working man blues

 

“”we used to be Scotch-Irish coal miners, farmers, and ministers but then our attitude went downhill.”

-my cousin

 

A few years back, I dodged a bullet without realizing it. I applied for a support role with a local subsidiary of a Power 5 tech conglomerate and did not make it past the first interview, apparently because I was too much of a generalist. I have since become too much of a specialist, which is highly ironic, but in the years since, that subsidiary and its larger conglomerate have been the subject of many an expose of their work practices, some of which can be charitably classified as “shady AF.”  Indeed, they seem to have remade Jack Welch’s stack ranking for the 21st century, with a goal of dumping 6% of their workforce annually and a practice of putting large swaths of the workforce on performance-improvement plans, often without telling the employee they are under such a plan. The goal of this paranoia and stress-mongering is apparently to keep everyone crushing it all the time and running scared so they never have to get out of the mentality of being a light lean startup despite being a functional monopolist in certain areas.

This is honestly not that surprising. Between the New York Times and similar fish-wrappers banging the drum for a return to work, and the constant attacks on unemployment in the middle of a pandemic in the states of the Hookworm Belt, it’s hard not to think that the modern “job creator” has come to rely on a workforce with as little agency as possible. An increase in structural unemployment is a friend, because if jobs are tight enough that people drop out of the work market altogether, you can get away with murder on benefits and perks and being tight with the salary. (I myself ran into this six months before the pandemic, catching a layoff that has never yet been justified with an explanation and having my benefits cut to ribbons at a time when I had one in-law in hospice and the economy was not conducive to seeking employment other than the outsource option on offer.)

You would think that a society as focused as it is on the cult of the startup, the entrepreneur, the small business owner, would jump like a poked frog at something like universal health care. If you don’t have to provide health benefits yourself, your overhead as a new business proprietor is reduced and you can attract staff that doesn’t have to worry about losing their insurance. Hell, if there were a universal basic income to go with that health care, an aspiring founder could quit her job and launch her dream without having to worry about the kids’ checkups or whether there would be food in the lunchbox for school.  The Bible doesn’t say to style the needy, but it does make a forceful case that we have an obligation to clothe them.

But “job creators” don’t want this. Mostly because “job creators” – those not languishing in jail for their misadventures on January 6 – tend to be the same sort of self-important blowhards that have formed the backbone of the conservative movement since the 1950s: too small to compete with the corporations and conglomerates, but assured that they are nonetheless masters of the universe and that the peons should be grateful to labor in their vineyards. Universal basic income, or universal health care, or anything at all that makes it easier to strike out on your own and become a job creator yourself? That’s a threat. Hell, just being able to safely change jobs is a threat to a supine and grateful work force who will take whatever dollop of shit is on offer, lest the alternative be nothing at all.

The superannuated Fox cohort hates “socialism” more than anything in the world, seems like. Setting aside their ignorance of what socialism actually consists of, it might be worthwhile to consider maybe taking an approach to employment that doesn’t itself make a good case for socialism.

twenty years of iTunes

A huge chunk of my music collection shows a create date of 9/24/01. And well it should. That was the day that I installed the MacOS X 10.1 update on my white and gray iBook SE, and the day that I was finally pig-committed to moving my MP3 collection over from Mac OS 9 to the future, in Mac OS X with iTunes as my player app of choice.

My first MP3s were downloaded at the tail end of 1998 – the very first being Hole’s “Celebrity Skin”, though many many more followed, and I spent days at work trying to engineer swaps and downloads and such to get this or that song. It was tough, in the pre-Napster era, to find anything specific – let alone of playable quality. Things like that are how you end up with multiple versions of classic disco tracks, because you need trade stock for those 1:5 download/upload sites. And playback was through MacAmp, then Audion, then Casady & Greene’s SoundJam MP right before Apple bought it to re-engineer it into what we now know was iTunes.

Not that iTunes is still around. It’s become the Music app, part of Apple’s move to streaming, where most of the kids are these days (apparently Spotify is the done thing nowadays), And the Celestial Jukebox has arrived – rather than rip, mix, burn or download, you pay someone a monthly nut in exchange for access to every song ever recorded so long as it’s digitized and the rights are available. And I occasionally wonder if I wouldn’t be better off that way, especially looking at how much room the iTunes folder still takes up on my desktop computer at home and considering how all the Marvel and Disney stuff I ever need is already there in iTunes so why am I buying movies individually any more (and that might be finished, for what it’s worth). 

But…I dunno. Sure, Spotify has been around for a while now, and Apple Music is tethered to the largest company in the world. If there were some way of migrating your playlists in exportable form and knowing that you could bop from service to service without losing your list of tracks, that would be ideal and might just tempt me. But there’s a (brief) playlist there for September 2001. And another for October 2001. And then another, and another, and another, all in a folder labelled “it’s a long story” all the way up to (as of this writing) a September 2021 playlist. It is, quite literally, the soundtrack of my life. And in theory, if I unplugged my Mac from the network and never upgraded or updated or connected to the internet again, I’d still have all those songs for as long as the device would bear it. I’ve lost count of how many computers it’s hopped between, from the iBook to a Titanium PowerBook G4 to God knows how many laptops at Apple for three and a half years, ultimately from a MacBook to a Mac mini to another Mac mini to a third Mac mini to an iMac…

The remarkable thing, in retrospect, is that various iterations of the same software program have served this need for twenty years. I can’t think of another program I have lasted that long with in my personal life. Office will be with us always, sadly, but personally? That’s longer than Safari (itself interrupted by Firefox and Chrome at diverse times), longer than MardEdit, longer than Evernote, longer than Reeder or NetNewsWire or Slack or Tweetbot or Downcast. It’s a program that works with the iPod, but was made originally to serve the various Rio-type flash-memory MP3 players that would hold 128MB or what have you. 

And that’s ultimately the catch: Apple has been around, and thrived and survived. Other options have been less successful. Microsoft thrashed about and ultimately gave up, and I suspect Google has done the same. Right now, it seems like it’s Apple or Spotify, and right now I’d give better odds on Apple lasting longer. And yet…I don’t want to go the celestial jukebox route. I want my songs on a device that can play them, and that in theory could do so on some other gadget in future. Maybe there won’t be any. Maybe the new business model of the world is that you have to pay rent on anything They can compel you to, and that you never actually own anything any longer. 

But what the hell. I never expected my music to last this long in one place. Maybe I’ll be able to stay one jump ahead of the crocodiles, one swing ahead of the sword, for another twenty years or so.

Because yeah…it’s a long story.

the new stuff

I was in Seattle for the big Apple event. I still haven’t seen it all the way through, and I skipped around in fits and starts. Because this year is a very very iterative year. Four new phones, all same sizes, slight camera tweaks and screen improvements in the Pros. New slightly larger watch, keyboard and slightly faster charging but otherwise an identical chipset to the one on my arm. The only really new thing was the iPad mini being converted to an iPad Air Mini, which isn’t nothing – it might be an attractive alternative to a personal laptop under certain conditions, although you still need a keyboard for any kind of serious text entry. Then again, slap an Apple Pencil on it, and maybe you’re looking at the kind of thing that has me constantly going around with a notebook and pen to work out my thoughts. If I can scribble typed text on the screen and dictate the rest, then…who knows?

But there are not that many new features anywhere. iOS 15 is a grab bag of new improvements, some of which are downright gimmicky and some of which still haven’t shipped. I waited longer than usual to take on the beta, and the big thing I wanted – vaccine record and drivers’ license in the phone, which in the modern era damn near obviates the need for a wallet – is not yet available in California. It did drive home how much the phone really is the key piece of the equation now, though – the personal iMac is a repository for a quarter-century of file backups and iTunes library, plus a big screen for background video and Zoom. Which I can also do on my work laptop now that the big 27” 5K display is on the desk, and if one of them has to go when we move house, it’ll be the iMac, because we can plug either of our laptops up to the 5K. Or, come to think of it, an iPad mini with a bluetooth keyboard.

It’s reaching a point where my personal computing needs beyond the phone only require an AppleTV and a larger screen for video watching, and a keyboard for long-form video input. It would be nice to have the larger iPad mini display for travel, if only because a 5.4” is kind of crap for movies on the plane or maps when you’re plotting the day’s events, and the new mini might even fit in my travel blazer inside pouch. But at the end of the day, one of the things I found out on my week in Seattle was that I only needed the laptop for video conferencing (which was being backboned off the phone’s hotspot for connectivity, and nevertheless took 78% of the laptop’s battery in 80 minutes) – everything else from reading to music to photography to posting pics went to the phone without any trouble.

Seattle was useful in a lot of ways – partly for helping me finally elide the difference between light rail and streetcars (a streetcar runs solely on streets, never on its own right-of-way, and is a single car rather than a train), partly for the experience of the underground (a tremendous prompt to imagination and possibly the greatest real-life Quake map I’ve ever seen), and partly for the Space Needle and what its New Frontier pre-11/23/63 optimism says about our current world and how it all fell apart after September 11 or November 9. But at root, it was a useful test of a week away with only what I could fit in a laptop sleeve and a nifty tweed Rickshaw getaway bag. And I can definitely subsist for a week on the loadout that bag can hold, with the additional bonus that if we were going abroad, an iPad and charger kit could fit on top of my clothes and not require a separate bag at all. Make provisions to do laundry halfway through, and boom, there’s your two weeks in London – a circumstance that seems to have become the light at the end of the tunnel, however long it takes to get there. With the US finally admitting vaccinated visitors from the UK and EU, it seems like only a matter of time.

But first we’ve got to shift ourselves. Of which.

the making of the enemy

“More to the point, the fact that so many potential candidates are on Fox – and that Fox is setting rules as to how long you can stick around before being kicked off if you’re not going to say one way or the other whether you’re running – is proof, if any more were necessary, that the actual GOP machinery is far less important than Fox News in the strategic operation of the Republican Party. Fox News sets the priorities, employs the players, pumps the memes into public circulation, and apparently now decides the timetable for declaring when/if you’re going to run for office. It’s not unreasonable to speculate that the two major parties at present are the Democrats and Fox, with “Republicans” as merely a faction of the Fox Party.

Which is an extraordinarily unhealthy thing, for one very obvious reason: the needs of a for-profit broadcaster are not the needs of a political party in the electorate – or in governance. Which is why we get what we have. No sane governing party would have blown the first couple of months in office on assorted culture-war issues. Hell, no sane governor would have opened his career by taking an enormous deuce on some of his key supporters for the sake of ideological purity – yet Walker up in Wisconsin has managed to make enemies of the teachers, the firemen, the police AND the Green Bay Packers. That’s bad arithmetic.

But the Fox Party isn’t about governance. It’s about maintaining the special world in which the viewers of Fox are simultaneously the martyred minority holding out against the forces of evil and the righteous majority who represent Real America. It’s about making sure that people tune in every day and every night to be told how right they are and how scary the rest of the world is. It’s about keeping the team fired up and racking up wins.”

 

March 4, 2011

 

 

“In so many ways, it goes back to W.J. Cash, as it always does, and his characterization of the essential Southern quality: “that no man living could cross him and get away with it.”  I don’t have to go along to get along. I don’t have to listen to some pointy-headed bureaucrat. I don’t have to stand behind the yellow line. I’ll just roll through that stop sign. I’ll put my cigarette out when I feel like it.

It’s not just Southern anymore. It’s not even just gun-suckers anymore.  Call it fascism, call it socialism, call it political correctness, or just call it fucking manners if you like.  But until our concept of citizenship in a polite society rises above the level of a sugar-shocked 8 year old in the back seat on a road trip, don’t expect a lot of progress on things like assholes meandering their guns through the grocery.”

 

Jan 29, 2013

 

 

“The enemy, as was said so many years ago, isn’t conservatism or liberalism. The enemy is bullshit. Bullshit too plentiful and overwhelming to refute. Bullshit that wins out on volume because it’s too much to beat down every single individual packet of bullshit. The bullshit will always get through, and people who don’t know better – or won’t know better – will fall before it.

Actually, there is coherence and cohesion to the modern GOP belief system: it’s called bullying, and it’s how “Blue Lives Matter” can coexist with the open carry of firearms and how the admiration for a Russian totalitarian can launder the exposure of classified information. The Trumpets who are now trying to read California out of the Union as somehow not really America have it all wrong. Silicon Valley is full of natural Trumpists: people who aren’t aware there are other people who aren’t like them, who are the embodiment of I GOT MINE FUCK YOU, who don’t care that we live in a society. That should have been warning enough for anyone that this was possible. As Uber, so Trump: do what you like and the facts and the law be damned, because your sycophants and worshippers will laud you for it.

And there are plenty of those. The GOP has spent the last 25 years powered by weaponized ignorance fueled with bullshit. It started in the Clinton years with exaggerations, misrepresentations, things that could be explained but if you’re explaining you’re losing. Then it got progressively worse, with lies about things that could be disproved but were complicated to demonstrate. And the bar just kept getting lower and lower until 2016, when the GOP lied constantly about things that could be instantly and trivially disproven – knowing that their base would reject the proof. And because our system can’t cope with shamelessness, we got burned. Badly. The problem is, if you can’t have truth, you can’t have a society. We have to be able to interact truthfully. If we can’t, we don’t have a society.”

 

Dec. 19, 2016

 

 

“Let’s not forget that the famous “we create our own reality” interview was in October 2004, before Dubya was elected the second time. In fact, let’s have the block quote, which is generally understood to have come from Karl Rove himself:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Basically that’s taking a shit on the entire concept of empirical fact. That’s pissing directly in the face of the Enlightenment. That’s an argument that says we can believe whatever we want and you can’t stop us. It’s the functioning basis of Fox News, of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones, of five straight GOP Presidential campaigns. It’s not a Trump phenomenon, it’s not even Tea Party. It is what the Republican Party has stood for now for over a decade: who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?

This is why there has to be a reckoning. This is why Obama was wrong to try to work with the GOP, to try his whole “come let us reason together” shtick, to desperately try to negotiate with the other side. You don’t negotiate with a five year old having a tantrum. You don’t negotiate with a lunatic screaming on a street corner. You act quickly and decisively to put them out of harm’s way – their own and others – and carry on having an adult society while doing what you can to see that they get the help they need.”

 

April 25, 2017

 

 

“Consider: 75% of the Republicans in the lower body have only been there since the 2010 elections or later. Their entire Congressional career has not only been post-Fox, but post-Tea Party. They have never passed a budget in regular order, never had to confront the world outside the axis of Breitbart. They’ve been part of two government shutdowns and the unprecedented near-default of sovereign debt. They’ve voted over fifty times to repeal Obamacare. Their entire MO is tribal loyalty and their entire range of issues is Benghazi-birth certificate-EMAILS, and they’ve never had to actually govern. And now they are the frontline troops for an accidental amateur President. When Trump says he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and his followers would cheer? The ones he means are the ones in the Capitol, because those are the only ones he needs. And they don’t know how to do anything but moo for their side.”

May 12, 2017

 

 

“But here’s the thing: there is no reckoning. Nothing happened to the GOP after they went Party Of No on Clinton, or weaponized impeachment to try to undo the 1996 results. Nothing happened to the Electoral College when Al Gore got screwed under shaky circumstances. Nothing happened when the GOP turned the filibuster into a daily process and snowed the catamites of the media into normalizing the idea that “the Senate needs 60 votes.” Nothing happened when the Republican Party nailed its colors to Donald Fucking Trump. And right now, despite all the shit hitting the fan, despite a partisan firing of the FBI director and blood-curdling breaches of national security and patently unconstitutional actions, nothing suggests that the GOP will bend or buckle as long as they think having this fatuous publicity whore in the Oval Office can still deliver them tax cuts and Supreme Court seats.

There are two sides sitting at the gaming table in America. One is trying to win the game and the other is trying to burn the house down so they can run off with the silverware. This is patently unsustainable. It’s the dog humping your leg: it’s in his nature and you can’t blame him for it, but eventually, you have to cut his balls off. And that’s exactly what has to happen to the Republican Party, because as long as this version of the GOP can continue to operate, we cannot function as a country. The last time we had this problem, the Democrats chose to cast off the South and stake their future on the old children’s hymn: “red and yellow black and white, they are precious in His sight.” And George Wallace, Kevin Philips and Richard Nixon, Lee Atwater and George Bush were all ready and waiting to scoop up those who replied “no they’re not.” And then the GOP made them the base of the party in 1994 and it’s literally been downhill ever since. From January 1995, the opening of the 104th Congress, you can date the shutdowns, the impeachments, the near-defaults, the political witch hunts, the propaganda parade on cable news, and the tribal politics of “you’re entitled to your own reality.”

We’re going to keep limping through, with Democrats trying to slap on salve and bandages where they can and Republicans normalizing the notion that there is no such thing as society – just them that has and them that can suck it. In a world where a millionaire apartment developer can tell millennials they could afford a house if they just gave up avocado toast – while Silly Con Valley housing prices skyrocket 20% every year – the Republican meme is that everything bad that happens to you is your own fault, from illness to poverty to skin color to just not being able to keep up with the cost of living. And now the Baby Boomers will pull up the very ladder they used, with affordable college and available housing and defined benefit pensions, and everyone else can go screw.

Which is why it’s time to start thinking about how America will look if we survive. Because this is unsustainable. Our system of government, our entire political culture in the 20th century, depended on certain norms and unwritten rules and cultural guidelines which have all gone out the window, almost entirely of Republican doing. And if they’re committed to their tribal project, there’s no way to prevent them from continuing to vote – we’d have to just make some kind of pact that everyone else will vote for the same person every time to ensure they can’t get in. At which point you’re right back in Alabama, where the party primary decides the statewide result (and has for basically all but three or four statewide elections in the last century). And Alabama is a broke, dysfunctional system of government whereby people only get by because they’ve had the Feds holding a gun to the state’s head.”

 

May 16, 2017

 

 

 

“So what happens now? Even if Trump bites the dust and the GOP is turned out of office across the board in a manner recalling 1974-76, what are we left with? We have a political party still in existence whose members have been radicalized to believe anything they are told by their trusted leadership – which largely consists of conspiracy-mongering media. We have an electoral process that was compromised by bad actors in and out of government and which was swayed by a foreign power, and a nuclear one at that – what do we do about that? We have the precedent of a President elected while stonewalling any effort to explore his finances, his foreign ties or his past conduct – why should any future candidate not do the same? We have net neutrality crucified on behalf of Comcast and Verizon – how do we return to a regulatory framework robust enough to ensure actual competition in broadband and get us within shouting distance of what the rest of the world has? And – most of all – how do we convince the rest of the world that our leadership and our global role can be given any more heft than, say, Italy? Or Russia? Or any other country with a corrupt and compromised political leadership and a public unable to check or contain it?”

July 14, 2017

 

 

“The rules of the Senate and the composition of the Electoral College means the Republican Party can get its way without having the most votes in a way the Democrats simply can’t anymore. They could have, maybe, in 2009 – but they were still constrained by norms and traditional practice and “the way things are done.” The Republicans have the advantage of not caring about that in the least, which is of a piece with the way that party has worked for a quarter century. Twenty-five years of AM radio and cable news and being led around by the nose by carnival barkers and rodeo clowns and circus freaks. Twenty-five years of being told that it’s not enough to have your own opinions, you’re entitled to your own facts. And if they don’t square with reality? You’re entitled to your own reality. You can believe that 10% of the federal budget goes to foreign aid and that your Affordable Care Act insurance is more virtuous and entitled than the Obamacare those brown people have and that there’s some secret Democrat child sex ring spiriting kids to Mars as slaves…

Our system was not divinely ordained, not handed down from Olympus as some timeless model of perfection. It was conceived in iniquity and birthed in sin, reserving power to the male, the white and the landed. More than one person has pointed to the various amendments in the ensuing 240 years as proof that the American struggle is ultimately toward giving everyone the participatory power that the Founding Fathers reserved for their own kind. But it isn’t working any more. 

We’re broken. We’re not going to be able to fix this, because the people who could have – the people who needed to stand up and say “look, I disagree with the Democrats but this is horse shit, there are no death panels, foreign aid is a rounding error compared to your Social Security, Sharia law is not a thing that is happening in this country, the President is an American citizen born in Hawaii and a practicing Christian” – those people sat on their hands and kept their mouths shut so they could reap the partisan advantage, and it got us to this point. Between the hilljack yokels, the ones who mined their ignorance for electoral profit, and the ones who can’t be arsed to take part, there aren’t enough people left to reliably redeem the country.

And here’s the kicker: what happens when the rednecks run into reality? The kind of reality that can’t be reconciled with the old “the universe is 4.5 billion years old six days a week and 6000 on Sundays”? The kind of reality you can’t wish away? The kind of reality that doesn’t care what Alex Jones told you because that cancer isn’t going to respond to peach pit extract and your insurance won’t cover you anymore? What happens once these Trump voters all realize they played themselves? Are they prepared to live with the consequences? And since the answer is almost certainly hell no, who are they going to take it out on? And how? And what are we prepared to do about it?”

July 31, 2017

 

 

“Sixteen years ago, Osama bin Laden made Stupid Americans shit themselves. Then we spent every year after validating stupid. And after a wihile, Russia figured out how to exploit their fear. And Twitter and Facebook both lay back and allowed them to do it. The confluence of public stupid and technological free-for-all destroyed the 21st century before it could start. And now, because we didn’t push back on an electoral college that make the person with the most votes lose, because we didn’t push back on conspiracy theorists as “news”, because we decided the Internet was the free-speech wing of the free-speech party (whatever the fuck that means other than something to let tech bros get erect), we wound up where we are now. Comcast and Verizon have free reign to carve up Internet access like cable TV. There is no free market in broadband anymore. The budget is such a freakin’ disaster area that we don’t even know whether to pay off the property tax now so it’ll still be deductible on our federal return.

The really disturbing thing is…how do you come back from this? Elect a bunch of Democrats and then see if you can get away with impeachment, which will only put a bigger holy roller in the Oval Office and convince Ed Earl Brown that the job is done because Trump’s out? Run the table in 2020 and start trying to put things back like they were, only to get smeared by the catamites at the New York Times and take an ass-kicking in 2022? Do we have the time to wait for demographics to fix things or are we going to be too far gone by then?”

Dec. 22, 2017

 

 

“You don’t have to like it. No one is asking you to approve of everything they stand for, everything they might want to do, and that’s fine – nothing serious could move for two years anyway. You don’t have to worry that Congress is suddenly going to nationalize Comcast and outlaw Baptists. It’s fine. This isn’t about granular issue positions any more. Those have to wait for later. This is about only one side being willing and able to stop the bleeding.

Because the GOP had plenty of chances to head this thing off, and couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Didn’t. For better or worse, this is what it means to be a Republican in 2018: I believe all of this is OK. Because nothing has happened to stop it. If the GOP was going to stand up to Trump, they’ve had two years to do so. And it didn’t happen, except for a gesture toward healthcare by a dying man who isn’t there anymore. Flake, Collins, all the sorrowful “moderates” – they’re there for him when it counts. Every single time.

The fact of the matter is, we functionally have a two-party system. You can vote for a third party if you want, but don’t kid yourself that you’re not actually throwing away your vote. The Green party isn’t going to save you, and there is no magical third way moderate who is going to lead us out of this. Your choices are yes, this is OK, or no it isn’t. And right now, today, in 2018, “no it isn’t” is labeled Democrat. Full stop.

Maybe if the sixty-something percent who say “no it isn’t” in polls could all get behind one party, we could do a deal. We’ll hash it out in the party, and when the rubber hits the road we’ll hold our noses and support what we decided to do rather than going all different directions and tolerating crazy – or worse, endorsing it – for the sake of getting our own way. And we’ll leave the nuts and the crazies and the assholes on the outside and wait for them to die, and contain in the meantime, because holding together a society is more important than burning it down for a bare advantage.”

1 Nov 2018

 

 

“The Republican Party has become Trump, and Trump has become the Republican Party, and the GOP that built itself on Lincoln, Eisenhower and Reagan has been reduced to a postmodern religious cult of hate, fraud and make-believe. Only an idiot seeks to meet bullshit halfway, and there is nothing to gain by trying to split the difference with Crazy World. Call it out, cut it off, and shun everyone and anyone who won’t, including the catamites of the Washington press corps. “Come let us reason together” only works with people capable of reason, and the burden of proof is all on the other side now. Start by making the most simple litmus test of all: if you can’t say who won, you don’t get to play.The end.”

Nov. 23, 2020

 

 

“We’re back to containment. This is the last chance for the GOP to climb off the train before becoming the QOP. It may yet be necessary to blow up the filibuster and resort to adding states and going full scorched earth to prevent the scum who tried to overrun the capital taking a place in American politics. But for the moment, the “not all Republicans” are being offered one chance at a Billy Martin.”

Jan 20, 2021

 

***

 

If they were ever going to come around, they’d have done it by now already. They have not. They will not.

Stop pretending there’s anything to gain from “bipartisanship.” Stop pretending you can make a deal. Stop negotiating with “No.” Kill the filibuster, kill the debt ceiling, pack the court, add some states, federalize the right to vote, and take the consequences.

the semiotics of the pen

It turns out I wrote most of this article over a decade ago. I may as well pick up where I left off. Not long after the 0.38 G2 became a thing, I drifted into a Japanese stationery store at Santana Row and found a Uni-Ball retractable in 0.38mm, featuring a never-before-seen blue-black ink. And that immediately became my pen. Granted, I rarely actually needed a pen, but I snatched it up anyway – to the point that when I went to Japan in 2015, I raided Tokyo Hands for over a dozen of them, in both retractable and non-retractable varieties (including a couple of 0.28mm, which frankly are only good for tearing the paper, you may as well write with a razor blade).

And sometime in the last four years, I found a very agreeable stick rollerball at Muji, in the same blue-black and 0.38, for $1.49 each. I bought a handful of them, and good thing, because Muji seems to have gone by the boards. And in the meantime, my everyday carry pen became a brass retractable from Machine Era, an American company specializing in the kind of mechanical manufacturing that doesn’t often get done in the country any more. I have a bolt-action retractable in stainless steel that uses any Parker refill, and the smaller brass one that takes the mini-refill, and is optimized for travel abroad with a Moleskine notebook – and which incidentally works out ideally in a pandemic world as a germ-resistant means of poking buttons. After all, in a world where there’s one cup of pens or pencils that says “SANITIZED” and another that says “DIRTY”, how much better to pull out your own writing instrument where required?

I still keep the Moleskine notebooks for travel, but mostly haven’t used them domestically for years. Time was, that was how I did a brain dump, and in some ways I still do – my desk needs a legal pad and a pen for me to work out thoughts, make lists, diagram the flow of how I want things to work. It’s easier to make notes on the fly with Evernote or the Notes app on the phone, but for some reason, my brain just processes better if I have the weight of a pen in one hand (thus the particular appeal of the Machine Era pens) and a broad blank page to work with.

It still feels like a necessary implement. The world has worn the contents of my pocket down to keys, wallet and phone, plus my AirPods and handkerchief, and so many of the things I needed to carry in the past are either by the boards (headphones, iPod, lighter, pipe, Swiss Army knife) or no longer particularly useful (no need for the Leatherman on you when you never leave the house, and the pen can stay on the desk, and honestly for most of the past year everything but the phone could be left on top of the dresser most days without incident). 

But taking up that pen and pad feels like readiness. Like i’m preparing to think, to figure things out, to make notes, to create. I need a pen because deep down, who I am is someone that has need of a pen. 

the semiotics of the boots

Like any American kid, I were tennis shoes for years. Well, trainers, in the UK sense… because tennis gave way to cross-trainers to basketball high-tops. The only exceptions were the Rockport boots I wore to Central Europe in 1992 and a pair of cowboy boots gifted to me in 1995. And that was that, for the most part. But the 90s were the era of “Casual Friday” when you needed a smart step down from the suits and coats and ties of traditional business, and that meant something nicer than Nike.

I spent a good chunk of 1996 and 1997 looking for a suitable pair of brown shoes… Screw Frank Zappa, I needed adult footwear, and I genuinely don’t know what I did at work for the first couple of years before I was gifted my first pair of Dr Martens at Christmas of 1998. Somehow I had in mind that it was the appropriate footwear of an aspiring system administrator, and that I needed to make up for lost time in the 1980s. And that. began the streak – for over a decade, it was all Docs all the time. I ended up with over a dozen pair – high, low, sandals, square-toed, steel toed, you name it. They carried me from DC to Apple to NASA and beyond.

By 2012, I was wondering whether I needed to turn over a new leaf. Thus began a whole slew of new options over the next five years. I got Alden Indy boots for my birthday. I bought my first pair of chukkas, which were my last pair of Docs. I brought back Solovair and Lokes from the British Boot Company in Camden Town. I bought two pair of boat shoes for the first time in decades.

But in 2017, I grabbed a pair of steel toed Blundstones. I didn’t need them for any industrial purpose, but it felt necessary. In a world where the assholes had the upper hand from the train platform to the White House, I needed to touch some of what I had possessed in my 30s. And that’s when I realized the boots mean something.

But I haven’t had the need for a long time. For a year and a half, a pair of black plastic Birkenstocks have been all the footwear I require. And I feel the absence of the boots, because I want them propped on the rail of the bar. Or on the cobbles of a London backstreet. I want reason to need the boots, and I want to feel like I did in the old days when they were part of my uniform. Because back then, I did things. There were things to do. More than sitting around in circles waiting for life to begin again.

Hopefully it’s almost time to get on your boots.

they’ll do anything to need the guns

There is no bottom. The modern 21st century GOP sinks ever deeper into militant redneckery, and in 2021 it’s worse than ever. And the alarming bit is that there is a common thread. On January 6, they attacked the Capitol in mob force in the belief that somehow they could stop the result of the Presidential election. In some Southern states, they have removed any legal obstacle to carrying concealed weapons. Most of the month of August was spent with crowds shouting down school board meetings and hospital emergency rooms. And then, Texas passed a law that essentially banned abortion, but enjoined the state from enforcing the law – instead empowering anyone else in the state to sue to enforce it.

The Republican party is now organized around the principle that mob rule by whites is the most valid form of government, and that the methods and process of electoral democracy should be subordinate to the demands of white mob rule, empowered by the threat of violence. The number of elected officials threatening a re-run of January 6 should be an alarm bell, as should the frequency with which quotidian local political operations are being disrupted by gangs of hyperactive Fox News consumers. All protected by the most prominent feature of white privilege: freedom from summary justice, the same protection that took Dylan Roof to Burger King but gunned down Elijah McCain and Trayvon Martin. To paraphrase PJ O’Rourke in another era, if this mob were criminals, they’d be poorer and darker skinned.

By contrast, imagine that we knew a batallion of ISIS were coming to attack the US Capitol on the day of the Electoral College vote count. Would they have been allowed to mass together up the street? Would they have been allowed a parade of speakers to agg them on? Would they have been let to fill the steps of the Capitol without resistance? Would they FUCK. The DC National Guard and active-duty military would have turned the west front into a sea of human gazpacho.

The GOP exists to legitimize violence by whites only. It’s past time to call them on it and do whatever is necessary to break it.

flashback, part 113 of n

“try to remember the kind of September…”

2012.

For all my life, the arrival of autumn was the new beginning. Football season, back to school, the restoration of normal service after the abnormally hot and humid interlude of a Southern summer. And for most of the last ten years, it hasn’t meant anything but more heat, more misery, fires over a third of the state, and a reminder that things aren’t what they used to be.

But 2012 was actually a pretty good year. I made a trip home on short notice and hammered out the beginnings of, if not a peace treaty, a cease-fire with my relatives and first exposure to a new Birmingham that still intrigues me. I made a return to Vanderbilt for a football game for the first time in fifteen years, at a time when it felt like Vanderbilt football might improve to a seven-win program without having to compromise our values or sell our souls. We had friends nearby, close enough to call for dinner downtown without notice. I had a blood relation within fifty miles, for crying out loud. I had an out-of-band raise and recognition at work, even if it was starting to get a little annoying. And Cal had a newly remodeled stadium and the promise of “root hog or die” for Jeff Tedford, who as it turned out was way past his sell-by date.

The world was saner, too. Osama bin Laden was dead, the Senate was safely in Democratic hands, and there was no reason to feel like Obama could’t win in 2012. No virus. No Trump. It felt like 2000 could still be an anomaly, and that maybe a Presidential election going to the candidate without the most votes was a one-off rather than a permanent structural disadvantage. We hadn’t had Sandy Point yet, the proof that nothing will move the needle for the GOP, and Moscow Mitch wasn’t yet embarked on the permanent destruction of the norms and folkways of the US Senate in the name of preserving white supremacy for all time. And Washington had an exciting quarterback and a football team worth paying attention to for the first time in years. Technology wasn’t in a rut yet. It would take another year or so for the mobile phone to cross the finish line. LTE was coming, as was NFC and AMOLED and other nice-to-have technologies, but the iPad was a dream and the iPhone 4S was as perfect a device as I could ask for, having been handed it as a warranty replacement for a flaky 4. The iPhone 5, while intriguing, wasn’t a have-to-have yet. Facebook was bad, but hadn’t yet destroyed an election, and Instagram was new and interesting and fun to use.

And I was 40. That was kind of a problem, but it felt like things were moving the right direction. I certainly didn’t think I was in a rut, even though my health was taking a few knocks. I wasn’t under any therapist’s care, because I didn’t need to be, and even though my shoulder was twinging there was the hope that a quick epidural would fix it. Blue Shield hadn’t yet tried to screw me on the coverage.

I started my fifth decade pretty damn well. And then time happened. Progress ground to a halt, stupid graduated from valid to dominant, and we learned the hard way that the unwritten rules are meaningless and only cultural obstacles protect our established practices. Someone sufficiently shameless can do anything they want just by brazening it out, and they proceeded to do just that, over and over, until we landed here.

I know I’ve said before how much it felt like I wasted the decade of the 90s, but the decade of my own 40s has been a bust too – stagnant, depressed, running to stand still and still losing ground. I am in the middle of some fairly drastic changes in hope of breaking out of the quagmire, and I don’t have a lot of hope for anything wildly better, but if we were to end up safely in our new home, and I were to find my way to a job that could be done 100% remote, and done from anywhere, and that would at least pay enough to keep me fed and clothes and housed if I were left alone in Alabama, and that I could be assured of keeping for fifteen years or more as long as I worked hard and did a good job–

That would be enough, wouldn’t it? I don’t need the world, I just need the assurance that I will somehow be able to get by for a good twenty years. But this September, that seems like too much to ask for.

the killers, “the getting by”

When I get up, she swears that she don’t hear it

Says that I’m as quiet as a mouse

I comb my hair and throw some water on my face

And back out of the stillness of our house

Lately, my patience is in short supply

Nothing good seems to ever come from all this work, no matter how hard I try

You know I believe in the Son, I ain’t no backslider, but my people were told they’d prosper in this land

Still, I know some who’ve never seen the ocean or set one foot on a velvet bed of sand

But they’ve got their treasure laying way up high, where there might be many mansions

but when I look up, all I see is sky

Maybe it’s the getting by that gets right underneath you

It’d swallow up your every step, boy, if it could

But maybe it’s the stuff it takes to get up in the morning and put another day in, son

That holds you till the getting’s good

Green ribbon front doors, dishwater days, this whole town is tied to the torso of God’s mysterious ways

Maybe it’s the getting by that gets right underneath you

It’d swallow up your every step, boy, if it could

But maybe it’s the stuff it takes to get up in the morning and put another day in, son

that keeps you standing where you should

So put another day in, son, and hold on till the getting’s good

fifteen years

When I started this blog, it was supposed to be the public-facing option. It was going to be an adjunct to LiveJournal, which was locked down and private and only for friends. And then, as my wife says, time happened. And social media happened. And I made some bad decisions around the incipient world of social media in an attempt to make more happen in the real world, and I know now that all of that was part and parcel of the depression incident of 2007 and the last thing I needed was to sever parasocial ties in hopes it would lead to social ones. More fool me.

Well, I think I’ve built up enough backlog of content now. There’s the misery of four election seasons, there’s a decade of suspicion of Silly Con Valley and all its pomps and all its works and all its empty promises, there’s the complete history of the iPhone starting from my perch inside Apple for its debut, there’s the rise and fall of Vanderbilt athletics that aren’t baseball or women’s bowling, there’s travel abroad on half a dozen occasions. There’s the story of me, age 34-49, constantly fighting to stay what I am and resisting becoming who I probably could or should be.

It’s security through obscurity. I make no effort to promote this, nor do I really want to. But maybe it’s time to see if more than four or five people ever look at this, going forward. And maybe I need to see if I can do this on a schedule sometimes, address some broader topics, hit some word counts, see if I can communicate to a requirement. Because who knows, that might be next on the list if work doesn’t pan out the way I need it to.

And when I do need to put up a publicly identified known online presence, I’ll keep this air-gapped, because sometimes you need to erase a dot without leading people to wonder what was under the dot. But for now, if you’re just now here…welcome.

That’s a wrap on year 15. Here’s to better days coming.