2012 And All That

Within 24 hours, the Washington Redskins beat Dallas in primetime to reach 10 wins and the first division crown since 1999, and Vanderbilt defenestrated North Carolina State to win the Music City Bowl and reach 9 wins for the first time since Nicholas II was Czar of All The Russias.  Put it this way: last time the Dores hit 9, women couldn’t vote, Prohibition hadn’t happened, and radio wasn’t a thing.  Oh, and we were 18 years away from the forming of the SEC.

In a year that was trying and stressful on the fronts of job, health, family and politics, the games gave hope and something to root for and community. All of San Francisco pulling for the Giants in another World Series.  The Vanderbilt twittoblogosphere online and the chance to see baseball and football in person in the same year for the first time since 1996.  The sudden rise of Golden State and the rediscovery of pro basketball in Oakland and Santa Cruz alike. And the fact that on October 20, Vandy raised the victory flag over Dudley Field after beating Auburn…and it hasn’t come down since.

Things can start rough.  Things may not go well.  Endure, persevere, don’t give up, and keep building, and believe that things can get better – that you can make them get better.  That’s the lesson from being a Commodore in 2012.

So on to 2013.  More shutdown time.  Less reckless spending.  Not so much on the sweetened drinks and gallons of coffee. Back to the weights. Do the things it will take to make life better, and enjoy them.  Put down the phone, close the laptop, read the magazines and books, serve the drinks at home, see friends.  Enjoy wearing the work chukkas and the black trucker jacket on those cool evening walks up Murphy Street of a Sunday.

Breathe in, be still, and absorb the moment.  Still a good idea.  Here’s to a lucky 2013.

Hopped off the plane at LAX with a dream and a cardigan

When’s the last time I was glad I was a Redskins fan? 2007? No – sneaking into the playoffs propelled by the ghost of Sean Taylor was emotional and cathartic, but ruined immediately by the Gibbs resignation. 2004, when Gibbs actually came back? That and the Dallas win that year on Monday night when I called my boy and woke his wife up at midnight because we scored two TDs in the last 2 minutes to win 14-13? That might be it. Before that…when? 1999 when Norv blundered into an NFC East title only to be confounded by the Turk brothers against Tampa Bay? The hot start in 1997 when I was first in DC? Draft day when they took Shuler and we were happy about it? 1991?

The Washington Redskins have won 7 in a row, from a dismal 3-6 start that had the coach talking about evaluating for next year and fans flipping out calling for his head. And now they haven’t lost in two months, they host a wild-card game next week (no traveling to a Seattle team with a worse record for us!), and a sixth-round draft pick rookie has just set the Redskins single-season rushing record, ahead of Portis, ahead of Riggo, ahead of Byner, ahead of everybody. A franchise QB and a franchise RB, neither of which we have had for ages, and in a league that’s gone all pass all the time, the Skins remind the world that you can still run the damn ball to double-digit wins.

The Junks have been all fired up on this streak, and Bickel in particular has insisted on repeated playings of the fight song, and “Celebration,” and “Party Rock Anthem,” and one specific Miley Cyrus song. And before the game I swore in public (well, on Twitter) that I would download it if they won. I was supposed to be riding around all day listening to this game, until NBC flexed it. Instead, I heard the whole thing in the passenger seat, parked in front of the house the entire second half, doing endless shtick on Twitter with my old DC pals and sparring with the rest of the Twittersphere as Sonny and Sam called the game, like the old days.

And they made it happen, with amazing power running and three picks on defense, and before I was back in the house I’d tweeted a screenshot of the download. And I’d never really heard the song, about somebody far away from her friends and last and homesick until her song hits “and I know I’m gonna be OK.” I may not be there, but we’re still all celebrating together, because at long last – finally – this fandom’s paying out.

Got my hands up, they’re playing my song, I know it’s gonna be OK
Yayyyyyyayyyyyayyyyyyyy, it’s a party in the USA…

Good on ya mate

NB: I found this in drafts on the iPad. After watching the BBC opening ceremonies coverage, thanks to the cunning use of somebody else’s BitTorrent, I am more reminded than ever of how well it was all carried off. And if there’s one message to take away, it’s still this: fuck NBC with a rusty rake.

I’m sad to see it end. More than I expected. I never see as much as I want to, although this year it should have been easier. If NBC were more competent about their iPad app, maybe I would have. Hopefully the streams stay up for a bit.

Every four years, like bloody Brigadoon, this little magic village appears. And we see some of the people we saw there four years ago, and meet some new ones, and remember some we don’t see anymore. And normal service is suspended and we watch something special, and hell, some of our basketball players even colonize it briefly. And then Monday arrives and it’s gone as if it were never there.

It’s like Disneyland. We can’t stay. We wish we could.

The weather cooperated. So did the traffic. It couldn’t possibly have gone better. London stakes its claim as the capital of the world in the 21st century, and rightfully earned. Great Britain can be proud – they gave us their best for 16 days and it was awesome.


An unexpected journey

…to the multiplex in Cupertino at 9 AM (!) for the traditional solo holiday trip to the movies, in this case the first installment of The Hobbit. And make no mistake, they are doing exactly what they said they would: expand to two movies so they didn’t have to cut the way they did on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then expand again to try to somehow cram in all the bits they left out (which, given that the story takes place sixty years earlier, is asking a lot – most of those bits come out of contemporaneous events in the supporting materials in Return of the King).

Sadly, it kind of shows.  The first installment is nearly three hours long, and a lot of it feels forced and stretched, especially at the beginning.  I know that the first ten minutes of The Fellowship of the Ring had to establish why the ring was a big deal, but the prolonged intro to why the dwarves’ kingdom under the mountain was important…well, I understand why they did it, and I’m sure it needs to be in there, but it makes for a confusing intro, as does having Old Bilbo and Frodo appear contemporaneously with the same part in that first movie.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”  Bang, right out the gate, if it was good enough for J. R. R. Tolkein it should be good enough for his cinematic heirs.  They made a virtue of necessity with the cutting of the first trilogy, and crafted tighter, more gripping films for it.  If I’m making a mental note “this is the place to run take a leak” while the movie is going on, that’s not a good sign.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it.  I knew I would.  But I’m a fan, I know this story, all this is doing is putting it up on a big screen with stunning visuals.  To me, they’re at serious risk of pulling a Watchmen: you can’t compose a film entirely of fan-service and expect mainstream audiences to be on board.  It’s taking a pounding on Rotten Tomatoes right now, and to be honest, it may have earned it.  It’s an excellent retelling, but maybe not a great movie.

Ghost of Christmas Past, part 8 of n

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York
No good times like the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more
But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows
From now on, we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

I don’t know whether his experience at my undergrad alma mater informed Hugh Martin’s writing on Meet Me In St Louis, but the famously bleak original lyrics do reflect a lot of what I felt those four years at Christmas – even at home with the immediate family, I missed my friends and missed being younger. At some point in your life, everyone has to accept that Christmas will always be at least a little melancholy and you’ll always miss the bits you can’t go back for.

But you have to make your own way going forward. For some folks that means kids of their own, for some it means a good roaring drunk with your friends on Festivus night before facing the guns, for some it leads to crowded airports and crowded freeways. And thanks to an accident of history and calendars, it meant we were working right up to the Friday before Christmas Eve, and in my case, a two-week vacation that starts on the 24th. Twelve Days of Christmas indeed.

But it also means Christmas Tree Lane, and cable cars in the city, and live music at Symphony Hall, and lots of white peppermint mocha wherever I can get it, and a roaring holiday party with people flying in to attend and folks spilling out the doors, and presents under the tree waiting for the morning and the nephews and nieces. And that great gift of two weeks to just relax and get my head right, with friends and the family I chose myself.

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough, let the past take care of itself, forget about worrying about the future, and for once, have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

The end of the world

Well, I suppose I should get this in quick, just in case.  Better than waiting for the 31st I guess.

If you look at my resolutions for 2012, I failed just about across the board. The soda intake was mildly curtailed, but coffee took its place at work. Exercise was not appreciably stepped up for reasons that will be explained momentarily. Blogging didn’t get much beyond the usual nonsense, the elections damn near killed me the last couple of months, and while I kept the toxicity of the ancestral lands at arm’s length, it still got to me.  I also failed to get up to the city as much as I wanted, or out to the pub as much as I needed.  And I definitely didn’t give it a rest on jackets, or footwear, or Nerf guns, or watches.

A big part of all this was my back.  That pain at the base of my left shoulder blade, which had been an occasional nuisance going clear back to late 2009, suddenly and loudly reasserted itself this spring.  It meant an MRI, it meant four or five different physicians, it meant two cortisone shots into my spine and three different prescription drugs which each failed to do anything but induce constipation and inhibit drinking. And there were words like “arthritis” and “degenerative” and I was left wondering for a little while whether I didn’t have exactly what my father had…and whether I was about to find out what would eventually kill me.

From a purely distraction standpoint, things should have gone great.  Vandy basketball beat Kentucky and won an SEC tournament and sent three guys to the NBA. Vandy baseball came out here for three games and a tailgate (sadly all losses, except for the tailgate).  Vandy football turned in its best recruiting class ever and followed up with its best season in thirty years and a decisive beatdown on Tennessee.  The Warriors drafted a Vandy guy and became the hottest team in the NBA, the Giants won another World Series and the Redskins traded up to draft the most electrifying player in the NFL…and assured themselves of at least a .500 season for the first time in recent memory. The Avengers turned out to be the best fun of the summer, some great books passed through the Kindle, I got to see Vanderbilt for the first time in six years and a Vandy football game for the first time in a decade more, the wife and I became symphony-goers.

But the back pain took me out of the gym and away from running, and the pain and the constant struggle with the insurance company left a sort of black cloud over everything. And turning 40 didn’t do me any favors either. And the IRS reared up again.  And I felt compelled by June 28 to do a post on rebooting the year, and did I do any of that?  Not really.  I did cut out some of the junk food, and Hostess did me a solid by going out of business and taking those little white powdered donuts with them, but I didn’t even get back on Tuesday night shutdowns – and the fact that I was thinking of bringing that back for 2013 just drives home how distracted and unsuccessful I was.  And I didn’t even have the worst health issues in the house.

Still, we had a good time on our New York vacation, and a good time on part 1 of our San Francisco holiday mini break, and we survived our holiday visitor, and we’ve continued to have good housemates occupying our spare room.  And I got an iPad for my birthday from the lovely wife, which has almost completely fulfilled my portable computing needs. And tonight we were able to walk up and down Christmas Tree Lane, peppermint hot chocolate in hand, and come home to open cards and surprise packages and sit under the lights of our own tree and put the Yule Log up on the TV.  And the kinesio-tape did wonders for my back, and I’m about to have two weeks off.

I said before of politics that you grind it out at the coal-face day after day.  Turns out life is pretty much the same thing.  Every morning that your eyes open, you’re ahead of the game already…best to just gut it out and keep going.

2013. Onward.  Unless the world ends in the next twenty-six hours.

More jacketology

On the way to the Holiday Bowl in 2004, we stopped by an Eddie Bauer outlet in Gilroy and damn near cleaned it out. After that, I literally went four years without buying myself any new outerwear. Then it started again, and went more or less like this:

VANDY 3, January 2009: a black Columbia Sportswear softshell with the obvious sporty markings. Good down to about 55 degrees. Sheds light rain. No hood. Can hold an iPad (awkwardly) in the inside left “pocket”. Stuffs adequately into a large bag.

CERT COAT, summer 2009. Canary yellow ski-type jacket with zip-in fleece, suitable for emergency wear at work. Didn’t pay for it, thank goodness.

ENGINEERS JACKET. November 2009. Green oilcloth Lands End coat with plaid flannel lining. Four patch pockets with snaps. No handwarmer or internal pockets. Good down to about 50 degrees. Stands up to moderate rain. No hood. As faux-Barbour outerwear goes, could do worse. First new jacket in 5 years in a color other than black.

GAP PEACOAT. December 2009. Looked all right, broadly speaking. Buttons not securely attached. Slightly awkward arm fit. Wound up donating to charity a year later.

SABOTEUR INVINCIBLE. Early autumn 2010. Gray blazer, double vents, red silk lining, “waterproof”. Not very good in serious rain. Little on the snug side. Probably wouldn’t do it again.

PEACOAT. Christmas 2010. Actual USA-made navy surplus in 46L. Fits perfectly. Suitable for any level of cold in California. Too heavy to wear at higher than 60 degrees. Looks awesome.

EDDIE BAUER CANVAS JACKET. June 2011. Just the wrong shade of off-white; gives impression of old-man poplin windbreaker. Good fit. Works well for mornings running the smoker. No water resistance, but good for temps down to 60 or so.

SEERSUCKER BLAZER. February 2012. On sale at Nordstrom, double-vent, great fit. Vandy lifestyle at its finest. Not really a regular-wear piece of work.

UNIQLO BLAZERS. April 2012. $30 apiece in NYC. Both look great and fit comfortably. One blue, one off-white.

UNIQLO BLOUSON. April 2012. Exactly like engineers except plain black cotton. Not at all water resistant. But was also $30!

So there’s been a lot of swings and misses in the last four years. Right now, as winter sets in, the move is either peacoat or engineers most days. But there hasn’t been a serious hard-raining day yet. My bases are pretty much covered, I suppose, but it would be nice to have an option for warmer than 50 degrees that let me stick my hands in my pockets and didn’t scream “I WILL NEVER TAKE THIS EXERCISING OR HIKING.” That’s sort of what I had in mind for the canvas until the color proved exactly wrong, and it’s not good against a chance of rain.

In case there was any doubt, this is all basically a Keltner list to suss out my thinking on outerwear at the moment…

Closing time

For some reason, every job I take carries out a major office move.  It took four full years, but it finally happened here, as we move to the other side of the next city down.  Naturally, we have to be out by 3 PM on Wednesday, but our cars have to be gone by noon to make way for the vans, and we’re still working Thursday and Friday.  From where?  Who knows?

The first time I set foot in this building was for a desultory first interview, and based on who interviewed me, I don’t think they were taking it that seriously.  The second time was for the second interview, for which I famously posted 45 minutes late.  I got the job, so I must have interviewed like all hell.  The downside was that I was taking a 10% pay cut to take this gig, but the upside was that I would have, you know, benefits.  Like more than three sick days a year. Like more than $10,000 of life insurance. Little things.

In the last four years, it’s gone all right, I suppose.  It only took about six months for something to reach truly annoying status, but it’s only this year that I’ve had to swallow a perpetual “go fuck yourself” day in and day out, which is a little odd when you’ve gotten not one but two raises in the calendar year.  (I’ve made back that 10% and then some since I took the gig.)  But I don’t know if my troubles this year at work are a cause or a symptom of the underlying problem…of which more later, when I try to take stock of 2012 as a whole.

For now, I’ve unplugged and packed everything. I only have to down one more server and pack it away (it’s a Mac mini on the back of my desk) and if somebody gave me the signal, I could be ready to depart in about 90 seconds.  Just as well. Onward.

Notes from the past few days

In Arizona, electors voting for President took the opportunity of their Mitt Romney votes to repeat the ongoing bullshit canard about the President’s birth certificate.  Including the head of the Arizona GOP.

In Tennessee, the state legislature is pushing a bill to arm teachers, air-marshal style, in schools.

One national columnist is advocating that the proper response to school shootings is to train people (presumably including students) to rush the gunman.

In Michigan – holy shit, Michigan – you have a “right-to-work” union-busting law being rammed through at the same time as a law that would allow more guns in schools, which is only now getting vetoed in the wake of Sandy Hook. Meanwhile, the former Michigan GOP head – and current financial head of the RNC – is arguing that the GOP can win Michigan because there’s no political machine to pull the black people out of the pool hall and bus them around to vote more than once.

In South Carolina, one member of the legislature is pushing a bill that would criminalize compliance with the Affordable Care Act – nullification, to coin a phrase, of Obamacare.

And of course, any number of Republicans – Mike Huckabee at the fore, apparently giving up on ever running for office – suggesting that the reason we have mass shootings now is because we don’t have school prayer.

I can’t remember who it was – I want to say Anne Applebaum – but it’s the truest phrase: there is no double-entry bookkeeping.  The conceit that this is some kind of fringe, that this is all a shuck, that this is the GOP doing a minstrel show for its hicks in the sticks – it’s incorrect.  This is what these people actually believe.  This is what the Republican Party is about at the end of 2012.  There’s not going to be any making these people see reason.  As far as they’re concerned, they are seeing reason, and it’s the rest of the country which is deluded and naive and idiotic.

This is the price the Republican party paid for Nixonland.  They thought they could harness the South and use it to wrest a political majority from the Democrats.  Instead, they were consumed by it.  The problem is, they went along with it, and too many people are still pulling the lever thinking that a little redneckery is the price of keeping taxes down – or that giving corporations a free hand is the price of keeping the dusky folk in their place.

The older I get, the better I was.  And I was right.  Now all we have is containment…and the hope that in time that will be enough.


It’s too early to say for sure, but it looks like the spectacle of twenty first-graders gunned down by the deranged son of a right-wing survivalist two weeks before Christmas might finally be the thing that gets traction on the first serious effort at limiting gun violence in almost twenty years.

This time, the demographics are working in favor. Gun violence is actually down, as is gun ownership – amazingly, the concentration of firearms is exactly where stereotype would put it: old white people who own a huge number of guns. In fact, by some measure, one percent of the world’s population (located in the United States) own one out of every three guns on the planet. Or put another way, less than a quarter of the US populations owns 2/3 of the guns in the country. And the demo is white, rural, Southern, and older. Cue the 27% Theory of General Crazification.

What’s happening this time is that people are finally looking at some hard truths: the vast majority of gun violence involves handguns and assault rifles. Nobody is going on a killing spree with a Winchester .243 with a padded stock, like the one my dad used as a deer rifle the last ten years of his life. Nobody’s going to slaughter two dozen people with a Browning Sweet Sixteen like mine back in the old country, with its three shells before you have to reload it (ponderously). People are waking up to the fact that nobody, but nobody, has a civilian use case for an AR-15 with a thirty-round magazine firing 5.56mm NATO ball ammo…that doesn’t involve some kind of Red Dawn scenario.

I keep saying it because it’s true: the problem isn’t guns, the problem isn’t people who want guns. The problem is people who want to need guns. And these people, in thrall to their fantasy world, have linked arms with the NRA – a group which well into the 1960s was largely an outdoor sports and even conservation organization – and devoted themselves to ensuring that they will always be able to get any weapon not involving a trailer hitch and clutch it close to their collective bosom in perpetuity.

But the demographics aren’t working. The sorting of Democrats and Republicans regionally and demographically have sapped the NRA’s strength. Despite almost five million members and influence out of proportion to its size, the NRA has no pull with Democrats, who have twice now proven able to win the White House and Senate without a lick of support from them. Add to that the fact that the NRA and its amen corner in the conservative press have spent years beating the drum that “Obama is going to take your guns”, and he still got re-elected – that should demonstrate how much power the NRA no longer has, and how much notice of their opinion the Obama administration is likely to take. The NRA can probably still force the GOP to take a hard line, but that might not be enough any more – and a whole lot of non-Southern, non-rural Republicans are having to swallow hard and explain to their well-to-do white soccer mom voters why twenty dead kids are the price of Leroy Turnipseed being able to rise up against the United Nations invading army of socialism.

The tough thing is going to be sorting out what to do with the three hundred million firearms already in play in America. As I may have mentioned before, the thing about a firearm is that it doesn’t generally go obsolete. For a little over a hundred years, the modern brass cartridge has gone largely unchanged; the biggest shift was away from black powder to modern smokeless ammo around the turn of the century (which is why a .38 Special revolver cartridge is so much bigger than a 9mm despite feeding roughly the same caliber – the longer revolver cartridge had to hold more inefficient black powder and ended up firing a heavier bullet at a lower speed). An old Luger taken from a First World War officer of Imperial Germany is just as capable of shooting modern ammunition in 2012, providing the 9mm isn’t the latest overpressure military-grade ammo and the Luger has been reasonably well cared-for. Hell, there are Old West revolvers still in regular use for cowboy action shooting demonstrations.

Or in other words: we still have a gun lying around for every man, woman, and child in the US, and even if we never made any more, they are still there. And functional. And disproportionately distributed among people who are unlikely to see any reason to ever relinquish them. Which presents its own set of problems.

Ultimately, you’re looking at a lot of half-measures and a lot of time. Clamp down on magazine sizes, the way California still does (although when applied nationally, that presented its own unintended consequence; when you couldn’t get more than 10 bullets in a gun the market began to focus on smaller concealable guns that held 10 or fewer bullets). Longer waiting periods, more extensive background checks, massive liability for gun owners whose firearms are inadequately secured and then used by others. And then wait. For years, maybe decades. Wait for guns to fall out of circulation, wait for gun owners to die off and their children to be uninterested in maintaining the stockpile. And make the NRA and its ilk own the fact of Aurora, of Clackamas, of Sandy Hook – the fact of Chekov’s Law in action. Show the gun in Act One, and it needs must go off by Act Three.