Hurt like hell, ain’t it? Don’t do that no more

The scary thing is that the latest polling shows Republican self-identification at 20-21%. Don’t forget, that jug-eared Texas lunatic – no, not that one, Ross Perot – pulled 19%. Michael Steele’s doing for the GOP what Ty Willingham did for Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, I’m headed here…check ‘scalawag’ at Tumblr for ongoing coverage of the latest covert incursion.

And then there were 59…

In the 1999 film Three Kings, Major Archie Gates (as played by George Clooney) asks what is the most important thing in the world. He dismisses his fellows as they respond “respect,” “love,” and “the will of God,” before answering “Necessity.”
Necessity is a good word to remember when thinking about Arlen Specter, senior senator from Pennsylvania, who as of today is apparently a Democrat. Some will argue that he was a Democrat in all but name, but he will certainly be a Democrat in the mold of Ben Nelson or Joe Lieberman – the sort of conservative outlier who is a perpetual thorn in the side of the party and is regularly feted by the Sabbath Gasbags as a grand statesman.
This is merely the latest instance in the great shakeout. From 1994-96, conservative Democrats either retired or defected in relatively extraordinary numbers, which gave the Republicans a stronger grip on the Senate than they should have normally had – but made the extent of Southern conservatism clearer and more consistent. The Democratic majority in the Senate now is as high as it’s been in 40 years, but this time, it’s not padded out with the likes of Richard Russell or James Eastland or John Stennis; there are no Senators with a (D) by their names who could legitimately be described as “conservative.” Centrist, hawkish, just plain ornery perhaps, but no conservatives – especially not by the modern definition.
Arlen Specter hasn’t moved that much. He was an unremarkable sort of Republican in the age of Lugar and Kassenbaum and Heinz and Dole. In the post-Gingrich Congressional GOP, though, he was a poor fit, as evidenced by the repeated primary challenge from Pat Toomey. As the GOP shrinks and becomes more conservative (two polls this week suggest that only one in five voters nationally self-identifies as a Republican), the odds that Specter could survive a primary against a hardcore GOP challenger are…well, they’re non-zero, but you wouldn’t want to bet your lunch money. And even if Specter could see off the challenge, doing so would entail running so far to starboard of his usual positions that he would make himself even more vulnerable in the general election for a state that hasn’t gone red in Presidential elections since 1988. Add in the likely nomination of Ed Rendell on the D’s side, and the cause becomes perfectly hopeless.
So there you have it. Necessity. If he wanted his Senate career to continue past next November, Arlen Specter had one option open to him, and he took it.
Now things get REALLY interesting. The GOP now has every incentive to fight like hell to keep Al Franken from being seated, as he would make Big Sixty – thus very nearly taking the filibuster off the table. If he does get seated, the GOP has no incentive at all to cooperate with anything, because none of their votes are needed for literally anything at all; any negotiations over legislation will be purely internal to the Democratic party-in-Congress. Which means that maximum heft will go to those last four or five votes needed to make 60…one of whom is Specter.
Bear in mind that New England went for the Democrats in a big way in 2008 – not only did Obama win every state of Red Sox Nation, but none of those states elected a single Republican to the House of Representatives. The other Specter-ish New England Republicans in the Senate might well be tempted to make the jump now – the choice seems to be either a shot at being key players among Senate Democrats, or a stint as a helpless Republican in a party intent on sliding out from under them to the right.
Ultimately I don’t think it will come to that – more likely there will be a precarious balance for a couple of years as people jockey for position ahead of the 2010 elections. But with the GOP defending a number of open seats, the odds of getting serious pushback against the Dem majority are not great, and much depends on whether more veteran GOP Senators decide to pack it in and retire (or run for governor, in the case of Kay Bailey-Hutchison). The prospect of another Great Reshuffle, scarcely 15 years after the last one – well, that’s the sort of thing you get into political science for in the first place.

Lightening the load

So last week during the April heat wave – which doesn’t leave me sanguine about summer – I walked by the Old Knickerbocker Tobacco Company in Menlo Park, close to the train station and in back of the British Bankers Club. It was about 95 degrees outside, and as soon as I walked in, it was 70 degrees and the air was thick with the scent of stacked cured tobacco…and if I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine I was back in the old shop in DC where I spent so many hours getting educated in finance and politics and army pranks. And smoking, of course.

Obviously, living in California, I barely smoke anymore – there’s nowhere TO smoke except in your own house (fat chance of the wife signing off on that) or out in a field somewhere (good luck finding THAT) or in your car (not since Danny went to his reward after 200K+ faithful miles). But in retrospect, one of the biggest benefits of not smoking the pipe on a routine basis has been that I don’t have to carry around all the S that goes with smoking a pipe. You have to have a pipe (duh), some tobacco (duh), a source of flame (ideally a Zippo), some sort of tool to knock out the dottle and ideally at least one or two pipe cleaners. Not a small amount of accoutrement.

To make matters worse, back in the old days, not only did I carry all that but I also packed a cell phone, a pager, an iPod, a Leatherman or Swiss Army Cybertool, and occasionally even a PDA of some sort. Adds up to quite the heavy load, especially if you don’t have the Dockers with the concealed extra pockets. For me, that was the pull of the smartphone – and now, people as far-flung as DJs in London acknowledge that if you didn’t have an iPhone, you’d need to go everywhere carrying a phone, an iPod, a camera, a laptop, a beeper and a pint of beer.*

All this leads me back to the notion of cloud computing, which is damn near a necessity if you’re really going to live the digital nomad lifestyle. There’s nowhere to keep all your stuff on most netbooks – certainly not on your smartphone – so some sort of secure online storage with browser-based editing tools becomes essential if you really want to live light and go anywhere. Given that I’m about to go over to a new work laptop full-time, but don’t want to have my personal stuff stored on there (or taking up space in my work backup), having things safely cloud-based has become more important. Of course, when your iTunes folder is 104 GB, online storage suddenly becomes a hell of a lot less practical…

* You know damn well you downloaded the iPint app, don’t front.

Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX,

Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX, today:

Austin — Gov. Rick Perry today in a precautionary measure requested the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide 37,430 courses of antiviral medications from the Strategic National Stockpile to Texas to prevent the spread of swine flu. Currently, three cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Texas.

Gov. Rick Perry, R-TX, two weeks ago:

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry today joined state Rep. Brandon Creighton and sponsors of House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 50 in support of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Partial text of HCR-50:

RESOLVED, That the 81st Legislature of the State of Texas

hereby claim sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the

Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise

enumerated and granted to the federal government by the

Constitution of the United States; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That this serve as notice and demand to the federal

government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective

immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these

constitutionally delegated powers;

I don’t see anything about the Centers for Disease Control in the Constitution; therefore, I believe the federal government is officially within its obligations and duties to tell Rick Perry to shit in his ten-gallon hat and screw it on tight.

I’m entirely serious. There are a bunch of people out running their mouths about crap like “socialism” and “fascism” and “USSA” and “losing the republic” and yes, secession. At some point, if we don’t make Bubba* eat his words, he’s going to think he can make another go of it just like ’61. Hopefully, this President will be less like Eisenhower and Kennedy and more like Lincoln…and show some sack. Besides, as I never tire of pointing out, this time the Feds have got the hydrogen bomb.

* “Bubba” hereafter to be used as the equivalent of “Fritz” in WWII or “Charlie” in Vietnam. If we’re going to have a second Civil War, it’s not too early to be working on slang.


While I work up another post, consider this nugget: South Africa is wrapping up a general election. No results yet, because they are meticulous to the point of fastidiousness about keeping it clean, and they do a good job with it, but in the meantime, consider this:
There are kids who voted in that election who were not born when Mandela walked free from prison.
Tempus Fugit.* It’s a different world out there, folks.
*But The Special AKA still kick ass, don’t think they don’t.

Wardrobe malfeasance

When I lived in DC, especially in the second half of my career there, my surrogate big sister memorably described my wardrobe as “black shirt, black shirt, Hawai’ian shirt, black shirt, black Hawai’ian shirt.” And with the exception of the black shirt, the black shirt, and the mambo shirt, that was pretty much accurate. A proflieration of aloha-wear was good for many things: covering the emerging gut, resisting the heat of a Washington summer, looking snappy at the cigar shop.

Once I moved west, though, those shirts largely went in the closet and stayed there. Part of it was because they weren’t really practical for warehouse work, but I think at some level I was trying to make myself over a little and leave behind some of the more unpleasant aspects of my personality developed in the latter two years with the old firm. That may be why I also ordered myself a pair of No Sweats the day we pulled into Silly Con Valley to stay. Now, these shoes are your classic NorCal: a Converse Chuck Taylor lookalike, in black, made by sweatshop-free union labor in some less-benighted Third World hellhole. For whatever reason they don’t make them anymore, but back then, it felt like a nice change from years of Doc Martens. Ironically, within six months I was wearing steel-toed Docs, which I actually needed for my job, and the NS went in the closet.

If you need proof the 80s are back, just stroll around any shopping area populated by young people – I saw kids in Union Square up in the city on Saturday who could have dropped into my junior-high era without drawing so much as a blink. The Chucks are everywhere (as are drainpipe jeans and garish neon, but that’s a problem for another day) – much like the M1911 is for firearms manufacturers, every shoe company on Earth has made a Chuck clone at some point. And for similar reasons of timelessness and demonstrable utility.

I haven’t owned actual Chucks since a pair of maroon hightops for PE in 9th grade. I bought a pair of black hightops at some point in college and returned them within a half hour, and I had a pair of the big leather basketball shoes that Converse styled to look like Chucks during my new-kicks-every-month phase in college and grad school. In fact, since arriving in Washington all those years ago, I hadn’t bought a single pair of athletic shoes in at least…well, ever.

But there is something about the simple black Cons, with the white rubber toe and the stripe around the sole, that suggests – I don’t know what. All I know is that I put them on today, with the black Hawai’ian shirt, and felt like I probably looked five years younger. Which, as things go, well, you could do worse.

(There will be more weird flashback nostalgia later, including cigars.)


If you recall, the great antiwar protests of 2003 really didn’t accomplish that much. Part of it was because they didn’t get a lot of media coverage – MSNBC fired the host of their highest-rated evening show because Phil Donahue was just too liberal for the zeitgeist, for crying out loud – but largely because those protests were, to put it bluntly, the hottest of hot messes. For every concerned middle-American who was uneasy about so quickly launching a second military front in the War on Terror, there were a dozen assorted goofs – International ANSWER types, Palestinian liberationists, moronic Ralph Nader dead-enders, anarchists with paper-mache puppets, Free Mumia douchetards, a smattering of dirty hippies with signs about how George Washington grew hemp, greying 60s hairballs on a nostalgia trip – in short, enough incoherence and mixed messages that what came across was a muddled collection of hard-left cliches sure to weaken the resolve of any plain ol’ voter who just wanted to register that this was the wrong war at the wrong time.

Looking at today’s “teabag” protests (brought to you through the courtesy of Fox News Channel), it’s tough to say that the right doesn’t have the same problem. You have the whole 2009 right-wing grab bag of Birthers, who still think Obama’s not actually an American citizen, the “secret Muslim” crowd (which apparently represents roughly 10% of the population, which is why we have words like ‘decimation’), the black-helicopter militia types who just got done re-applying the “I Love My Country But I Fear My Government” bumper stickers they scraped off eight years ago, a bunch of free-range secessionists (this is a particular problem in Texas, apparently, but then Texas is a particular problem anyway), gold-standard buffoons, flat-tax enthusiasts, and not a small number of outright racists. And all of that obscures the message of…


…what exactly? Taxes are bad? (Look, I don’t like taxes either, but it’s not like I could buy a nuke with my own money – it’s the sort of thing you have to go in on, like a keg.) Raising the top marginal rate 3.5% two years from now – as will be done by statute law that was passed eight years ago – is beyond the pale? Some as-yet-undetermined tax increase in the future is untenable? Cutting payroll taxes is wrong? Socking it to rich assholes who spent bailout money on their own bonuses is a bad thing? (Cause there sure were a hell of a lot of votes for it four weeks ago.)

Actually, that’s unfair. There is a unified and coherent message to today’s protests, and it is this: “We’re still mad that we got the beatdown last November, and if we just whine loud enough and whine long enough, we can magically turn back time.” It’s just another variation of the Great Southern Sickness: the belief that somehow, some way, you can make things be back the way they were. And as somebody who’s not only a victim but a carrier for GSS, I damn well know it when I see it.

The Boston Tea Party was about taxation without representation. Everybody out there today has their representation, and had it in November, and they got clowned. Last check, they still had tons of Congressmen and over forty Senators, so excuse me if I can’t get too worked up. If I want to deal with that kind of crying, I’ll babysit.

More bits and bobs

* I can’t claim to have been a particular fan of Harry Kalas, but my heart goes out to two generations of fans who don’t know the Phillies any other way. In a world where, as Jerry Seinfeld memorably said, we wind up “rooting for laundry,” the voice of the play-by-play is often the heart and soul of a franchise. Ask the Dodger fans about Vin Scully, or Cal fans about Joe Starkey. For me, obviously, it’s Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff, two old guys from another NFL era whose style and sensibility is largely borrowed from those two old Muppets up in the balcony – imagining the Redskins without them is something I’d rather not consider without a stiff drink to hand.

* If a bank is so bothered by restrictions on CEO compensation that they’d rather just give their bailout money back, I question whether they ever needed the money in the first place.

* The old family team is safe in the Scottish First Division, two points behind Partick Thistle. The dream of the SPL will have to be deferred another year, but then, Celtic are only on a one-point lead over the Hun at the moment.

* Speaking of the Hun, I’ve been giving the Anglican Communion another look, albeit from a safe distance – having done the Catholic thing at Easter again, I’m starting to get the sense that I might just want to throw in my lot with a leaner, whippier version of the same. And, I’ll be brutally honest here, one that has a lot lower barrier to entry…although I think that my urgent need to have something, anything, to say I belong to – well, it’s less an issue than it was previously.

* Now that you’ve climbed up there, it’s a hell of a lot higher than it looks, ain’t it? If you seriously think the DHS report about right-wing terrorism* is directed at you, I would strongly suggest you’ve got a tin ear for all the people who spent the last few years saying “what are you gonna think of this kind of government power when Hillary’s President?” Or a guilty conscience. But hey – if you haven’t done anything wrong, what do you have to worry about? (disengage sarcasto-drive)

* Nothing more annoying than being in IT and having someone else’s major IT system go out. Nobody says “Wow, those dumbasses at Core don’t know how to keep an SMTP system running,” they say “Hey you, my email doesn’t work!” Then again, I do have a lot of people who can magically negotiate Yahoo Messenger, AOL Radio and some entertainment blog at once without a hitch – and then, when I ask them to go to a URL and change a setting, they turn into Sammy Sosa testifying before Congress. “Ahh…ummm…no habla Computer.” Say what you like about the youth of America, but I never have this conversation with anybody under 30.

* You know, I think all the coverage of Bo the First Dog is just fine, for two reasons: 1) The dog is named indirectly after Bo Diddley (pray for us) which is an unalloyed good. 2) Covering pictures of a cute puppy is just about the level of intellectual challenge that cable news is capable of handling without hurting themselves. I get the feeling that if I ever kicked down Wolf Blitzer’s door and demanded to know the three constituent parts of the Iron Trangle, he would burst into tears and piss himself.**

* It’s really not good for IT to be regarded as some kind of weird clan of magicians. Largely because people who believe in magic have a poor grasp on things like cause and effect, not to mention the limitations imposed by natural phenomena like time, space, and budgets. Yes, I am very very good at what I do. No, I cannot raise the dead. And even if I could, I wouldn’t start with your Dell POS.

* Dell is shit. That’s right, I said it. If I get my hands on our Dell rep, I’ma give him an Irish blanket party and a wood shampoo that even the immortal Marc Radi would bow before. Dell rep, DEAD. Dell tech, DEAD. Marmalard, DEAD – no sir, Dee Snider ain’t gonna take it anymore and neither are we, sir, brace yourself, for the storm is coming, and Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Chitwood and John Cougar are riding its cresting wave, and by the time you make it back to the surface we’re gonna wing it over to London and jam with Mick and the Stones.

I woke up in a great mood. I don’t know what the hell happened.***

* Bit of a sore point for me, as my hometown is singularly defined by right-wing terrorism to the point that it was nicknamed based on the number of acts that went on routinely.

** As defined in classic political science and public policy, an “Iron Triangle” is the interdependent contrivance of an issue lobby, a Congressional committee, and the executive-branch bureaucracy, the latter two specific to the issue at hand. Go re-read Wildavsky’s book on policy implementation, cleverly titled “Implementation.” See, pretty smart to come up with shit like that, right? Hold the applause…

*** Mike Damone gets a nickel. He probably needs it.

I’m a PC, and I’m yesterday’s news.

Biggest announcement in technology in some time: this week the iTunes Music Store, the nation’s largest retailer of music (bigger than Amazon, bigger than the Great Arkie Satan, bigger than Target or Tower or Virgin Megastore or Charlemagne Records down on the Southside), went to 100% DRM-free music (and at 256 kbps, no less). This is big for two reasons:

1) No longer can one plausibly claim that the iTMS locks you into Apple products – yes, you have to use iTunes to get at the stuff, but that is free software, and once you have the tracks, they will play just fine on any device capable of handling MPEG-4-standard multimedia. If your device cannot handle the MPEG-4 standard, then your device is a piece of shit and you should replace it.

2) No longer can any online music retailer insist on DRM’d music and expect to succeed. Apple no longer has it, and the one entity I think capable of surpassing Apple in the music sales sphere (that would be Amazon) has never had it as far as I know. It’s going to be damn near impossible for somebody to come in with some non-standard format and convince people to take a flyer. Sony tried it, with some variant of their horribly-named ATRAC format (say it three times real fast and watch the 70s well up around you!) and failed horribly. And Microsoft…

Let’s face it, it was risible when the likes of Steve Ballmer would go out there and say that Windows Media Audio was the format that gave you real choice in your digital music. The choice, of course was between the likes of the Zune format of WMA, the “Plays For Sure” variant of WMA (generally known in the industry as “Plays For Shit” and utterly thrown under the bus by Microsoft when the Zune hit), the prior Windows Music incarnations (some going back to before 2000)…well, the use of an unencrypted MPEG-standard format means that you can go out and get hardware from other providers and still use your iTunes content, so this might actually be good for the hardware business if somebody wants to try to tool up to do to Apple what Apple did to…hell, I don’t know, Creative? Rio?

I say that to reinforce what I said last week: if your next big thing runs on a PC, it’s not the next big thing. Personal computers are still out there and fine for the usual applications, but all the hype in high-tech is in the Web 2.0 – social networking – personal entertainment – smartphone sector. Personal computing is ubiquitous, but it’s also become a commodity experience (something Microsoft isn’t really helping by hammering the “PCs are cheap!” angle). People do the stuff they have to do on a PC, irrespective of OS, but increasingly, they do the stuff they want to do on a Wii, or an XBox, or an iPhone, or a Blackberry, or on whatever web browser is handy to get them to Facebook.

The reason you see Microsoft lunging to advertise now – the reason you see them falling about themselves to take shots at a competitor with one-eighth of the market share in personal computers that WIndows-based systems have* – is because it’s starting to become apparent that the world of high-tech in 2009 is not dependent on Microsoft products in any way. Don’t believe me? There’s a manager at my office who does everything he does on a MacBook Air – the machine I once derided as a mid-life crisis computer, a machine unfit for anyone to use as their sole system. If he doesn’t need Microsoft products as a working lead in Tier 1 IT support…how long before no one does? And if nobody depends on Windows, what exactly does Microsoft have left to sell?

Actually, what do they have to sell? The Zune is the butt of jokes from Washington (the Junks: “I wouldn’t have that piece of S if you paid me to use it”) to Hollywood (Craig Ferguson: “Of course you haven’t heard of the Zune…probably because it Zucks.”). Windows Media just got the nuts cut out from under it vis-a-vis digital music. Windows Mobile got its lunch eaten by RIM in the business market and by Apple in the consumer smartphone space. The XBox 360 is still doing well with hardcore gamers, but got lapped in the mainstream mind by the Wii. In short, once you take away the advantages of incumbency and OS tying…well, it’s not 1995 anymore.

And for that, we can all be grateful.

* Especially risible is the notion that instead of an overpriced pretty pretty Apple that’s only useful as a status symbol and a shiny thing, you should buy…a Sony VAIO. Ask anyone who actually does support for a living what they think of Sony’s laptops. Then plug your ears.

Monday evening leftovers

* Bought another Nerf gun, a little $10 thing from Target. Already cut the air restrictors out of it – it’s ridiculous loud but I can sit on the far end of the sofa and hit the front door knob every time without particularly aiming.

* I knew that everyone from Vandy was coming back for next year’s basketball season, but I didn’t realize that the one scholarship addition – John Jenkins of Gallatin – was averaging 42.3 points per game his senior year of high school – #1 in the nation. Assuming that AJ Ogilvy sticks around for his senior season, 2011 could be one hell of a year for the Commodores.

* When you’re being sensible and drinking non-alcoholic spacers between your pints, it’s advisable to use water rather than something with caffeine in it. Especially Red Bull Cola. That stuff hurts you worse than the booze.

* Three ways you know you’re not “technically savvy”:

1) You describe yourself as “technically savvy.”

2) You do comparative laptop shopping by going to Fry’s.

3) You decide that good battery life means buying an HP slab with about 2 hours of real-world battery usage.

* Seriously, there comes a point where if you keep saying things that are demonstrably stupid, you should not continue to have a public forum. I’m not looking at anyone in particular, but let me point out that the FEMA-concentration-camp shtick was tired when Jello Biafra was bloviating about it from the left when I was in HIGH SCHOOL.

* Microsoft can say what they like, but I’ll tell you this: I had a Dell go dead last Tuesday, one under a next-day warranty repair deal. The tech came out Thursday, replaced the power supply and motherboard, and said it needed a graphic card replacement. The tech came out Friday and replaced the graphics card. This morning, the computer failed to boot exactly as on Tuesday. Now I have a freaked out doctor who has a week to go in grant season – the best I can hope for is that she’ll believe me when I say that Dell’s tech needs a wood shampoo and not think “oh, my new IT guy is butt-worthless.”

* Watching footage of Magic Johnson from 1979…and thinking about the matchup with that big kid from Oklahoma who will probably be the number one pick. Is he as good as Magic? Well, he could probably take Magic…but then, you have to remember that Magic is fifty years old and has almost two decades worth of retroviral drugs in him. God knows I got no love for the Lakers, but if I could take any player in his prime to start a team with, the 6-9 “point guard” from Michigan State is my go-to.

* A different doctor said something to me about “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” I finished the entire Macbeth soliloquy for her. I don’t think it’s going to be long before these people are prepared to believe absolutely anything about me.

* Seriously, this isn’t a basketball game, it’s an autopsy. Unless things change drastically, the second half will be rated TV-MA for violence.

* Burger King is still F’ed up beyond recognition vis-a-vis their advertising, but I could have done the rest of my life without seeing a bunch of old college coaches in their shorts. Who the hell’s approving the advertising on CBS?