adrift in identity and purpose, and you can make a case I never really figured it out in the same way.

And I’m reminded of this, seven years on from the encryption debacle which I never really recovered from, as the same left shoulder hurts bad enough for me to go to urgent care and the workplace management spins its wheels fecklessly while the rest of us wait for the penny to drop. The values I developed then are the ones that sustain me now, and as before, it doesn’t matter that they can’t ride to my rescue. It’s enough to know they would.

And meanwhile, the world spins. Of which.

his dork materials

The title of this post came to me in a conversation about Sir Phillip Pullman, only to have it pointed out that a nice Canadian fellow called Thomas had long since beat me to it. And furthermore, had written about some of the very things driving my interest lately, like the iPad and the Apple Watch.

The iPad is a late addition to my Apple Glee. I had my retina iPad, my Dynabook, in March of 2012 – and then passed it along to my father-in-law and replaced it with an iPad Mini 2 at Christmas of 2013. Then time happened, and the iPhone X happened, and the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite proved to be the horse for the course, and I basically have barely used the iPad in two and a half years or so. Its battery is nearly shot, the screen prone to weird white streaking at diverse times, and it can’t be upgraded past iOS 12 (not to deny credit for patches up to 12.4.5 as of this very day). It’s still broadly feasible as a device, but there’s nothing it can do at present that the iPhone X doesn’t do almost as well.

And yet. If I haven’t had a new iPad in six-plus years, I haven’t had a new personal laptop since…well, I haven’t had a personal laptop at all since I handed my Dell netbook to my father-in-law and finally gave back the black MacBook I’d had on indefinite loan from my old colleagues, sometime in…2010? Maybe? The last time I laid down money of my own for a Mac laptop was an iBook SE in the autumn of 2000. We’ve had a desktop Mac more or less continuously since 2005, a sort of home furnace for all media content and doing income taxes and a workstation of last resort for when we don’t want to use the ubiquitous work laptops. But I haven’t had – or really needed – a laptop to call my own in I don’t know when.

So why would I consider an iPad now as a laptop replacement? Possibly to stop myself using my phone all evening. An iPad could be used for 90% of what I do at work, but I wouldn’t use it for work – I’d use it mostly for reading and streaming, occasional note-taking and blogging, maybe movies on planes? Not enough to make it worth the investment; that’s at least $800 for one with sufficient storage to be of broader use, and the line for handing money to Apple starts with a new phone and a new watch, both almost certainly in September. Late rumor has it that the 5.4” iPhone 12, so-called, will only have the regular and super-wide lenses, no telephoto, so not that big a jump up from the notional iPhone 9 – but the 12 will still have a newer processor, a bigger display in the same size device, (allegedly) more RAM, and dual-SIM capability with an eSIM, opening a world of flexibility around travel or personal service. Barring calamity, I don’t see how I can avoid waiting until fall.

At which point the Watch will (allegedly) be up to Series 6, with (allegedly) newer lower-powered display technology and (maybe) sleep tracking, the thing I’ve needed most all along. If it’s going to be a question of throwing $450 at a problem, better to throw it at a newer solution, right? Even if it means nine months to wait.

Which gets back to a bigger problem. I look at the ridiculous pile of stuff I accumulated in 2019, everything from an M-65 jacket to a pair of Allbirds (hereafter referred to as Allnerds, even if they are as comfy a sock-less shoe as I’ve ever owned) to a lightsaber to Yet Another Nerf Pistol to AirPod Pros to to to…and I’m starting to get the sense, as I notice my Amazon page signed out and the absence of any new hats at the Vandy bookstore, that I may well be self-medicating through retail. It’s been a long time since I deferred anything; the footwear and Yeti bottles and calling cards and it’s reached a point where if it costs under $50 and I want it, I just buy it. Part of it may be that whole “we could be nuked tomorrow, why defer joy, you can afford it” sense – which at least is a change from spending six months mulling over a $20 Nerf pistol like ten years ago – but I think part of it is just chasing that dopamine hit of giving myself a present, of indulging myself. I honestly think that wanting to duck into the pub for a cheeky pint on the way home is less about the pint and the Guinness than it is about that indulgence, that urge to treat myself. 

It’s a dangerous rabbit hole to find myself sliding down. I don’t think I’ve ever had a problem with alcohol. I’ve used opioid painkillers without ever developing a problem, because I was vigilant and judicious about not misusing them. But looking back on the year, I think I’ve skated too close to the thin edge of expecting stuff to be my panacea. I’ve tried to be judicious about one-in-one-out, especially with hats and Nerfs, and I could probably give away at least one Yeti tumbler, and I do a pretty good job of shopping my closet now that the Friv-o-list is basically exhausted, but it’s something I need to be cognizant of.

Whatever ails me, it’s never going to be solved for good with dork materials.

zero

The trailers for Kentucky Route Zero first came to my attention toward the end of 2012. It was strange, atmospheric, magical-realistic, dreamlike – all things that had a certain appeal as I turned 40, although exactly why, I couldn’t say. And then episode one dropped right in the middle of the crisis of what now gets referred to as “the encryption project”. And it was everything that had been advertised. It was like an escape into someone else’s dream, at a moment when escape from the here and now was something I could sure use. There were four additional acts promised over the course of the year, and sure enough, before long there was an interlude demo of sorts, and then Act Two in May.

And then the delays began.

There was another strange interlude, which only made sense once Act Three arrived – which it did, almost a year to the day after Act Two. And it was long, and complex, and really confusing in some ways – and then there was another long delay, and another strange intermission that was either downloadable or playable over a telephone. And Act Four finally arrived over two years after Act Three, during the summer of 2016 at a time when I was already looking for a place to hide from the world. Act Four was it, taking place entirely underground on a mysterious river, and it was sanctuary from the troubles to come.

And then.

Nothing. Nothing for years, until sometime early in 2019, a final interlude, itself atmospheric as all hell, and telling a story that for once made sense retrospectively instead of being inexplicable until the subsequent Act arrived. And in its one room studio shed, with the storm to end all storms pouring outside, it felt like the ideal metaphor for seeking shelter, seeking refuge, seeking a place to hide from outside…until the storm came pouring in.

And now, three and a half years after Act Four, fully seven years since Act One, we get to see the end of the story. Tomorrow, Act Five of Kentucky Route Zero is available for download. I know what I’m going to be doing more or less all evening tomorrow, as soon as I can skip home early from a vendor meeting. This, to me, has become as important and meaningful as Avengers: Endgame or The Rise of Skywalker. It’s an ending that at some level you wondered whether you’d ever get. And I did wonder sometimes whether there would ever be an Act Five, whether the tailing off at the end was just a metaphor for how we never really know how the story ends, only that it ends for us.

But now I guess we’ll see what actually becomes of our handful of lost souls drifting down the river, along the highway, through dream and through crushing reality. One more story to bring to a close, for better or worse. One more step into someone else’s dream. And hopefully one more download of a soundtrack that always hits the nail on the head, right down to the one mournful bluegrass track per episode.

Here’s where the story ends.

plinka plinka 2020

Big year coming up for me on the mobile computing front. For starters, and unexpectedly, this is an Apple Watch year. With the pending acquisition of Fitbit by Google, it’s no longer tenable for me to rely on my Charge 3 (and given that I’m technically on my third one in a year because of warranty/QA/display issues, it’s not the worst turn of events). I am assured that the Apple Watch is greatly improved since Series 0, and that it is potentially a viable device for those Sunday nights when I don’t want to get the phone out in pub mode.

That’s as may be. I have no doubt that pairing it to a more capable phone than an iPhone SE may work well too, as iPhone processors are rapidly catching up to desktop (or at least laptop) levels of performance. If it’s fast enough that the apps are viable, to let me do Duo 2FA or Transit lookups on VTA or use Siri to dictate text replies and trigger Shortcuts, that would be something. I would like to move into the next stage of mobility computing, where the watch and the earbuds can deliver much of what you need without ever pulling out that phone.

Speaking of phone, the Great Mentioner seems to think the new SE will actually be a notional iPhone 9, which basically boils down to an iPhone 8 with the 3DTouch circuitry stripped out and an A13 processor from the iPhone 11 stashed under the hood. This is quite frankly a Hell of an attractive proposition. I reluctantly concede that a 4″ display won’t get it done in 2020, but a 4.7″ might, and if it means keeping TouchID…actually, the question now becomes whether it’s worth giving up on computational photography and the like.

Because the iPhone 12 supposedly starts with a 5.4″ model that would be the same size. Only more screen, better cameras all around and the possibility that the A14 processor will be as fast as a 15″ MacBook Pro (to some reports). It also means waiting another six months on work’s iPhone X, which is still a hair too big to be a hair too big, and it probably means an out of pocket outlay double what the iPhone 9 would set me back. I also need a minimum 256 GB in the next phone, because I’m tired of playing patty-cake with iTunes in the Cloud to have movies and songs stay available and I also want the ability to work on anything from the home Mac’s desktop in a pinch.

But then the argument becomes – spend half as much now, get six extra months of a phone that will be as fast and powerful as anything currently extant, with a camera no worse than what you already have, and let somebody else go first before buying the next rev of Apple’s flagship phone. And then the counter-argument: you’re buying your next phone for three years, minimum, so what’s the percentage in buying one with half a year already run off the clock and less advanced features?

A similar case exists for the Watch, if we’re being honest; the always-on display is the sole upgrade from Series 4 to 5, but what’s the point in buying before Series 6? If you have to refresh your Apple gear every three years, buying in September gives you a bit of a jump on viability. (And let’s not forget that some of the features may be confined by the fact that I’m still using work’s service, and falling back on prepaid if that somehow ends – an LTE Watch might not even be a viable proposition.)

To be honest, the biggest thing I need is more, faster and better integration with Siri and Shortcuts. I need to be able to roll over in the morning, hold up my arm and ask “how long til the next bus” and hear “the next bus arrives in 19 minutes” so I know I have three more minutes under the covers before facing the bleak day. And frankly, I need to be able to address myself to Cyrano, or Friday, or some name other than Siri. Bring me that and we’ll talk. Literally.

at day’s close

I first heard of the book on a late Sunday night talk show on WAMU, where I first heard described the phenomenon of “segmented sleep” that was apparently the default mode of pre-industrial man. The show itself felt like it was coming from the edge of the world – I don’t know if it originated from UVA-Wise or was just associated with that tiny school in a tiny town in the Appalachians. But it was three years before I remembered to buy the book.

I read it in January 2007, after a year of mostly staying home and settling into our new house and my staff job at Apple and living in a fugue state of trying to figure out who I was now. It was a liminal era, of adult study classes and feinting around RCIA and looking for new pubs the way a Baptist might look for a new church. And into this game Roger Ekrich’s At Day’s Close: Night In Times Past. It was readable, almost hypnotic, building a medieval Europe where natural light ordered the day and night was at once terror and shelter.

2007 was the first year I began making a habit of writing down the things I enjoyed during the year. And “the book about night” was on the list, along with the night class on the history of Catholicism and watching Scottish soccer on TV and the quiet solitude of our own house with a pot of tea or coffee. It was soothing, it was relaxing, and it felt like the beginning of a calmer, more peaceful sort of life. I don’t know any better way of describing it other than to say I liked the person I was while I was reading that book.

And in January 2008, after an awful end to what had become an awful year, I found myself reaching for it again. And going to the same pubs in San Jose again, and playing the same songs again, trying to capture a little of who I thought I was becoming in January 2007, only now with the benefit of having recently been to York and Paris and having a little more European experience to add to my reading.

This will make the fourteenth straight year for me to read the book in January. I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to capture now with a ritual that’s lasted over a quarter of my life. But it’s from that first read in 2007 that you can see my book purchases swing hard toward nonfiction historical reading. Maybe that was the beginning of Sunday pub time: a book, a pint, and nothing else to do until morning. It’s a welcome vacation. I look forward to visiting again this year.

the saga

WARNING: HELLA SPOILERS FOR STAR WARS: EPISODE IX: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER.

OK, I need to see it again. I am content with how things wrapped up, and I had fewer immediate nitpicks than I had for Avengers: Endgame. But the more I mull over what happened, I have come to two conclusions:

1) Too much of the new trilogy has depended on the books for explication. There’s an awful lot of “why” that gets tacitly answered with “it’s in the books.” One thing I need to do is reread the original early-90s Thrawn trilogy and see how it holds up because the current Thrawn books, and the Wendig trilogy and frankly all of the new canonical Star Wars books I’ve read all feel like the least impressive of the EU stuff from the late 90s. Could be age or generational bias, but when I was a kid we had the movies and that was it. If it wasn’t in the movies, it didn’t count. And you couldn’t staff out your storytelling to the book for the sake of speeding up the movie.

2) This is a bigger one, and I think the result of a hole Disney put themselves in when they first planned on a new movie every year: The Last Jedi is an excellent movie, but in retrospect, it’s a movie made at a point where they thought there would be more than nine episodes of The Saga, and the decision to curtail their ambition made it a poor choice in hindsight.

Think about it. Rian Johnson, deliberately or not, set out to deconstruct the Star Wars universe and rip up a bunch of things from previous episodes. Let the past die, kill it if you have to – that was the mission statement, and by its own lights, it worked. But you don’t do that in the next to last chapter of the story. If IX was going to be the end for the Skywalkers, and a notional 10-12 the story of Rey and Finn and Poe, then yeah – rip up what we know and reinvent.

As it happens, once IX became the last episode, Johnson had painted the story into such a corner that Colin Treverrow had to quit rather than figure out how to resolve it. JJ Abrams found a way to do it, with a lot of hand waving and breathless action and don’t look too close at the details, and is getting hammered for it – unfairly in many ways, because no one planned for Carrie Fisher to die, and apparently nobody had planned on IX being the true end of the road for a while. So he had to crash-land this bird without notice, and by those lights, he did yeoman’s work and came up with something emotionally satisfying.

But the whole “Emperor Palpatine plots his future return in the Unknown Regions after decades of laying the groundwork for his eternal Empire” storyline, while at the back of almost all the new books, felt like it was shat out of a cannon at the last second on screen. It was a hotshot angle, to borrow the old wrestling term: a sudden change in storyline on the fly to accommodate unforeseen circumstances. And as a result, you can literally throw away everything in The Last Jedi that doesn’t involve Luke, Rey and Kylo until the Resistance lands on Crait. “They fled and this is where they wound up” would cover everything else: the mutiny, the hack, Canto Bight, Rose, DJ, the sneak aboard Snoke’s flagship, all of it. Not that any of that was the strong point of VIII to begin with, but IX definitively renders it all superfluous to requirements.

Which is a shame. It would have been nice to have things plotted from the start and a coherent story for 7-8-9, and somewhere along the way rejigger everything for 10-11-12 and Johnson’s vision for the franchise. As it is, it’s done, and probably for the best, because The Mandalorian has shown the future for Star Wars: smaller stories, more human scale, no lightsaber battles or Sith Lords, and time enough to tell the story at prestige-TV pace and let it breathe. What’s done is done, and if the future of this franchise lies elsewhere?

Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.

2020

“There are things in my past that were too painful to contemplate, and to get them out of the way, I shut off the past. It didn’t keep the actual problems from leaking through, but it did succeed in cutting off large swathes of who I used to be – things that are, or should be, a very big part of who I am today. When they leaked through, it usually only served to trigger the wrong reaction. Memory and regret go together like Jack and Coke, and that’s not an idly chosen comparison.

The triumph of 2009 is that a lot of that past broke through in a big way this year, for a number of reasons, and for the most part not in a bad way. Call it the Lion King moment, if you like – “remember who you are.” I did. Those things that happened in 1989, or 1994, or 2000 are not things that happened to previous regenerations, played by different people in a different era – they happened to me, they made me what I am, and I still have a lot of those things going for me.

In 2010, I’m not going to be playing defense against my own past anymore. Which should free up a lot of time and energy for other things.”

 

-31 Dec 2009

 

It worked. For a while. Facebook turned into a rolling high school reunion, right up to my actual 20th reunion, which was a joy and a triumph. I finally went abroad again, saw Europe, even if I was dragging a couple people I’d rather not have been, but I thought maybe I was broadening their horizons. I had a new job, which was going well. I had hope for the future.

Then things turned sour back in Alabama, leading to estrangements that still persist to this day and made it difficult for me ever to go back. Vanderbilt was unearthed from the past and became a source of unexpected joy for three or four years, before just as suddenly becoming a source of unpleasantness. Work turned sour for several years, but I eventually got out of user-facing support and came to an arrangement: I would give up on bonuses, stock, profits and advancement in exchange for stability and security and enough vacation to live the life I wanted when I wasn’t in the office. And after three years, they tore up their half of the deal and outsourced all of us. I’m typing this from my desk at the office, where I am working because I don’t have the day off. Or any days off, really; you have to use PTO for holidays now.

And the wider world got worse. I sincerely thought after 2012 that maybe we broke the fever, that the Old Ones no longer had their hand on the tiller of American life. Instead, we went from stupid as a valid lifestyle choice to stupid as the sea we swim in. Seas rise, forests burn, and we still have to pretend that a crooked reality TV idiot is the best possible leader of the free world – and worse, that the people who believe that are somehow worth paying heed to, rather than chucking in a home and reading out of polite society. And the baby boomers won’t let go. It’s a crime that the top three candidates for the Democrats are all over seventy years old.

Speaking of, along the way, I turned 40 and pushed it close to 50. We all got ten years older, with all the slowing and deterioration that implies. The breath of the Reaper is closer and hotter than it’s been in years, and there’s no escaping being on the back side of life. We have reached the age where it’s no longer a matter of doors closing on what might be – this, as was famously said to Indiana Jones, is the age when life stops giving you things and starts taking them away instead. Hope for the future has basically been reduced to the dream of retirement – somehow, somewhere, someday – and the desire to just survive to the end of the week. Three hours, a pint or two, a book to read. A full half hour to cuddle in the morning before having to drag out of bed and go to work. The occasional pleasure of stopping in for a Guinness on the way home, or going out to an actual pub for an evening, or driving over the hill to see the closest of our friends who all moved away. Small things. Simple things. Things that can be replicated when needed, that don’t require elaborate planning and don’t come with the crushing disappointment of cancellation because you don’t know if or when you’ll get another chance.

I’ve had the life I wanted. Not all at once, and not as quickly or for as long as I might have liked, but I did experience most of the life I wanted out of the last twenty-five years. Now my focus is on living with the life I have – what Kanter and Ebb musically said, “you can like the life you’re living.” There’s a lot of mindfulness meditation. A lot of putting thoughts on a leaf and watching them drift away on the stream. A lot of trying to be grateful for a cup of coffee, a quiet seat in the back of the bus, wool socks in my Indy boots, candles on the coffee table watching Ken Burns’ Country Music for the forty-ninth time. What I want now is a cocoon, unplugged, quiet and coziness and a resting heart rate around 60, and curling up together under the covers while it’s still too dark to wake up.

You won’t get to live the life you like for very long or very often. You have to learn to like the life you’re living. Somehow. It’s time to find a future we can live with, wherever – and whatever – it may be.