Things Have Changed

Looking back to mid-2004, when I decamped from the East to Silicon Valley, it occurs to me that there are a lot of things that have become pivotal in my existence that weren’t there before.  Such as…

* Never mind the Freestyle machine – Coke Zero didn’t exist when I was in DC.  It has become damn near my only purchased soda option these days.

* Apple was still on PowerPC processors – the 12″ PowerBook G4 was the most desirable of all Macs.  There were no Intel machines, there was certainly no Air, and the entire world of iOS was a distant dream.  My Sony Ericsson P800 was the smartest phone out there, and I sold it within a couple months of reaching the Valley.

* I was cognizant of Vanderbilt athletics, but tying myself too closely to the Commodores felt awkward and inappropriate under the circumstances.  If I had an affiliation with college athletics at all, it was still the undergrad team, with their World Series win in their last season of NAIA baseball and the move of basketball into the Division I ranks.  My one trip out to a viewing party was for the Winthrop match in 2003-04, if I remember right – then came the Great Sandbagging and the dissociation.

* Come to think of it, the alienation from Vanderbilt only began to give way at Christmas of 2003, when the future wife and I made an overnight trip to Nashville – stayed at the Opryland Hotel, breakfast at the Loveless, book shopping at Davis-Kidd, and a whole lot of walking around campus before the bookstore in Rand was remodeled and before the Commons destroyed what used to be my old apartment at Garrison.  Then three months later the basketball teams both roared to the Sweet 16, and the seeds were sewn for me to come back to the Dores in a big way.

* For all my impressively-growing collection of Dr Martens, I didn’t own a single pair of steel-toes.  The count would eventually reach 5 pair in California by 2007.

* This very blog didn’t start until autumn 2006, two years into the California adventure.  Actually, come to think of it, I had yet to visit Disney California Adventure.

* No HD television or satellite radio.  The XM would come into play a month before leaving DC, and the HD wouldn’t kick in until 2008.

* The Hawaiian shirts largely went in the closet when I left DC, and the black polo shirt count was halved.

* Coffee wasn’t a daily necessity in DC.  It was a rarity, made notable by the fact that it seemed to have a mildly civilizing effect on me – but if I needed caffeine in DC, it meant Dr Pepper or Coke.  The rise of the dark stuff came during the Apple years, to the point where the lack of it at NASA was a huge factor in the unpleasantness around that year-and-change.

* The hair was cut for good a year after leaving DC.

* The polarized-amber shades only came on after the bachelor party, which while taking place in Atlantic City was actually eight months into my life in California.  Even now, I still instinctively want to go for the high-contrast lenses…

* No Twitter.  Hell, no Facebook, no Tumblr, no YouTube, and while RSS readers and Wikipedia existed, I hadn’t yet made use of them, let alone made them essential functions of my phone.  Hell, Gmail didn’t exist until three months before I left town; I was still wary of not having shell access to my email.  Now, things like pine and Webmail are far less important than reliable access over iPhone.

In short, a lot of little things – but they add up to a non-trivial transformation in how I live my life now.  And drive home the point that I really have been here longer than I was in DC.

Someone’s bitchin’, Lord, kumbaya…

OK, this is a general all-encompassing kvetch to get it out of my system now and try to preserve a nice weekend. So hopefully this will be and end of it.  Here goes:

1) If you’re going to run a public transit service of any kind, and you’re ALWAYS running behind or running late, there’s a simple fix for that: CHANGE THE F!-ING SCHEDULE to reflect the ACTUAL arrival times.  If construction that’s going to be in place for THE NEXT FIVE YEARS is making a route take ten minutes longer to run, CHANGE THE PRINTED SCHEDULE AND MOVE THE TIMES TO REFLECT IT.  This should not be difficult to comprehend, and it’s butt-simple to do.  You don’t have to change your equipment, or routes, or pay to run any more vehicles – JUST SAY THE ACTUAL TIMES.  Some people can’t afford to stand in the rain an extra fifteen minutes when they have a train connection to make.

2) If you work in IT, you should at least have some command of the tools of your trade.  If you are a FileMaker Pro developer, you should bloody well NOT call the help desk to have FileMaker Pro installed on your Mac.  If you are a web developer, you shouldn’t need a workstation tech to help you get Adobe Creative Suite on your laptop.  And if your work depends on running Cumulus as your media server platform, you should goddamn well know yourself whether upgrading to a WHOLE NEW OPERATING SYSTEM will break your access to Cumulus.

3) Riding your bike at full speed down a train platform is a dick move, especially when the signs say “Walk Your Bike,” and ESPECIALLY when a train is UNLOADING at RUSH HOUR, and if I clothesline your ass right off the bike next time, I’m not going to lose a picosecond of sleep over it.  I have enough problems walking right now without having to worry about being blindsided.

4) Stop worrying about high school football recruiting.  If you’re actually concerned about the fact that a 17-year-old boy is changing his mind about whether he will attend the college you support, you are one step removed from Jerry Sandusky.  Give it up.  Just fucking give it up.  You’ll have all the time in the world to embarrass yourself over kids half your age once the season starts again.  I’m sure that having a bunch of trailer park proctologists hooting at me over Twitter is going to make it VERY attractive to attend your SEC semi-pro safety school.

5) If you are going to sponsor access to your network for an external third party, allow them to access your internal network through VPN, and give them remote access to an administrator account on a machine on your internal network, your IT department had better be made aware of this clever plan before being told about it BY THE THIRD PARTY.  Otherwise you are asking for an ass-kicking and you will deserve whatever happens to you.

6) I’m sick of weather than gives you cold windy fog at 8 AM and clear burning direct sun at 1 PM.  Nothing I can do about that, but it’s not helping.

Phew.  I feel better already.  Now let’s have a nice day, and if you prevent me having a nice day between now and 5 I’ma pop a dart in dat ass.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

When I’m called off I got a sawed-off, squeeze the trigger and bodies get hauled off

One of the things you assume when you move to work in Silicon Valley is that everybody’s got two Nerf guns in the desk drawer.  At least that’s what I assumed, based on the available Internet literature and stereotypes and the fact that ThinkGeek has a whole section for “Cube Warfare” in their catalog.  I myself had one of the old air-pump Larami foam-dart rifles in grad school, the early Super Soaker-derived model with the rotating eight-barrel drum up front and the huge air tank, firing darts the size of a Vienna sausage – it was the natural evolution of the arsenal of water guns I carried through high school (and less effectively through college, just in case an actual college campus broke out).  In fact, a second, lighter model may to this day repose in an abandoned locker in Sarratt…though I kind of doubt it.

I bought a Nerf blaster or two from ThinkGeek during the DC days, but to no apparent purpose – they were still the air-pump kind and were somewhat less than effective.  It wasn’t until the brief sojourn at Cupertino Hexachrome Fruit that I picked up the first generation Nerf Maverick, the big blue revolver that may be the most famous and successful Nerf gun of all time.  And when I got to my current job, and found that everyone really did have two Nerf guns in their desk, I realized I would have to step up my game a little.

A Nerf gun isn’t like a real gun in some important ways.*  For one, you can’t actually injure anyone with it in any meaningful way and it won’t really deter robbers or carjackers.  For another, barrel length isn’t that big a deal.  In a real gun, a longer barrel means more time for the exploding gases from the gunpowder to propel the bullet down the barrel, meaning more acceleration, more power, and more accuracy.  Which is why soldiers carry rifles, not six-shooters.  This is not such a big deal with a Nerf gun, because you’re not dealing with a projectile snug to the whole length of the barrel in most cases (and even if you were, it’s not rifled to impart spin or anything) – and in fact, most Nerf guns are loaded by merely sticking the dart in the front of the gun.  There are repeater Nerf guns, like the aforementioned Maverick, but they are either revolvers limited to 5 or 6 darts or clip-fed systems that have a propensity to jam with anything other than brand-new darts.  There are also fully-automatic Nerf guns, but they tend to be expensive and ridiculously heavy owing to the weight of the batteries that drive them.

So in the grand scheme of things, if you want something suitable for office warfare, the Maverick is your only option.  I have two – the original at work and a clear plastic one at home, held in reserve against the day I need to manufacture something steampunky for Maker Faire. (Taking apart a clear Nerf gun and painting it from the inside gives you a nice glossy look that won’t rub off.)

What about that second piece, though?  After all, for the most part, your best option in office cube warfare is the New York Reload – when your gun’s empty, pull out a new one and keep going. (No lie, police gunfights in the early 20th Century in New York City usually ended with as many as fifty empty revolvers strewn around the scene of the crime.)  So if you have a muzzle-loading Nerf gun and barrel length isn’t important, the obvious consideration is this: how to keep it small yet ergonomically viable and still have some pop?

The solution is the apparently all-new Nerf Jolt EX-1, which for a mere $6 may be the most innovative and useful Nerf blaster since the Maverick.  It’s tiny – calling to mind nothing so much as the Noisy Cricket wielded by Will Smith in Men In Black.  But unlike every other Nerf blaster ever, they’ve actually made the grip of the gun useful – that’s where the spring and plunger are, with a handle that pulls down from the bottom of the grip to cock the spring.  Meanwhile, the top of the gun is nothing but the minimum necessary barrel to hold one dart with the rubber tip sticking out.  The whole thing is barely four inches long and disappears in, say, the hand warmer pockets of a fleece jacket.  But stick a whistle-tip Nerf dart in it and you can shoot to point of aim from a good ten paces.  In casual practice, I hit the center of mass on the water cooler from 25 feet away with ten straight shots.

So next time those hoodlums from the Data Center come charging across the hall, or you see your designated zombie target coming out of the cafeteria, or the cat’s about to climb onto the counter and eat directly out of the stewpot – forget about the oversized video game weapons that are 90% plastic and empty air.  Lose the big green nerdy-pistol and get yourself a Jolt.**



* It’s not irony, it’s providing explanation for my Vol readers.  If any.

** Tommy Lee Jones gets a nickel.

Running a Train

Last year, Santa Clara VTA made a change to their light rail schedule that had the practical effect of eliminating a bottleneck on the system.  Due to timing and single-tracking, there was a situation where if a light rail train was one minute late to my stop, it was a minute late, but if it was two minutes late, it was effectively ten minutes late – because it would have to sit and wait for the train in the other direction to depart on time and pass by the last stop before the single-tracking.

The solution for this was to move the trains in one direction two minutes earlier and the trains in the other direction two minutes later.  The net result was that a train could be up to five minutes late without triggering the additional wait time, which is critical in rush hour when people are trying to connect to other train systems.  (The practical effect of making the earlier train was to improve the margin for error in reaching the connecting system, which was nice.)

It worked.  It worked fine, as far as I could tell.  Sure, up a couple minutes earlier, but worthwhile to avoid the holdup.  And they made it up to me with Wi-Fi on the light rail backed by 4G cellular, which is handy to have.

And then, two weeks ago, they changed it back.  Or at the very least, they changed the two-minutes-later train back to where it was.  Which means the blockage is back on – I see it regularly of an afternoon when my train coming the other way goes whizzing by one stopped because it was late and had to hold for us.  I didn’t see that once during the period of the double-shift.

The problem is, to make up the difference, the train I catch is now running earlier than scheduled, and leaving earlier than scheduled.  If you get to the platform two minutes before the time on the schedule, you’ll be just in time to cuss the driver at the top of your lungs as the train pulls out and takes off, having come to a stop for approximately five seconds before pulling out again.

What this tells me is that Santa Clara VTA doesn’t know how to run a railroad.

The problem with VTA Light Rail is that it’s a bad match for the location.  Caltrain had the advantage of a hundred years of trains running from San Francisco to San Jose, so that the line runs perpendicular to the main downtown street of every single town on the Peninsula from China Basin to Palo Alto before picking up Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Santa Clara en route to the main terminal at San Jose.  Only Los Altos and Woodside (where nobody would think of relying on public transit anyway) are left off the Peninsula route.

The VTA light rail, by contrast, starts at Mountain View and runs across the bottom of the San Francisco Bay before taking a turn and heading down First Street in San Jose.  Once it gets into San Jose, it goes through populated areas, and at the Mountain View end it picks up the NASA base and the Caltrain station, but for about forty-five minutes, the light rail runs mainly by office parks flush with parking.  On the weekend, especially, it’s the height of foolishness to get on the light rail to go to San Jose – easier to go to Caltrain and take a 19-minute ride from Mountain View to Diridon than to do the same run in an hour and a half on light rail.  (The other half of the system is a mirror image and similarly situated in the eastern half of the South Bay.)

Silicon Valley is a whole pile of towns in the 50-to-100-thousand population range.  The density is simply not there to support micro-scale train transit like one gets from the Metro in DC or the MUNI in San Francisco.  By routing the train as what is essentially a South Bay commuter line, they’ve rendered it useless for almost any other time of day or week.  Things would be far better off with a macro-scale system – say, looping BART down from Fremont to pick up Milpitas, a couple of San Jose stops, Santa Clara, Cupertino, the Los Altos/Palo Alto border, Redwood City,and two or three more Peninsula stops before tying back on at Millbrae.  And then let Caltrain handle going up and down individual towns and lay on enough buses – and Bus Rapid Transit where possible – to take care of micro-level “take me to this bar” sort of stuff.

The alternative, I suppose, is to pull hard for “if you build it they will come” and try to get more destinations on the VTA line.  But the time-lag on building the Orange Line under Wilson Boulevard in Arlington and the rise of Clarendon as a destination was about 25 years, and some serious zoning changes would need to take place in Sunnyvale and Santa Clara to make it work.  Meanwhile, things like the Rivermark are built impractically far from the tracks so everyone has to drive anyway.  Maybe the new 49ers stadium will be in proximity to the light rail, but I wouldn’t count on it, and that’s a destination a whopping 8 times a year plus preseason, maybe playoffs and maybe a draft-day party. (Doubled if the Raiders break down and agree to share the stadium instead of moving back to LA and Farmers Field.)

For public transit to work, it needs to be safe, reliable, and go somewhere you want to go.  If nothing else, VTA is certainly safe, but they’re going to need to get cracking on at least one of the other two choices, and soon.  A Smart-car-sized electric vehicle with satellite radio would take me right off the train with a quickness…

Fun With Air Travel

So Rand Paul (Jackass-KY) apparently set off the alarm going through the line at the Nashville airport.  And as you would expect from a libertarian with a stick up his ass, he refused the patdown.  From the AP article: “Paul said the situation reflects his long-standing concern that the TSA shouldn’t be “spending so much time with people who wouldn’t attack us.”

Because, as we all know, a white person is not A Terrorist.  Just like Wall Street crooks are not A Criminal.  As PJ O’Rourke sardonically noted at the height of the 80s drug war, when his friend’s kid got popped, “it’s not like he’s a criminal – if he were a criminal, he’d be poorer and darker-skinned.”

It’s the same thing we went through ten years ago with all the white women in line for the Baltimore-Birmingham flight who were incensed that they had to take THEIR shoes off.  Despite the fact that we were flying to a place where terrorism has mean “white people with bombs” for a good fifty years.  The 16th Street Baptist Church.  New Women’s Health Care.  Judge Vance’s house.

Now that said, does TSA need to be overhauled?  In the worst way imaginable.  Ideally by the Brits, with a little help from the Israelis perhaps.  The knee-jerk-reaction model needs to be reviewed so we can determine if it’s still necessary to put all the shoes on the belt or dump any liquid over 100ml or God only knows how many times they’ve gone back and forth on lighters.  But much as some people want it to be, the solution is not “Leave white people alone” and the sooner we get that through our heads, the sooner we’ll be having an intelligent conversation about the security demands of 21st century air travel.

Meanwhile, I’ll be driving.

Newt-ron Bomb

(To distract myself from basketball, I will revert to politics.  It’s for our own good.)

What’s more dangerous: a 25-foot crocodile, a 100-foot T-Rex, or a great white shark of ordinary size?  Now, imagine you have to fight them a mile out to sea – which one is most dangerous then?

People who are surprised at Newt Gingrich’s triumph in South Carolina just don’t know politics.  South Carolina is the cradle of the Confederacy.  It is the state that gave us Strom Thurmond and Jim DeMint and Joe “You Lie!” Wilson.  And it is therefore a place where the Southern style of politics reigns supreme – where policy differences are so slight that the entire race turns on personality and showmanship.  In other words, a state that will vote for whomever can sling the shit.

No one slings the shit like Newt.  Indeed, no one (bar perhaps Lee Atwater, another son of South Carolina) did more to complete the Southernization of American politics than Newt.  He offers the one thing the Confederate base treasures more than anything: red-meat demagoguery, heaping gobs of abuse seasoned with thinly-veiled racism.  In the Confederate mind, Gingrich is an intellectual, a legitimate genius who can easily take down the slick-talking socialist in the White House with the devastating force of his mighty brain.

Which just proves the extent to which the GOP base has separated itself from the reality-based community.  Here on planet Earth, Newt’s unfavorables are roughly double his favorables.  A CBS poll three days ago has Obama over Newt 50-39 in a theoretical November matchup, and that’s before people start paying serious attention.  I find it difficult to believe that the highly-notional Independent Voter is going to be attracted to a guy whose track record includes divorcing two women in the hospital, getting censured by the House to the tune of a $300,000 fine, shutting down the government in a fit of pique over his Air Force One seating arrangements, and writing terrible alternate history fiction in between speaking engagements bragging about how clever he is.

Republican insiders are already talking darkly about the possibility of a Gingrich run – not only that he could lose to Obama in historic fashion, but that he could simultaneously lose the House and leave the Senate safely in Democratic hands.  He has the potential to leave the structures of the GOP standing while simultaneously destroying it as an effective electoral force in 2012.

The only question now is how the party insiders will go about accomplishing the necessary Newt-ering.

The Arms Race

“There is no way you can be Harvard Monday through Friday and try to be Alabama on Saturday.”

With those words, Art Guepe resigned the post of head coach at Vanderbilt University in 1962.  To date, he is the last Vanderbilt coach to have 100 games under his belt – and he sports a record of 39-54-7.  More to the point, his conference record in the SEC was 19-43-6, or a winning percentage of .324; fifty years after his resignation, no Vanderbilt coach has an SEC record over .300.

After World War II, Vanderbilt’s chancellor set up a series with Yale, in hopes of fostering rivalries with Vanderbilt’s aspirational peers.  When Vandy won the opening matchup in 1948 by a score of 35-0, Yale cancelled the rest of the series.  Shortly thereafter, the chancellor reached out to other small Southern private schools – Tulane, Rice, Duke, SMU – with an eye toward forming a conference of their own.  Duke was too attached to the UNC rivalry, and Rice and SMU didn’t want to give up the Cotton Bowl money they got from the Southwest Conference, and so the notional “Magnolia League” died on the vine.  By the mid-1960s, Georgia Tech and Tulane had left the SEC, and Vanderbilt was left as the only private school in the bunch – and the only one not chasing football success on a dead run.

You probably know how that worked out.  Five bowl games, ever.  This year’s seniors included nine players who are the only ones in Commodore history to play in TWO bowls.  Since 1982, Vanderbilt has won six games in a season exactly twice – 2008, and this year.

I say that to say this: the new-look Pac-12 is headed for SEC territory.  Academically, the California schools alone quite frankly beat the hell out of the SEC’s offerings (Texas A&M??  THEY SUPPOSED TO BE AAU) but with the coming of Larry Scott’s Imperial Patent Televisual Money Engine, the resources are in place for an SEC-style arms race.  And Washington has fired the opening salvo by basically shattering the pay scale for assistant coaches – half a million dollars for Cal’s recruiting coordinator and D-line coach Tosh Lupoi and similar money to turn Cal’s WR coach Eric Kiesau for the Huskies.  And now, Cal has to make a choice: to join the Pac-12 arms race, or sit it out and hope for the best.

Vanderbilt in 2011 is where Cal was in 2002: new coach makes an immediate impact and restores hope for the future.  The pain and drama of getting the SAHPC built is now being reflected as the ‘Dores attempt to build the indoor practice facility which every other SEC team has. (Although I suspect the tree-dwelling hippie problem will be less of an obstacle.)  But as the SEC’s own perpetual cash machine keeps spitting out dollars – matched by thousands of donors who resemble nothing so much as caricatures out of John Grisham and the profits of merchandising to the kinds of sidewalk alumni who make Justin Bieber fans look reticent – and I don’t think for a second that the Commodores can keep up with the kinds of resources generated by Alabama or Florida or LSU or Georgia or Tennessee or…you get the picture.

Football as tail-that-wags-the-dog has gone national.  Conferences are being realigned and torn up and remodeled around football and only football, to the exclusion of things like basketball and academia and geography (Boise State  and San Diego State in the BIG EAST? SERIOUSLY?) and those of us who would like to see some decent pigskin without selling our souls to ESPN are up against it.

I don’t have a solution, because there isn’t one. Cal’s donor base has been tapped to bleeding for the Memorial renovations, for the SAHPC, for saving baseball and rugby.  To come up with an extra million dollars a year to keep assistant football coaches, at a time when state budgets are still hemorrhaging red ink and other sports are being eliminated or slashed to the bone, is going to be beyond the pale. Without an Arillaga to stroke eight-figure checks to the athletic department on demand, or eighty years’ worth of money and merchandise from USC fans who never set foot in the state let alone on campus, Cal is back in the position of doing more with less.

Ultimately, there has to be some way to have reasonably big-time football without the crasser excesses of the modern game as practiced in the SEC or Big “12” – we should be able to play bowls and be on television without having to go the route of building stadiums that seat a hundred thousand or having our own television networks or the like.  But I don’t know how we get to that point, short of splitting the College Football Premier League off for its own contract and playoff system and hoping that the football equivalent of the Coca-Cola Championship is going to be plausible and satisfactory.

Meanwhile – Cal, Stanford, Notre Dame, Army, Navy, Vanderbilt, Rice, Tulane, maybe Georgia Tech?  It’s a start…

Nexus Redux

I took a swing at Google’s new flagship device today – in a Verizon store, which seems to be the only way to see it.  Indeed, it’s the only way to see Ice Cream Sandwich in the wild at the moment, unless you already had a Nexus S and got it pushed out.  First impression: it isn’t any more intuitive to me than Gingerbread was, it’s plenty zippy but I don’t know how much is processor upgrade and how much is OS improvement, and it’s a freakin’ slab.  I know it’s 1280×720, but if I’m having trouble with something on a 3.5-inch screen, it’s not going to make a substantive difference giving me a 4.5-inch screen instead.

Gruber’s theory is that all the new Android phones are 4-inch and up (and largely clustering around 4.5) because they need to be that size to accommodate a battery that can go all day and/or handle the demands of LTE-based 4G.  Makes sense to me, plus if you consider the percentage of the population that carries a purse, a big-ass phone isn’t such a big deal.  Maybe something like a Galaxy Nexus (or Droid RAZR or whatever) would work in a suit jacket pocket if it’s flat and light enough.

Thing is, I’d like to take the time to get familiar with Android, but I can’t splash out hundreds of dollars on a phone that may never get an OS upgrade.  The ongoing struggle to get a commitment out of Samsung to update the original Galaxy S line (and it doesn’t look good) and the strange silence out of the update consortium – not to mention the pile of tablets and phones out there still being sold new with Android 2.3 – doesn’t help the notion that buying an Android device means you’d better be prepared to live with that iteration of the OS for the life of the gadget.

Meanwhile, a week with this year-old MacBook Air has sealed it for me: I’m good for now with technology.  All my work and personal apps run just fine, up to and including Apple Remote Desktop and flash-based ESPN3 coverage of Vanderbilt basketball.  It’s light enough and the battery is satisfactory enough that for now, I don’t feel compelled to run out and splash out on a notional iPad 3 when the opportunity presents itself.  So as I more or less guessed, the Kindle splits the difference for reading material and emergency RSS/Twitter while the phone still covers most everything else, especially if I can top up the battery on days when I’ll be out in the evening.

Along similar lines, there’s a very real chance I might be switching to a Verizon phone with the next iteration of the iPhone, just in time for my contract to expire.  Not only would it save me an extra $40 a month for work to take over my phone, but it’s possible the Verizon phone, like the current iPhone 4S, could be used on the CDMA/EV-DO network in this country yet unlocked for GSM service abroad.  One phone to rule them all – no more travel phone and no more temptation to buy a secondary unlocked phone just to have smartphone options abroad.  And of course, that would mean the Verizon options – separate data and tethering, unlimited data but no simultaneous voice use, et cetera.  LTE as well?  Who knows, although one would think by summer it’ll be a more plausible option.

But for now, I’m safely ensconced in last year’s versions across the board – iPhone, MacBook Air and Kindle alike – and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

The Melt

It’s exactly what you’d expect from a place described with three simple words: “hipster grilled cheese.”

And yet, it’s hard not to think that this is the direction fast food is headed and they just got there first.  Simple organic ingredients.  Gluten-free bread where required.  All the packaging is either compostable or is in cans (including PBR, natch, but also champagne-in-a-can of the sort my surrogate sister brings to parties). Your options for sweetening the tea are either stevia or raw sugar.  Metal trays and baskets instead of cheap plastic.

In short, it’s a mild variant on the In N Out model: make one thing (albeit with several variations in this case) and make it well.  Soup and grilled-cheese sandwich – sure, it buys into the same re-juvenile phenomenon that helps propel the cupcake shop down the way, but it’s also classic comfort food at a time when people really do want to be comfortable.

Hell, it was tasty enough for me to visit a couple of times this week, even with the temperatures unseasonably warm at noontime.  I can only imagine that it’d go down even better were it actually 45 degrees out.


I guess it’s always been this way, especially back in the old country, but more than ever I get the sense that most people in this country think of “criminal” the way someone else might think “Dalek” or “Cylon” – that criminals are a unique and distinct and fungible class, separate and irredeemable.

The war on drugs/crime/illegal immigration/terrorism/whatever has not particularly helped with this.  Going back to the “law and order” fixation of the Southern Strategy Republicans of the late 60s, there’s always been some sort of bogeyman.  The criminal of the 70s was most likely the New York City street mugger, displaced in the 80s and 90s by something drug-related (probably crack).  In the last ten years, with violent crime trending lower than it has in decades, the new thing to be scared of is the “lone wolf terrorist” (whether Idaho white supremacist or Al-Qaeda sleeper-cell operative) – and now the general fear is that vast armies of criminals, probably drug-related, will pour undocumented into the US from elsewhere.

This came to mind this morning, when word came out that one of the prime suspects in one of the most famous “white girl missing somewhere” cases of the last decade has either been convicted or pled guilty to some other murder somewhere else.* Which, in the court of public opinion, serves mainly to confirm the guilty verdict already pronounced by television earlier.  Consider also Casey Anthony, this decade’s necessary object lesson that the judgements of cable news are not, in fact, legally binding (a role previously served by OJ Simpson and the assorted officers who beat the hell out of Rodney King).  Once you get that scarlet C, you are officially A Criminal, and thus beyond any form of redemption.

This also comes to mind with the rash of pardons granted by Haley Barbour on his way out the door as governor of Mississippi.  This seems to happen anytime somebody gets pardoned, largely because there seems to be some misunderstanding of the nature of a pardon.  As a rule, most pardons go to people whose sentences have already been carried out – it’s a question of expunging the record so they can get jobs elsewhere, or vote again, or what have you.  In other words, a pardon clears off that scarlet C, and the notion that A Criminal might somehow cease to be A Criminal is tough for some people to wrap their heads around.

That notion of the undifferentiated criminal also informs gun control legislation – or opposition to it, when people assert that “criminals will always be able to get guns.”  Which is comical on the face of it – you go down to CrimCostCo, show your card that identifies you as A Criminal, and walk out with a buggy full of assault rifles and handguns free of charge.  What could be easier? Given that the bulk of violent crime is committed by someone the victim knows, though, it stands to reason that most criminals are getting their guns the way anyone else does – gun shop, Wal-Mart, pawnshop, bought it off a guy at the swap meet, whatever.  Theft is certainly out there, but I would think that the main point of stealing guns is for resale value, especially if you can stick one in your pants and hock it later for five hundred dollars.

Nevertheless, since A Criminal has access to the kind of firepower normally associated with Navy SEALs, it’s necessary for the police to be adequately armed in response.  Which is how we went from a cop with a big six-shot .357 Magnum on his belt, a billy club and maybe a shotgun in the trunk to two cops with Glocks, three magazines and fifty-plus rounds, body armor, a flashlight that doubles as a club, a taser (occasionally confused with the gun on BART platforms), pepper spray, and military-style rifles in the trunk.  And thus we get “Don’t tase me bro” and UC-Davis students getting casually hosed down with chemical weapons and all manner of “less lethal” weapons, and the public goes along, because obviously anyone at whom the police point a weapon must of necessity be A Criminal.  And when the cop’s taser turns out to actually be a gun, or the perpetrator’s gun turns out to be a wallet, or a SWAT team breaks into the wrong house, the public lets it go, because in a War On Crime there are bound to be casualties and unfortunate incidents.

Because the War on Crime is not far removed from the War On Terror.  In both cases, the premise is the same: you have something to fear, and you must allow us power without restraint if you are to be protected.  And for some people, the fear means that they themselves have to be armed to the teeth.  Either way, the message is the same, and it remains: live in fear. And like any other animal, a frightened nation is dangerous – not least to itself.



* Details not important because a) the whole point of the fungibility of crime is that one Shady Individual Who Probably Killed This White Girl is not materially different from another, and b) I couldn’t give a shit if I tried.