Early thoughts on 2019

* Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is tailor-made to be the new Fundraising Caricature Super Hate Object for the GOP, in the tradition of Ted Kennedy and Nancy Pelosi. Young, female, Latina, notionally “socialist” (again, I’m not sure if anyone really knows what that means in 2019), basically the perfect nightmare of any Fox News obsessive. The thing is, though, she gets modern media and how to swim in that particular stream. She also has a certain sense of reality around her, and when they mocked her complaint that she couldn’t afford an apartment in DC before her salary kicked in, a lot of young people heard “these assholes don’t give a shit about real people problems.”

* The other thing she has going for her is that she seems like a real sweet gal, a normal person in a town full of anything but. Your typical rising young politician was usually president of the frat, first woman president of the law review, the sort of hard-charging student government type who gives the impression they’ve been 40 years old since puberty. AOC is a pleasant lady whose sudden life in the crosshairs is a living breathing reminder to the youth of America, the women, the non-white: the Fox Boomers hate you for existing. Stop trying to reconcile with them and just turn them into !-ing meatloaf. The kids, plainly, are all right.

* I carried two phones through San Francisco this week in an attempt to sort out my loadout and wardrobe for the forthcoming road trip. It is SO much easier to work with an SE than an iPhone X…right up until you need the keyboard or the battery life. Granted, since I wasn’t doing anything with the X but playing back audio and occasionally looking at white Kindle text on a black AMOLED background, it wasn’t a fair fight, but given my use case in Patagonia I don’t know that the SE will make it through a full day without a battery top-up along the way. Might be time for the Hulkbuster case I had in Hawaii five years ago, if I can still find it.

* Speaking of phones, I have most of my closest regular texting contacts transitioned to Signal, which is basically the only cryptographically-acceptable cross-platform messaging solution. It means that I will almost certainly get rid of WhatsApp sooner than later, probably by March Madness if not sooner. Which means that in the grand scheme of things, all I have to do is export my data and get shut of Instagram…which is not nearly the toxic cesspool for me that it is for others, because I’m almost 47 and mainly follow people I know in person. But it’s owned by Facebook, and Facebook is going to start shitting it up to make up for the sagging fortunes of the blue site, and I don’t want to be around to be continually strip-mined by Fuckerberg and his band of useful idiots.

* Speaking even more of phones, looking at Apple’s situation, it’s hard to argue that they – and the West generally – got played for suckers these last twenty years. The promise of a billion new customers was too good to pass up, so the West signed China onto the WTO with assurances that business would lead to liberalization and that everyone would just go along with this. And then, after we spent two decades thinking this would all work out in the end, these companies find themselves tied in legal knots, aiding and abetting a totalitarian regime and their intellectual property being ripped off wholesale for profit. All so Silly Con Valley could have their widgets assembled for ten cents on the dollar. And now there’s not really a cost-effective alternative solution any longer, so we’re stuck until someone else can spin up modern manufacturing at scale in a different place – assuming, of course, that you have a physical product to sell. If not, you just have to wait and watch as Tencent and Alibaba do the same thing you can’t for those billion customers you assumed would be yours.

* Ten years ago, I got a Caltrain GoPass which I’ve had ever since. I can ride Caltrain for free, any distance, anytime, and that was really the beginning of my going up to San Francisco in any meaningful way (yes, there were Vandy game watch parties in 2008, but they usually entailed my long-suffering wife driving up and then tolerating fifteen verses of “Country Girl” on the way home). For about four years and change, it was a delight – and then, sometime in early 2013, I realized that the city was no longer for the likes of me, because it was becoming part of Silly Con Valley which was definitely not for the likes of me. After several years off, so to speak, I’ve spent the last couple going around unearthing the bits of NorCal that the tech sector hasn’t yet ruined beyond repair. Turns out a lot of them are at the far ends of the cable car or MUNI Metro lines, or tucked out of sight in San Jose, or nestled along the coast. It’s been fun, and reliving, to discover them again.

* It’s remarkable how much better I feel when dressing the part. I’ve spent three-quarters of my prolonged holiday break in the same combination of jeans, black t-shirt and AG work shirt that I embraced in 2018 and it just feels right, especially with the addition of merino wool socks (the Bombas socks are 80% merino, which is better than most). But yesterday, I caught a glimpse of my reflection on a cable car, leaned against the forward post in my tweed blazer and gray flat cap, and realized that I looked like I felt – which was to say, absolutely at one with my natural habitat.

* I would absolutely rather have a pint than a cocktail in 2019. The only time I go cocktail first anymore is in a tiki bar (or on the patio at the Royal Hawaiian). 20 ounces of Guinness is a perfect fit for pretty much any time, and when it’s not? the same 20 ounces of decaf black coffee, warm but not hot with a splash of stevia, will get the job done. Long pint, long evening, long book. This is how we’re gonna relax in 2019, and I need to get right on that.

In like a bear

Well, just when you thought maybe 2019 would be a better year, here comes Apple with the revised guidance that their earnings for fiscal Q1 will be well under their previous guidance. Which at last check has the stock down 10% after hours, at a time when it’s trading over a third below its 52-week high. I guess my new financial advisor got me out from AAPL just in time, well done new guy, but in the grand scheme of things this is not promising.

One Twitter wag followed up the statement with words to the effect of “that’s a long way of saying you overpriced the phones.” Which is dead on. The cheapest current iPhone is now $750, an all-time high, and all the mealy-mouthing around the evolving market won’t change the fact that were it not for work providing me an iPhone X that I only half tolerate, I would be rounding off my third year of being satisfied with my iPhone SE from May 2016. It has a new battery, and it does tolerable well under the circumstances, not being afflicted with nonsense like FaceID and still capable of doing everything I need a phone to do without forcing me to set my drink down.

But Apple’s also getting tagged bad by the trade war – and not just because of tariffs, but because they bet the house on China as a future market. And like so much of the wider world, they bet on a bad horse. The lure of 1.3 billion future customers was so blinding that they never considered that these customers live in a totalitarian state with a command economy, and that they might prefer – or be encouraged to prefer – home-grown solutions for everything. And when WeChat is basically the private ecosystem of China, it doesn’t much matter how you get to WeChat, which makes Apple a luxury bauble rather than a functional necessity. Bad bets all around.

And this is alarming, because I’ve made a career in Apple support. Every nickel I’ve earned since September 1997 was earned either at the craps table, the sports book or in service and support of Apple products, one way or another. And now the iPhone is their principle trade, and the iPhone has become the new Tesla: an overpriced version of something that can be bought cheaper with a less shiny surface that will get you where you’re going just as fast. My cousin is out roaming the world with a Moto G6 on GoogleFi, which he got for a hundred dollars. You can’t buy any iPhone for a hundred dollars. You can’t buy any iPhone for three hundred dollars. And because the iPhone was good value for money, now your three year old iPhone is just fine to use for another year.

Maybe this will cause the powers that be over at Apple Park to blink hard and rethink hard. Maybe the fine chiropractors at the health center will be able to extract Jony Ive’s head from up his ass before he turns into a Klein bottle. Maybe this will pave the way for a nice new India-built iPhone SE2, or maybe even an X-Minus. Maybe the company will figure out how to last long enough that I’m not suddenly left high and dry at age 58 with no job prospects and no way to retire for another ten years.

They’d better. This new MacBook Air is nice. I’d hate to have to go to something else.

Excelsior

It’s strange looking back over the last year, not just because it feels like it’s taken 19 months to get through 2018. Bruno Mars and Cardi B giving us an In Living Color homage? That was 2018. We had an Olympics this year. Black Panther only came out this year. The Han Solo movie was this year, in case you forgot. That ballistic missile alert in Hawaii that would have scared the shit out of me if I’d stopped more than a second to think about it before the all-clear? This year. The new Warby Parker glasses, the revelation that Ebbets Field was making Vandy gear now, the revelations about Cambridge Analytica, the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman-Douglas High School, all this year.

Too much, so often.  There’s 2018 in summary. It was made more complicated in this space by thinking I’d lost the server and the backups, and then trying to reassemble what I could, and in the course of that going down the rabbit hole of paper diaries and older blogs and basically recapitulating most of this century, starting in a era where a phone could place and receive calls and a blog was just an endlessly-extended page of plain HTML. It was a lot to wrap my head around, and a lot to process, and went along with a lot of other processing.

There were two big lessons for me in 2018:

1) It was anxiety all along. Always. The depression was co-morbid with the anxiety and not always caused by it, but the constant creeping anxiety – about getting it wrong, about not having the answer, about not knowing – has been the defining story of the last forty years for me, and figuring that out was like watching the world slide ninety degrees and suddenly realizing it was a schooner all along.

2) I’ve finally, genuinely, actually aged into where I wanted to be all along. Mid-40s (OK pushing late 40s), stable job at a place I’m not wedded to but can live with, happy enough with who I am, content to have a nice quiet pint and read a book and be left alone and not feel like I’ve missed out on something important and critical…yes, I’d love a do-over on the entire decade of the 1990s but you know what, it’s not happening. Put down the boards and the fencing and the cones and the warning tape and go around. And I can do that now, more than I ever could before. It’s okay if you can’t turn it into some overarching narrative, it’s over, it’s done. Get on with life. 

All the bits work. Put the flannel hat and the Fed horn-rims and the AG work shirt on me, along with the fading jeans and the footwear I don’t have to lace, and I feel right. I’m a guy of a certain age, who has led a genuinely interesting life, who has stories and history, and who is content to snuggle his sweetie on the couch in front of an HDTV video of a fire while the lights twinkle through December. 

If 2019 turns out to be the year in which I no longer have to prove anything…wouldn’t that be something.

Dear Santa

I have been a good boy this year. Well I have been a reasonable boy this year. Well let’s not get into it, mistakes were made, I didn’t make them, anyway…instead of giving you another laundry list of things I can’t have that aren’t available for purchase or manufacture, I would say thanks for the stuff I was brought this year, namely, to wit, viz.:

* My American Giant work shirt, which I had as a throw-in on the wish list and turned into my most-worn garment of 2018. And with it, my Ebbets Field Vanderbilt cap and my new glasses, which combined to make my new uniform, more or less.

* The new Mac mini, which made it possible to build our KVM-based lab and enable the dream of working completely remotely successfully, something I hope to put to the test in 2019.

* The unearthing of the old blogs and journals and notes and being able to reflect fifteen years to see how much of what I wanted in years gone by has actually come to pass, whether it’s Alden boots, Switzerland, the notional iPhone 6C-turned-SE, or a quiet pint in a quiet pub whether in San Jose or Galway.

* iOS 12, with the imagination-stirring of Siri Shortcuts and the voice activation in low-power mode and the continuing viability of the aforementioned iPhone SE, suitable to carry unlocked to London or Dublin or maybe even Patagonia.

* The bus, and the ability to get to work without the hassle and inconvenience of driving or dealing with an overloaded Caltrain at its busiest stops.

* The family I found for myself, pauca sed bona.

* A whole year without a single Coke Zero, just to get the system reset.

 

We’re out of milk and cookies but take anything you want off the liquor cabinet (not the Stag’s Leap or the Yellow Spot, I’m not that good a host).

Festivus

The Weekly Standard bit the dust this month. Because of their late Never-Trump-ism, this is being decried as some sort of defeat for principled conservatism, that something important and worthwhile is being lost and we’re all poorer for it. To which I would say: this opinion is only possible if you were literally born on November 9, 2016 and were not alive for one second of American politics in the preceding 25 years.

Because I wasn’t born yesterday, I’m well familiar with the Weekly Standard, a rag whose principle identity from its founding wasn’t Never-Trump, but Never-Clinton, an animosity in which name they tolerated all manner of excess, of conspiracy, of running off the road paved by the norms and traditional of American political culture. And then, when George W. Bush got into office in circumstances largely indistinguishable from Trump, they became the foremost cheerleaders of the neocon crusade, of marching from Afghanistan to Iraq to Iran and solving the world at the point of a gun with Toby Keith trumpeting overhead.

As with so much of the conservative establishment, the Standard ’s opposition is risible when set against two decades of crying in the wilderness to make ready the way of the Trump. Every wink-wink toward Ken Starr’s endless prosecution, every proclamation that “real men want to go to Tehran,” every pretense that the Tea Party was something other than an astroturfed whitewash of the existing GOP base – all of it ploughed the furrow for Trump. And then they want to pull the ripcord with the other Respectable Republicans and say “HOOCOODANODE” and pretend that all of this happened out of a clear blue sky and wasn’t the result of two decades of damage to the body politic.

So to hell with them. I know that it’s bad to celebrate anyone being out of work at the holidays, and that’s as may be, but this isn’t a bunch of ironworkers laid off by a heartless corporation or a bunch of migrant laborers disposed of when no longer needed. To paraphrase an original member of the masthead, this is a bunch of rich, white, privileged people who could not even bother to abide by the political norms and traditions of a freely constituted society of their own making which had provided them with everything a civilization can be expected to provide. It’s hard to weep for someone who celebrated their opiate addiction for twenty years only to burn themselves to death on Russian krokodil.

ghosts of Christmas past, part 12 of n

It was 1985. I was 13. It was a weird confluence of times and things – the first Christmas where I was too old for anything that could even be construed as a toy, the end of a year when my fandom had converted away entirely from Star Wars and GI Joe to comic books (mostly Marvel), the beginning of my obsession with reducing everything to categories and role-playing stats, the beating heart of my conviction that I could crack the whole world of junior high school society if I only elucidated the formula and patterns. (Which totally did not come to pass, thanks to 1986 and the first experience of adolescent depression, but also thanks to the fact that it doesn’t work like that At All.)

It was odd and interesting because for some reason, in 1985, my parents hosted a couple of Christmas parties in a way that I don’t ever remember happening before and never happened since. And because I was a tweener age, they basically offered me the money they would have paid the babysitter if I could hole up in my room and entertain myself. Needless to say, the prospect of a double bacon cheeseburger and fries from Jack’s AND a crisp $20 was too good to pass up, and I gladly looked after myself whilst poring over Fantastic Four vs X-Men #1. Which had, among other things, a scene that took place in a weird sort of NYC club that was a jazz lounge on the first floor and a comprehensive research library upstairs. Which was fascinating to me.

Because I was just starting to wrap my head around the concept of The City. I had seen Five Points South in Birmingham for the first time that autumn, walking into the old Lion & Unicorn comic and bookstore on Highland Avenue (in the years before it basically turned into a collectibles warehouse) and seeing places like Gorin’s Ice Cream by the fountain or Charlemagne Records. I was getting flickers of things from music videos, images of steam from manhole covers and roll-up steel doors over storefronts and people in long coats going through markets or coffee shops. I was discovering things like hot tea, or chocolate croissants. Artifacts of a wider and different world that wasn’t limned by the borders of a rural exurb or the triangle path between home, school and church. 

And that Christmas, for the first time, I put pen to paper to write something that wasn’t a school assignment. It was the worst sort of ghastly Mary Sue fanfic, of course, plugging myself into the Marvel universe the same way I had done with Star Wars on a dozen playgrounds for years, and it was more a pastiche of phrases and things I’d grabbed from television or movies or any passing thing rather than any sort of innate creativity, but it was a start. Once you can imagine yourself in another world, you can start to imagine a world of your own, and then you can start to imagine what it would take to get yourself into that world. It’s not too great a stretch to say that in the journey that put my boots on Broadway, or Constitution Avenue, or the Embarcadero or the Strand, the first steps were taken in the Christmas season of 1985.

Air time

Well now the MacBook Air, 2018 edition, has landed in my lap. Not a minute too soon, either, as I have been using the MacBook Pro Escape, so called, for the last year or more. And the remarkable thing is? The Air is basically the same machine, but lighter and with the addition of TouchID.

This works on many levels:

* First rule of laptops: when all else is equal, lighter is better. I think the new-look MacBook Pro was closer to the old Air than the old Pro in weight, but if you can shave off a few ounces free of charge, that’s that much kinder to your back or shoulder.

* The Air has only two Thunderbolt ports…but so did the Escape. That was the price of not having to work around that ghastly TouchBar. And now you can have real function keys…and a TouchID piece that interoperates with Apple Pay and with LastPass for password management integration.

* There have been keyboard improvements. We all know the butterfly keys aren’t going anywhere, no matter how much you wish Apple could somehow get the PowerBook 1400 keyboard into modern hardware, but at least now you’re less likely to be laid low by a single crumb? Maybe?

* This is a deliberate move. This machine only has the i5 processor, not the i7, and I’m hoping it is more conservative of battery life because I’ve reached a point where everything I do now is either through a browser or in a text window. When Apple Remote Desktop is no longer critical to your job, wild horsepower is largely beside the point (and since I eschew the use of any Google product, let alone the black hole of resources known as Chrome, I ought to be fine there too).

In another recurring theme, there was no migration. I just set up an account and went. No documents moving over (though that may come tomorrow), just download the right half-dozen or so applications and log into Slack and Evernote and Feedbin and LastPass and away we go.

At a minimum, it’ll keep me from being tempted into thinking I need to buy one of my own. Which is the major reason to get equipment through my employer these days, because the last laptop I paid for out of pocket was…the iBook Special Edition in Graphite in 2000. But on early evidence, if I had to do it now, this is the one to pick up.

High on your own supply

The ongoing orgy of tears for GHWB is starting to really grate on my nerves. It’s part and parcel of an issue that seems to afflict the news media almost as much as it does the GOP: an overwhelming belief in what you want to be true, at the expense of the reality in front of your face. It comes up most when you have the Never-Trump Republicans bemoaning the fact that there is no place for them, that they are pious principled individuals with no party and only some third middle way will ever bring back the rightful true America.

Horse. Shit.

First of all, there was never a rightful true America. The great age of compromise and parties that were less ideologically sorted happened at a time when African-Americans were largely cut out of the political process in the South. Rednecks were all for the government when it was delivering Social Security and TVA electricity and paved roads, but as soon as the government said “we have to give all this stuff to the people who aren’t white as well” the necks lost their minds. The great re-sorting of the South to the GOP happened after the civil rights movement, and the partisan sorting of the South into the GOP happened once all the Democratic incumbents of the era were dead or retired. So begin with that: the past is a lie.

Secondly, consider the Democrats now. Are the Democrats going to go in on white people? Unlikely, because white voters are still a plurality of the Democratic base. Are the Democrats against the working class? Not at all, once you consider that the working class isn’t just white people. A lot of the policies that are out there helping poor folks of color are – surprise surprise right in your eyes – helpful to white folks too, and would probably be even more so if the people who claim to represent the white working class weren’t actively sabotaging those efforts. The GOP has made bank for 25 years running against a caricature of Democrats, usually wrapped up in Hillary Clinton-hatred if not outright racism, and you can track that all the way back to George Herbert Walker Precious Moments Bush and his manager, Lee Atwater.

Because look at the Obama years. There were agonies taken to try to get the GOP to buy into a plan that was literally the Heritage Foundation’s Republican alternative to Hillarycare twenty-five years earlier, and they failed. There was a Supreme Court vacancy that was to be filled by yet another white male who was specifically taken from a list of acceptable candidates provided by the GOP committee chair, and he got stonewalled for a year and left by the roadside. There was vigorous prosecution of illegal immigration and the war on terror, probably more than the Democrats would have tolerated from a GOP president, and for it we heard that the Democrats were flinging open the borders and welcoming in ISIS (and given the declining rates of both illegal immigration and foreign terror attacks on US soil all the way to 2016, one can only assume that the “WE’RE OPEN” sign was greeted with “Nah we’re good”).

The Never-Trump press and its amen corner in the Perpetually Sorrowful commentariat have invented this wonderful middle road, and put a left-wing seize-the-means-of-production Weather Underground caricature on one side and Trump on the other. And only one of those three things is real. And right now, the closest thing to said wonderful middle road is the Democratic Party, which right now is probably only just reaching the level of liberalism it held in the 1980s during those mythical days when Saint Ronnie and Tip O’Neill would sort it all out over bourbon after hours.

Because your beautiful beloved George Herbert Walker Bush cast his last Presidential vote for Hillary Clinton. There’s your fucking reality check. Now go cash it.

Patient Zero

Well, propriety and house rules dictate that everyone gets free passage across the Styx. Now that we’ve sorted that, it’s time to tell the truth about George Herbert Walker Bush. There will be encomiums aplenty from all the usual suspects, and it’s true that Bush the Elder’s reputation has grown immensely in the last two decades, first by comparison to his wastrel son and then by the heir of his party. But how did we get to that point? Bush the Younger would be a happy dry-drunk baseball owner and Trump a faded reality star if not for George H.W. Bush, and the two pivotal figures in his campaign in 1988: Lee Atwater and Roger Ailes.

Yep, that Roger Ailes, the one who went on to found Fox News, and that Lee Atwater, who crafted the core message of Fox News when he ran the 1988 campaign for Bush. He built a world full of scary colored criminals and evil cities and the horror of people who were Not Like You, and flogged it for all he was worth, and Roger Ailes picked up the torch and built a 24-hour news network around it. And from there, you draw a straight line to where we are today.

All because Bush the Elder drew a sharp distinction between governing and campaigning. Governing was important, full of the sort of patrician noblesse-oblige you’d expect from a New England Republican of a certain age. Campaigning was a nasty, brutal, necessary evil, to be gotten over with quickly in as ruthless and definitive a fashion as possible, and therefore anything goes and there is no need to pause or hesitate over the morality of the two. Bush thought he could turn it on and off at election time, and in doing so came across as a phony and a fraud. Lacking the communication skills of his successor or his predecessor, either of whom could sell water to a fish, he recited the words that were put in his mouth and went along with his party’s embrace of Neo-Confederacy, and he paid. It didn’t even avail him that much in the South, where Clinton and Gore won states that haven’t gone blue in the 21st century.

The 41st President, at heart, seemed a decent enough fellow. Most of the time. But like the man said, sooner or later you can’t hide from the things you’ve done anymore. And no appraisal of 41 is complete if it doesn’t acknowledge how he put the GOP squarely on the road to Trump when he decided “anything goes” and pretended that actions don’t have consequences.

There is too much.

Let me explain. No, let me sum up.

The last time Vanderbilt football took three in a row from Tennessee, the Grand Ole Opry wasn’t even called the Grand Ole Opry yet. The coach was Dan McGugin, and we’d just recently moved into the first purpose-built football stadium in the South. And the Vols had just gone out and hired a coach whose mission was to get over on Vanderbilt. Oh, and? There was no SEC.

That last bit was the subject of about 4000 words over at the Vandy blog this week, as I looked at our alternatives. I think depending on how you define success in football, membership of the SEC may be an insurmountable obstacle to success. I think there’s a very real chance that the 8-4 Brigadoon seasons were as good as we’re capable of; we’ve never won all our one-score games and those are usually the difference in bowling or not. (There were two years under Bobby Johnson where the Dores finished with 5 wins and lost three or more games by a single score. It’s the edge of a knife, being a Vanderbilt supporter.) But the plain brutal fact of the matter is that with Bama and Georgia and Florida and LSU and all the other schools with a more flexible approach to classes and law enforcement, we’re never getting a division title or a trip to Atlanta. We’re just not. 

Which means you have to look at the question: what would be considered “success” for Vanderbilt? I know I said before that if 3-9 is the price of keeping guys in class and off the police blotter and graduating, then 3-9 forever. But there’s nothing that says we have to stay in the SEC to get our asses pummeled while we do that. You look at plenty of other schools – in the Ivy League, in the MEAC and SWAC, schools that have opted out of the regular championship process altogether and are happy to play in a smaller space – and wonder what’s the percentage in being part of the playoff chase when we have no shot at winning.

I think there’s a really good case to be made that if we can win 6 or 7 a year, every year, that might be enough. The whole world knows we’re playing on the highest difficulty level possible. If we could at least be a .500 team and force opponents not to write down an automatic W in pen, that might be sufficient. Otherwise, it sort of stands in for a whole lot of psychological baggage, a lot of confronting the fact that what people down South say is important flies in the face of what really matters, and that getting a good education and following the rules is no substitute for winning.

The real kicker in all of this, of course, is that SEC money makes up over half of the athletics budget at Vanderbilt. Football is the sacrifice we make so that baseball and bowling and women’t tennis can win national championships and so golf and cross-country and women’s soccer can win titles and basketball can knock off anyone at any time and get into the tournament semi-frequently. And until the Playoff League goes off on its own – and under no circumstances should Vanderbilt follow – that’s probably just the way things are going to be. Maybe when the mighty power teams with “schools” attached finally go into business for themselves in football, we can settle into something between 1-A and 1-AA and finally have what Chancellor Alexander Heard wanted for us when he conceived of the Magnolia League: “big-time football without the excess.”

Wouldn’t that be something.