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

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR CAPTAIN MARVEL, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.

 

 

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.