Watch Out

So the Series 4, the fifth generation of Apple Watch, was announced at the Apple event on September 12. The most telling thing is that it’s Series 4 – the latest version of watchOS officially discontinues support for the original Apple Watch, retroactively declared “Series 0.” Which means that if you went out and dropped money back in 2015, your watch is now as good as it’s going to get, and at present, that ain’t real good.

Apple refined the paradigm a couple of times. When the watch launched, it was hard not to get the sense that it was meant to be a remote control so you didn’t have to take the gigantic iPhone Plus out of your pocket or bag or cargo shorts or wherever. Some of the features were absolute Samsung gimmick trash – sending your heartbeat, dedicating the one big button to picking someone to text – and the base UI underwent a couple of major refinements in the ensuing years. Problem is, now the Series 0 hardware is just not up to scratch even in watchOS 4, where it’s slow and unreliable (trying to use Siri or voice dictation varies between trying and impossible). Which means that in theory, I’m in the market.

Except I’m really not. Because when you get right down to it, the market has declared the core functionality that anyone wants from a wearable boils down to “fitness tracker with notifications.” And Fitbit has that market locked up, especially after the Pebble acquisition. It’s now possible to buy a device that will track your steps, track your heart rate (not with an ECG, but as good as any prior Apple Watch did), receive notifications from more than just text/phone/calendar, even do NFC payments – all for half of what Apple wants for the new watch, and with the added benefit that the battery will last you five or six days between charges. Meaning you can do sleep monitoring, the thing I want most – and a thing the Apple Watch simply can’t be used for in a reasonable fashion when it has to be charged daily.

What exactly do you give up? Well, you can’t actually answer a call from your Fitbit, or reply to a text, or trigger your 2FA app, or automagically unlock your desktop computer. That’s…about it, actually. Problem is, answering calls and replying to messages from this watch now are functions that work in name only; from a practicality standpoint, I can’t do it. The 2FA thing is nice, but when I’m at my desk, it’s a piece of cake to pick the phone up off the wireless pad (which is 3rd party as Apple is a year in arrears with theirs) and unlock with FaceID, tap the notification and hit “approve.” (If I’m working on the phone itself, it’s even easier to just pull down on the notification.) And I’m sure the security folks will thank me not to be automatically unlocking my work laptop with mere proximity.

And even if this functions were more important…are they $300 more important than the Alta HR my wife bought me on Amazon’s Prime Day? Apparently not, as I’m wearing the Apple Watch to work today for the first time in…a month? Maybe? I haven’t taken the Apple Watch on a trip longer than overnight since I had it; it didn’t go to London or Ireland or Disneyland or New York or Hawaii. In fact, wearing my mechanical watch rather than the Apple Watch became something of an act of cosplay, a gesture toward a time when the only piece of information I’ll need on my arm is the time. The Fitbit is on there all the time, pushing me to more steps, getting me more active in ways that are already beginning to show results – and giving me actionable information about my sleep.

The original Apple Watch was bought after a single runaway heartbeat incident, at a time when I was seriously worried about what the job had done to my health and in fear that worse things might be coming. Right now, the Fitbit is helping me take charge of my health on my own terms. That’s a win. And that’s $400 I don’t have to spend, on top of the $500 I don’t have to spend on a new iPhone SE2 or the $500 I don’t have to spend on a new iPad mini (also discontinued).

It’s nice, to quote Voice of the Beehive, when what you have is enough.

12

Lost in the sauce with Apple’s move to the premium phone space is that iOS 12 is exactly what the iPhone ecosystem has needed for a couple of years. It’s not a true Snow Leopard-type “No new features” release but it does a LOT of cleaning up under the hood. The Internet is rife with reports of how four and five year old iOS devices were suddenly restored to the full flush of youth, and I can say that my vintage-Christmas-2013 iPad mini which was functionally unusable in iOS 11 is usable in iOS 12 again. The old quip about “snappy” holds true for sure. There are other nice touches, like the new accents in Siri or the fact that voice recognition works in low-power mode or that the utterly unintuitive second step to close apps on the iPhone X is no longer necessary. It’s a polish job for an OS that desperately needed one after the fiasco that was iOS 11/macOS High Sierra (for my money, the worst OS release since…7.5.2? Maybe?) and it seems rock-solid.

But the real magic is Shortcuts. 

Shortcuts began life as an app called Workflow, designed to bring some primitive scripting capability to iOS. And it could do some nifty tricks, like helping you select a picture and turn it into a LOLCAT-style meme or populating a tweet with ASCII art or parsing QR codes with the camera or just putting one-touch buttons in the widget pane to call someone or start a certain playlist. And it can still do all of those things. But Apple bought Workflow, renamed it, and integrated it with another bought product from eight or ten years back…called Siri. So now, not only can you craft your own workflows, you can trigger them through Siri with voice commands. You can nest scripts in other scrips. You can call system functions. And most interesting of all, Siri will parse things you do on a regular basis – on the phone, without sending anything to the cloud for processing – and offer them as options to integrate into other shortcuts.

The practical upshot of this is that at bedtime, I can say “hey Siri, time to go to bed” and it will flip the phone to Do Not Disturb and launch the white noise app. When I walk out the door in the morning, I can say “hey Siri, time to go to work” and it will turn on low-power mode, shut off the wifi (so it doesn’t try to grab the half-assed wifi on every passing bus) and start the mellow playlist that eases me into the day, while launching Transit to let me see what time the train is coming. Or, if I’m at home in the recliner with a pint or just settling into a chair in my favorite no-television bar, I can say “hey Siri, pub mode” and it will kick on Do Not Disturb, launch the Kindle app for reading and start playing my “This Are Two-Tone” list with Madness, the Specials, the English Beat, and all the other stuff I like to have in the background while sipping on a Smithwick’s and reading.

This. Is. HUGE.

Not just because it’s a huge step down the road to JARVIS. It can’t read your mind yet, but it can make educated guesses and offer things that you can approve and incorporate for it to use. And it can do it all with machine learning on the device itself. This is enormous, because unlike Google or Facebook, no offsite data mining and aggregation is necessary to make it work. It may not be as effective as other digital assistants, but it does its thing without compromising your privacy. In a digital world where privacy is a luxury good, this might be one worth paying for.

And at this point – when you can buy a device knowing the OS will be usably updated for four years, when it can be customized and shaped into the most truly personal computer yet, and when it obviates the need for tablet, Kindle, and maybe even television in addition to all the other things the smartphone replaced, you can start to see $800 for 4 years as a more reasonable arrangement. If Apple’s long game is “value for money over more time” and they can make it pay out, that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to happen to this industry, especially when I’m balking at having to replace a watch after three years. 

Get back to me again after the iOS 14 launch when we see how this X is working.

Tesla Computer, Inc

I stand by my assertion that Apple has gone from BMW to Volkswagen to Tesla. If nothing else, the fact they’ve gone all in on the iPhone X price range – with no ship date for the cheapest model – should be as clear an indicator as you could ask for. The baseline “new” iPhone has gone up a hundred bucks or more in the last two years, and the top of the line has gone from $850 to $1100 – not to mention an absurd 6.5” display; no wonder they aren’t making the iPad mini anymore. With the cancellation of the SE, Apple has abandoned the one-handed phone market and gone all in on chasing the Chinese luxury market. How you feel about that probably depends on whether you came up in the era of “the computer for the rest of us,” even when it was more expensive than competitors. Because you could at least be assured you were getting value for money, rather than “premium materials” and a series of gimmicks that would make Samsung blush if they weren’t trying to imitate them.

It starts with the Watch, which you now have to replace if you bought the original and still want the latest version of watchOS. Which I guess is about par for the course given that the original iPhone only got updated to iOS 3.1.3. Only problem is, you sort of expect to have to replace a phone every two or three years. If that’s the expectation for a watch, that’s a big ask when you’re throwing down a thousand bucks on a phone. Then again, depending on who your market is, $1500 every two years might not be that big a deal.

The interesting thing is the FDA-certified ECG in the watch for detecting atrial fibrillation. Or hell, falls. There are seriously useful things about having medical-grade telemetry on your arm, and for $400, that ain’t hay. The only thing is, I don’t need those (yet), and the Fitbit Charge 3 will get me to 90% of the functions I need from an Apple Watch for half the money…and five or six times the battery life. Which means sleep tracking, something Apple still can’t do because “all-day battery life” means you’re still expected to plug the damn thing in every night.

And then there’s the phone. The iPhone XS–

Hold up.

What idiot seriously proposed calling this the XS? And what asshole seriously thinks people will pronounce it “Ten S”? You’re supposed to interpret the first letter as a Roman numeral and the second as a letter? And “XS Max”? Are we having this phone in 1996? And the “XR” – why R? Because it’s less than S? This is what we’re going with?

Never mind that the phone is basically the same. Slightly faster, 512 GB version if you want it, some gimmickry around the camera, but if you have an iPhone X, you’re good. Thank god my employer was enough of a dullard to be conned into paying for it. Because I’ll be damned if I lay out THAT much money for a phone – the most I ever spent on my own device was something over five hundred for a Sony Ericsson P800 in a shady Bowery cellphone shop in 2003, and laying down double that for something I can’t expect to get more than three years from is asking one hell of a lot. Not when my cousin is still getting by just fine on a Moto G3 he paid maybe $250 for.

And this is the risk Apple is taking. My wife needs to replace her 6S, but she’s not about to buy anything in the X line. So…what? Buy an 8 with last year’s processor for $600 and hope for the best? Buy a pre-aged 7 for $550 for the 128GB model rather than cut your storage in half?

All I know is, I’m laying down $29 for the battery replacement on my SE, and you’ll prise it out of my cold dead hand. Singular. And I’m going to wait another year and see if Cupertino can collectively pull its head out of its anus before the next phone release. I’m not hopeful.

He Won

For years, September 11 made me angry, because we still hadn’t gotten the responsible party yet. We allowed our eye to be taken off the ball so George Dubya Bush, the second-worst president of my lifetime (and I was born in the Nixon administration), could work out his Daddy issues in Iraq and ensure that the Middle East would be a disaster area for decades to come. (And miss me with the sudden rehabilitation now that Trump is worse. Fuck that shit. Dubya was Trump with a salad and a haircut and some semi-competent-if-evil people around him.) And so they pissed around for almost a decade until 2011, when justice was finally done. And I could breathe a little easier.

And then, 2016.

What makes me enraged to think about is that Donald Trump is the final victory for Osama bin Laden. That wormy bastard wanted to attack America, he wanted to bring it down from within, he wanted to destroy our standing in the world – well, here we are, seventeen years on, and he got everything he wanted. Maybe if Bush doesn’t have a war to rally everyone behind, he struggles with legitimacy and policy and we actually do something to ensure that the candidate with the most votes is the one who wins, but, nope. Maybe if there’s no ongoing panic by square-state yahoos whose fear fed the GOP’s ballot boxes for years afterward, Bush doesn’t win again and Republican politics doesn’t go down the Confederate-cryptofascist wormhole as quickly. Maybe without September 11, the whole “secret Muslim” bullshit can’t get traction against Obama, or at least the forces of paranoia and hate aren’t as readily mobilized. But because the rednecks shit themselves with fear, and the GOP came to rely on fear as their base, we got all the way to 2016.

And now here we are. There are a lot of things that would have to be done to remediate the damage, and I’m probably not going to live to see the job completed. But we’ve reached a point where the civilized world interprets America as damage and routes around it.  Which means that skinny fuckstick got exactly what he wanted, and we just handed it to him.

Thanks, Republicans.

Years In Review

I actively applied to three undergraduate institutions – Vanderbilt was the one I wanted, Alabama was the safety school, and there’s the one I ended up attending. Obviously, if I had it to do over, I would have taken the 75% tuition scholarship Vanderbilt offered, but for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I could go somewhere that hadn’t really made much of a run at me when I had a full-tuition offer from a school that had been in my mailbox twice a week for two years.

And yet, there was a brief moment when I actively thought that Alabama would be a better choice than where I wound up. Which, well, no. Not a chance. To go from a gifted magnet school of 200 to a state university of 20,000 would have been an abject disaster, even before taking the Machine into consideration or the fact that I would be fitting myself even more for a life in a small and stagnant pond. Tuscaloosa was an hour’s drive away. Mostly the same TV stations. Hell, some of the same radio stations. I wound up going to college closer to home than I’d gone to high school, but even so, one county over wouldn’t have made enough difference.

But in retrospect, even though I was a horrible culture fit and never should have accepted my offer, my undergraduate institution was at least surmountable. I didn’t have to work appreciably harder at the academic side of things – sure, the papers were longer and I had to type them in WordPerfect and print them out, but I figured that out by the end of the first semester (the one good thing about calculus is that it didn’t have a lot of papers to write). Other than that? I’d been using the UAB library as my high school library for four years, and took nothing but AP classes my senior year, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment. And it was still Birmingham – there was nothing new to discover, but at least I knew where the malls and the grocery stores were.

Over this past summer, while the blog was down, I did play around with the notion of “what if I’d gone for UC San Diego?” I might could have gotten in, back in 1990, and might even have gotten some sort of scholarship. I could probably have established residence with my aunt, although I don’t know how the rules worked on that, and I would have at least had someone to go to for a home cooked meal and laundry help in a pinch. Maybe the system of residential colleges would have given me a more scalable experience than twenty thousand in undergrad. Maybe…

I remember corresponding with a dear friend far away in 1992, discussing my discontent, and she wrote that most colleges are pretty well equipped to help young men thrive and survive (I suspect there was feminist snark in that statement that I completely missed) and if mine wasn’t, she could only offer two words of advice: “persevere” and “transfer”. Nevertheless, it’s entirely conceivable to me that I could have found myself somewhere farther and better – Berkeley, Columbia, Brown, maybe even potentially (oh god) Stanford – and run headlong into the fish problem, and realizing that a solid if wounded shark in the Alabama pond would be a minnow in the ocean of a top national university. And I can completely see myself having a condensed version of my Vanderbilt experience, flaming out, and falling back to Earth in a way that I never would have recovered from.

There is an edit, in other worse, where I needed to achieve gradual escape velocity. Going too far too fast would have only resulted in a truly spectacular flame-out. And I’ll buy that, certainly. For someone who has lived for years by the credo of “things can always get worse,” a Lucifer-grade fall from heaven is entirely plausible.

The ironic thing is, a small residential liberal-arts college with division-III athletics is probably just what I did need. It’s certainly what I re-imagined for myself while I was there. In fact, the current state of my undergraduate alma mater, with its twee on-campus stadium for non-scholarship regional football, is just exactly the sort of institution I probably would have survived and thrived at almost anywhere else. Except for the minor fact that I actually did go there, and it was nothing of the sort, and I suspect deep down hasn’t changed at all where it counts.

It’s tough not to reflect on this in September, when the beginning of school has always been the pivot point of my fiscal year as student or employee or football fan. But there’s no fixing it, there’s no solving it, there’s no having it over again. Like so much of the black hole, all there is for it is to lay the plywood over and put up the safety fence and the orange cones, and make sure to go around rather than falling in. I suppose it’s human nature to look over once in a while and see what’s in the hole, but it doesn’t do any good to stare into it.

I’m getting better at that. More than it may seem. I don’t know that I’ll ever get well, but who ever really does?

The Tide

When I was a kid, Alabama football was a national power. Bear Bryant, in his lion-in-winter phase, won back to back national championships in 1978 and 1979 (and should arguably have had another in 1977). Bama meant success. Crimson Tide football was the air I breathed and the ground I walked on until Bear Bryant came on TV at the end of the 1982 season and said that it was time for him to hang it up. A month later, he was dead.

Nick Saban arrived at Alabama in the spring of 2007 on an absurd-for-the-time contract, something like 8 years at $4 million per, and the absolute confidence of the Tide faithful that THIS was their guaranteed ticket back to the big time. Which…well, I don’t think even the most irrational Finebaum caller would have predicted how things would end. Five national championships. Two Heisman trophy winners after over a century with none at all. The Bear’s teams were a national power; Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide is THE national power. Clemson and Ohio State and others get their licks in, for sure, but right now, Alabama is the Death Star of college football. They are the rake, they are the dealer, they are the moral equivalent of rooting for the house.

In between was a long strange quarter-century that accounted for the majority of my life and the vast majority of my Alabama fandom. That was the Alabama I grew to adulthood on – a team that could go 5-6 in 1984 but somehow it was okay because they upset Auburn. A team whose coach could win 10 games and then decide to decamp to the University of Kentucky. A team that won the same number of national titles between 1982 and 2007 as BYU, as Georgia Tech, as Washington or Colorado or Tennessee. Basically, a long stretch in which Alabama football had the memory of great past success and tradition to buoy what was, at root, a generally mediocre bog-standard state university football program. Usually won enough games for a bowl, occasionally won double-digits and got a conference title or otherwise fell into a January bowl named after a commodity rather than a sponsor. Occasionally slipped and fell hard. Made some dubious decisions on coaching, many of them of a piece – hiring Mike Dubose because Gene Stallings wanted to choose his successor, then hiring Franchione when Dubose’s position became untenable, then hiring Mike Price when Franchione sold out in a hurry, then desperately grabbing Mike Shula when Price became morally untenable, then finally shooting a gigantic money cannon at Nick Saban.

I was a pretty damn devout Alabama fan (even if I didn’t much understand football) from the time I can remember football up until I got to Vanderbilt. At which point I had a football team of my own to be mildly interested in, and Vanderbilt had rattled off three 5 win seasons out of four and was primed for the come-up…until LSU hired the coach away and Vandy hired the offensive coordinator of my beloved Redskins and ruined both squads in the process. And then I was living in DC, and the NFL took most of my interest for pigskin, and while I was still aware of Alabama football (and blissfully unaware of Vanderbilt), it just wasn’t a big deal unless it was Tennessee or Auburn week. And I wasn’t in the South any longer. And then, I met a girl with her own Cal season tickets, and they were on the way up, and pretty soon that was the dominant football interest for a long time. And when Cal ran on the rocks, Vanderbilt suddenly became pretty damn good – incredibly good, by its standards – and that absorbed me completely.

And then it ended, and the wheel stopped spinning, and Vanderbilt and Cal were a mess and the NFL was reprehensible and Alabama…well, Alabama had changed, hadn’t it? It was as if you rubbed the lamp and the genie gave you everything you could have wanted. The first victory over Texas, in the Rose Bowl stadium, to cap a 14-0 season with the Tide’s first Heisman trophy winner? It was like something out of a dream. Nobody had any notion there would be four more national titles in the next eight seasons, a pace not even the Bear ever managed. And somewhere in there, Alabama football had become joyless. Maybe it was the distance, maybe it was the time, but the kinds of fans we quietly derided behind their backs as lunatics had become the archetypal Tide fan. Sports talk radio and social media had made the hype all-consuming. Obsession was the default mode. And for all that, actually watching the team was joyless. If you won a national championship, it was what was expected. If you lost unexpectedly to Ole Miss or something, it was the end of the world. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt rent its garments and went insane with rage because a coach left after averaging a record of 8-5 over three years – numbers that would almost certainly show Nick Saban the door.

The question for me becomes – did Alabama football really change, or did I just become more aware of it? Were things this nuts in Bear’s era, with no ESPN or Twitter or recruiting rankings or sports radio, or is it just easier to see now? And to come back to Alabama now feels like being one of those new soccer fans who runs right out and signs up to support a Manchester team, or like the legion of bandwagon Golden State Warriors fans. Maybe you don’t feel the connection any more when there’s no connection there. I don’t know that I could be an Alabama football fan now even if I’d actually gone to Alabama…which was a lot closer to happening than some people may remember or realize.

Of which.

A grand unified theory of Me

I’ve probably said it before but it’s amazing how the single universal thread in everything I hate right now is the Choose Your Own Reality crowd pissing around after a childhood (and much of a life, really) where Imagination was a dirty word. The same people who frowned at comic books or called Dungeons & Dragons the stuff of devil worship have spent the last ten years on another planet where email forwards and talk radio nutters are all the proof you need of a world of secret Muslims and Martian pedophile rings and crisis actors and false flags. At least I had the decency to know my imagination wasn’t real, which is more than you can say for the yokels I left behind.

My whole life, I am sensitive to the world. I take in everything, process everything, try to solve everything. I’ve always had to face the possibility of being overwhelmed by the inputs, made worse by those problems I couldn’t solve but wasn’t allowed to acknowledge I couldn’t figure out. Social life, from second grade to grad school. My relationships in college. The handful of enemy users at NGS. Anything that I couldn’t deduce my way out of just became a burden I wasn’t allowed to refuse to carry. 

I can’t turn it off, and my whole life, the only alternative has been to diminish the inputs by hiding, shutting out the world, getting rid of anything I have to solve or deal with. I can aid this chemically, a little, but it’s not sufficient; neither five Guinness nor six months of Wellbutrin helps. Maybe a little bit of antidepressant, or one pint, might be enough to derail the train momentarily – but I have to be free from any other inputs. And then I need safe input – the right books, the right music, the right conversation, the right people. And if I played my cards right, that’s enough to muffle the noise. Making the best use of the downtime, that’s something else again. Refusing to answer the trick questions – and letting go of them – is the thing I have only recently begun to learn and still struggle with, and the old impulse to just hide is still dominant. Especially if I can find some way of distracting myself while hidden – at which point I’m safe, until I have to come out of the hole again.

So that’s why I have to uncouple from the emotionally damaging things. Politics. Relatives. Sports that carry emotional involvement. I need the worst sort of easy listening music, Muzak or yacht rock or whatever. Or maybe even Gaelic-language radio that I can’t even understand, just as background noise. I need the gentle low-stakes television of Escape to the Country or a hundred sixty-two games of baseball or video from the cab of a train going from Carlisle to Newcastle. I need one imperial pint of a mild 4.0% ABV nitro summer porter that I can take an hour and a half to slowly sip my way through. I need a long bus ride in the morning under a leaden overcast sky, or hours on end on a train bound for – if not nowhere, then nowhere stressful, with a Kindle in one hand and a head on my shoulder. I need to open my eyes in the morning and have nothing that compels me to get out of a warm and cozy bed, least of all sunlight pounding through the windowpanes.

What I want, as it turns out, is a dull moment. And another one. And another one, in a string as far as the eye can see.

All over the place

This is the thirteenth year of the blog. In that time, I’ve had four primary cell phone numbers, six different Twitter handles, been all over the place with other social media services from Path to Mastodon to Peach to Tumblr, and had three different work email addresses. All piped through ten different smartphones and who knows how many computers.

It irritates my wife and friends to no end that my number has changed as frequently as it has. But in a way, it’s almost for the best, as is my erratic Twitter presence. It’s made it difficult to have a consistent online history, especially as I’ve spent years staying away from Google and Facebook services (yes, I have Instagram and WhatsApp, but neither ever connected to the other and neither ever connected to Facebook proper). On my personal iPhone SE, with its US Mobile SIM on prepaid, there is not one byte of Google code and no Facebook app other than Insta. And it runs through a VPN at all times which makes it appear I’m online from somewhere in London.

The Internet changed the rules about what is possible. As a result, a digital world has different imperatives and different issues around everything from copyright to speech to harassment to advertising to what is reasonable to expect from asynchronous communication. And because we live in a world where norms and unwritten rules mean nothing, we haven’t established any around this new world. In the past, if you ordered something from a catalog, you’d get their catalog every month from now on. Now you get email from them every day. No one in the old days would have dreamed of requiring you to conduct business on your home phone; now it’s nothing for a company to say they don’t have phones and expect you to use your own mobile phone for work. And there’s no planet on which South Central Bell could have said “we want to monitor your conversation so we can advertise to you” but now that’s more or less exactly what Verizon and Comcast and AT&T are arguing that they should be able to do “just like Google” without seeming to grasp that they’re the phone line, not the correspondent on the other end.

Add this to the long list of things that need repairing…someday. Assuming the world is still here and generational inertia hasn’t set in with everyone under 30 who has no idea or expectation of online privacy. Meanwhile I’ll be over here plotting to get a 669 area code for the personal line somehow.

The curse of 2014

It’s hard to think about given how 2016 and 2017 went, but for me, personally, it all sort of went to hell for good in 2014. The slide started almost immediately, with the first of ultimately seven ER visits for my in-laws that year as soon as I got back from Birmingham. That was when their health took a turn for the worst once and for all. Lost in the aftermath was how Vanderbilt’s most successful coach in the last century chose to go help Penn State get right, functionally taking a huge shit on everything he’d said for three years about “build don’t rent” – and sacrificing our best success in football history so that the Nittanys could speed their recovery from having harbored a child molester for years. That’ll sour your outlook.

But once you get away from the more purely personal, you see the real shit emerge. Ferguson, when some white people finally began to catch on that a huge swath of law enforcement is fundamentally lawless. GamerGate, where it became apparent that social media is a fundamentally negative force and that its operators are utterly unwilling to control or contain when bad people weaponize it.The GOP leveraged six years of blind obstruction to capture the Senate and elevate that obstruction to genuinely unprecedented levels. And the rest of the world finally began to catch on to how Silly Con Valley is sexist, ageist, kind of racist and the functional equivalent of Wall Street in the 1980s, and how its regular business was submerged under the get-rich-quick chicanery of companies whose business model was built on the tripod of “forgiveness not permission,” “do this for me like Mom used to” and “send nudes.”

We more or less live in the world that 2014 made. Just as Waterloo set the tone for the 19th century and the outbreak of World War I did for the 20th, 2014 showed us the shape of things to come. Retrograde populism, harnessed in the service of destabilizing any threat to unbridled wealth. And here in Silly Con Valley, we have a better view of it than most, because this is where your future comes from. So…wanna know what’s coming?

Consider the primacy of technology in the American marketplace. Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, to a lesser extent Microsoft – the big dream of wealth now runs through high-tech, more so than the Alex P. Keaton stockbroker fantasy ever did in the 1980s, because tech convinced people that it was all about “making the world a better place.” The cliche got to be a cliche because tech believed it was inherently virtuous. With that fallacy plainly dismissed, we can look a little closer and see that in a LOT of ways, it’s about reordering society to ensure continued privilege for the tech elite. Things like “everyone should learn to code” aren’t about trying to lift all boats, they’re about wrenching away the oars for themselves. Beware the man (reliably a man) who thinks the one thing he knows is the only thing that’s important to know.

People are starting to figure it out. That’s why we resemble Wall Street 1986 so much; the same dickbags are in search of the next pinnacle of power and this is it – with the added bonus that heretofore at least, tech CEOs have gotten the uncritical praise not afforded to finance in the post-crash era. But it’s becoming increasingly apparent that Zuckerberg and Kalanick and Y Combinator are this era’s Boesky and Milken and KKR. And the insidious thing is that they’re facilitating a slide toward an economy where the ultimate luxury good is financial stability. Think about it: a rental model is the key to the 21st Century indenture. Don’t own music, pay every month for Spotify. Don’t own movies, pay every month for Netflix or HBO. Don’t own a car, pay for Uber or Lyft or Limebike. Don’t own a home, pay…well, pay whatever the market will bear, in Silly Con Valley anyway, where starter homes cost easily $1.5 million.

And you can’t afford to accumulate the wealth needed to make bigger purchases, because on top of the rent you have to pay the college loans…and by making a college degree the gatekeeper credential, they’ve ensured that you start in enough debt to be stuck on the wheel. After which – well, odds are you’ll probably never get rich, but it takes on the psychology of the lottery. You can’t win if you don’t play, and if you don’t play, you save a pittance while ensuring the winner is Not You. You can ensure that you’ll be driving Uber and running TaskRabbit on top of your hourly day job forever, or you can indenture yourself to Sallie Mae for twenty years…and drive Uber and run TaskRabbit on top of your hourly day job. Meanwhile, the wacky loan packages that used to make home ownership at least broadly feasible in a distorted market are gone, and now you’re going to need at least 15% or 20% down – which, as mentioned above, now means that you have to cough up something in the six figures all at once, and around here do it in the face of people sailing in with cash offers so they can buy investment properties. Which leads to the quasi-feudal practice of writing your begging letter to the seller in hopes of convincing them to take your deal. Downton Abbey by the Bay. Which actually dovetails quite nicely with the distributed servantry of the gig economy. No wonder everyone’s into British period drama. It’s our own Back to the Future.

And the thing about it is, when all this wealth only flows to the top, you would think the obvious solution is “soak the rich.” But the mythical white working class has gone right along with the course of things, perfectly happy to be living on a slab of cardboard underneath an overpass, cooking a dead crow on a wire coat hanger over a fire in a tin can, so long as the brown people on the next slab over don’t even have a dead crow. It’s the same trick played on white people in Alabama for a century, and it worked a treat there. It just so happens that the cracks in the system made it possible to take it national. And now, because of that 2014 Senate campaign, the Supreme Court goes from possibly having six Democratic appointees for the first time in decades to having the most stalwart conservative tilt in a century. Which means the refs are permanently biased for the foreseeable future, and misconduct like gerrymandering or voter suppression will be even harder to get over on, and changing course will be ever more difficult. When the GOP hasn’t elected a new President with the most votes since 1988, but controls all three branches of the federal government, something has broken. Possibly beyond repair.

Heads Greenock, tails Galway.

Housekeeping

So having pushed up everything that was queued (including one five year old draft buried in the console), I think normal service is restored. The blog now plays nicely with the newest version of MarsEdit, which is nifty, and I can easily and cleanly post from the iPhone app (like right now), which may be a useful thing abroad rather than waiting and doing a big travelogue dump at the end. Being on the latest WordPress should also work a treat for performance and security, which I’m sure will make our host happy.

But one thing I did change was the theme. There was an updated version of the basic black text on white background that I’d been using more or less forever, and it was fine, and I reserve the right to go back to it. But the 2017 theme had room for a header picture. And I thought, well, why not.

The header is San Gregorio beach, on a day when the fog is up. Around here, it’s the place where you take that special someone you’re getting serious about. For at least a couple of years now, the whole San Mateo coastline has been my refuge, my place of peace, where I go to get my head together. It’s where I idly dream of retiring someday as I drift off to sleep at night. If I went down tomorrow, it’s almost certainly where I’d want my ashes scattered. It feels like a right place, and a safe place, and a saner place.

Which means it’s a good header for here. Twelve years of journaling here has made me acutely conscious that I spend a lot of time bitching and woolgathering and raging against the storm to no good end. Maybe hanging this over the front door is a good way of reminding myself that there’s a better place and a better aspiration and it’s a half hour to get there…unless I stop at Taco Bell in Pacifica first for a loaded potato griller and some Cinnabon delights with an extra large Baja Blast.

Year 13 is begun. Onward.