The jacket

A 50-year-old design, the Levi’s trucker jacket – an American classic, an essential component of the Canadian tuxedo, a critical part of the wardrobe of any 80s cute girl, a symbol sufficiently semiotically fraught that one became an important MacGuffin in William Gibson’s Zero History.  And as of December 25, damn near the only piece of outerwear in circulation for my wardrobe.

Start with the jacket itself: the same basic style for decades, but this one is made from Filson’s 12-oz Tin Cloth: heavy waxed cotton rather than denim, black oilcloth that eats light with a sheen that suggests leather from a distance. On a man of a certain age and race, of similar build, the look might suggest the Black Panther Party. As it is, on a pale Appalachian, the fashion statement is more like “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.” 

From a fashion standpoint, the critical thing is the color. Because it’s not blue denim, it can be worn with jeans, which means it can basically go with any casual clothing I have. But because it’s oilcloth, the breathability isn’t so great, which is the tradeoff for the water-resistance and that little bit of extra warmth. Spill a whole glass of Dr Pepper on it and it’ll wipe clean – well, clean-ish, but with a jacket like this that’s sort of the point, isn’t it?

Because that’s the whole point of this: timeless, classic American workwear. Simple and timeless, and utterly flexible in its look – put the blue mirror-shades on and it’s cyberpunk, put the Wayfarers on and it’s rockabilly, slap a woolen stoker’s cap up top and it gives the feel of an old gaffer leaned into the bar of some working-man’s club in Newcastle or York or Kildare.  It can be all you – whatever you happen to be at the time.

Right now, though, it’s dead solid perfect for what I need.  In temps that go from mid-40s to mid-50s, possibly showers, at a time when I legitimately need the memento mori of the best techs that ever walked the earth so I can ride on their memory and propel myself through the daily shit-hurricane that echoes the struggles of ten years ago…  I may not be wearing the exact clothing of 2003 – or 1998 – but I’m definitely wearing the same armor.


Responsible gun owners, this is why you are losing the public.

The guy had a note in his pocket expressing his intent to exercise his rights.  Why a note in his pocket?  Why would you bother with a note when you could just say something?  Because he expected to get shot.

There is no reason any law-abiding person needs an assault rifle in the grocery store. None. Maybe in Switzerland, where guys are popping by for milk as they walk home from militia assembly, but I rather doubt that the kind of person with an assault rifle is taking public transit to Kroger.  So why isn’t the rifle locked up in (one presumes) the pickup truck?  I grew up in Ala-fucking-bama, my family drove around with guns all the time, and not once, not on one single solitary occasion in the first twenty-five years of my live, did we ever find it necessary to go strapped into the goddamned Piggly Wiggly.  Al-Qaeda is not lurking in the produce cooler, and the odds are effectively 100% that a firefight is not breaking out in the frozen foods.

Take it, Susan Faludi. From Wikipedia’s entry re: her 1999 book “Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man”:

 “The common theme that runs through the book is that men have attempted to live up to the expectations of masculinity established in post-World War II America, only to find society not living up to its end of the bargain as globalization, downsizing and other economic pressures have made it difficult for men to live up to their expected roles as providers. At the same time she applies a feminist critique to these expectations, while noting that the feminist critique of the rise of an ornamental culture applies to men as much as women: As the culture has shifted toward an ornamental one in which awards, popular culture symbols of ideal masculinity, and economic bottom lines have become the societal norms of success, ordinary men are losing self-esteem and a sense of purpose. In particular she links the problems of many men today with abusive or absent fathers when growing up, and is critical of the rise of a corporate “organization man” culture in the 1950s and 1960s, which led to absent fathers failing to provide a positive, nurturing environment to their children, and then to failed expectations as companies laid off longtime loyal employees during the 1980s and 1990s.”

There’s a very legitimate case that the modern world is at odds with our traditional ideas of what manhood means.  We are no longer a rural pioneer society, where one has to go hunt for dinner and protect the family home against predatory beasts or marauding humans.  We no longer have the postwar social contract, where you can graduate high school and get on with an employer that will pay you a living wage that can support your wife the homemaker and your children plus offer a sufficient pension in retirement.  Never mind college; I know plenty of law school graduates who are looking for work in other fields so they can find a job, any job.  Somebody in an exurban service economy, somebody whose job can be sent off to China or India, somebody whose job can be done off the books for single digits an hour by a desperate undocumented migrant worker? Those poor bastards are living on the edge of a knife, and it stands to reason that Ed Earl Brown feels powerless to control his own destiny more often than not.


In the immortal words of Chris Rock: “if you got a gun, you don’t need to work out.”  I can strap on my M4gery and swagger through the cereal aisle and everybody will cower before my might, because there’s no law that says I can’t do it so NYAH NYAH LOOK AT ME I’M NOT TOUCHING YOU.  And looking at the demographic patterns of gun ownership – as more and more firearms accumulate with the same people, who as a cohort are ever older and white-male-er – it’s hard not to see a fundamental connection.  Not to put too fine a point on it – the problems of guns, and the people who want to need the guns, can in large part be reduced to the question “How shall we then man up?”

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.

Starting fresh

So let’s say that I was dropped into 2013 bare-assed, sent forward in time from 1993 to start my life anew.  Never owned a computer, a cell phone, so much as a pager – my personal technology consists of a boom box and a Walkman, plus a handheld tape recorder bought in a Twin Peaks frenzy and untouched for a couple of years.  How then shall we set up this prior regeneration with the necessities of life?

This thought experiment began when we were staying at a friend’s place in San Francisco – we clocked the better part of a couple of weeks in there over the last few months, and began thinking about whether we could live there.  It’s a one bedroom condo in a high-rise with a breathtaking view of downtown, perfectly located for transit access, just a dream of a pied a terre…so could we make it work?  And the first casualty was bookcases, because we have half a dozen sagging under the weight of thirty years’ worth of books…and my first thought was Kindle.

So that’s the beginning: the books have to be digital.  Which in turn means all the media needs to be digital.  The obvious solution at this point is the one I have: Kindle for books and Apple for music and video, both conveyed via AppleTV to the big screen.  The only thing is, this sort of ties you into Amazon and Apple’s respective ecosystems.  It’s less a problem for music as most of the Apple stuff is .m4a now and you can still acquire and use other unlocked media forms (.mp3) with iDevices (and even have them synced with iTunes Match), and it’s less a problem for books as the Kindle format has apps for every major platform in addition to its own devices.

But streaming is an issue.  I can’t have my media reliant on streaming – Spotify or Pandora, for instance, are right out – because mobile data is expensive and streaming will kill battery life.  And as far as I can tell, for movies, anything I want to buy and keep locally is going to mean Apple, unless I want to piece together some combination of Amazon Instant Video and Netflix.  Which I can probably sort out…eventually.  But if I want that copy of Avengers, it looks like the simplest route is still iTunes.  So yeah, ultimately, that’s the choice: all in on the Apple system.

Now, what to do for actual devices?  The first question for me is: laptop vs desktop?  If you assume the Mac mini will be connected to the TV for the few times it will be used, it’s no contest – the tricked-out high-speed Mac mini with 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB internal drive is $900, whereas the higher-end 11″ MacBook Air bumped up to 8 GB RAM and a 256 GB drive is $1500. Bad arithmetic, when the Mac is meant to serve as the central media repository as much as an actual working computer.  That $600 difference will let you buy a 16 GB retina-display iPad with LTE built in…and just enough left over for a low-end Kindle, suitable for carrying and reading.

Because in the end, there’s no getting around an iPhone. In 2013, the one thing I can’t work around is portable audio – not just music but podcasts.  Getting podcasts on the run rules out the iPod, and portable audio rules out even the smallest iPad.  The iPhone has to be there to split the difference and serve as the all-everything portable device, with the Kindle in reserve for ease of reading (and as the focus of magazine subscriptions).  And once you have the iPhone, it doesn’t make as much sense to buy an iPad mini as the sole portable device, not yet anyway: the screen’s not retina yet, and the input isn’t substantially better than a phone.  If you’re actually typing on glass, you need the full-sized iPad.

So there it is: iPhone, Kindle, full-size iPad with LTE, and a Mac mini at home to drive it all.  Amazingly, this is exactly what I have and use right now…well, and the work laptop.  Technically if you want to take everything of work’s away, my loadout is the Mac mini, the iPad, the Kindle, and the MOTOFONE F3.  Which begs the question of whether you could get by if you could somehow get a phone that only functioned to make calls and serve LTE wirelessly to your tablet…but that’s another story.


So the Library of Congress has apparently decided there’s enough cellphone competition, and therefore unlocking your phone yourself is now going to be against the law again.  This is possible because of some insane DMCA interpretation that happens every three years, and allowed for olly-olly-oxen-free unlocking before because locking was held to create a sort of competitive imbalance.

Which it still does.  If I have a brand-new unlocked iPhone, I can take it to AT&T or T-Mobile.  If I have an AT&T or Verizon (or maybe Sprint) iPhone and I unlock it, I can take it to…AT&T or T-Mobile.  You can’t move a phone between Sprint and Verizon without the carrier’s participation; it’s not as simple as buy-a-SIM-and-pop-it-in.

The principle of the thing is, of course, outrageous – if you’re under contract with a subsidized phone, that’s one thing, but there is absolutely no justification for preventing the unlocking of any phone once the user is out of contract.  Then again, of the carriers that you can freely move between, only T-Mobile appears willing to charge you less for bringing an unsubsidized phone of your own.  And T-Mobile’s network has of late been suspect, not least because they insisted on pitching HSPA+ as “4G”.  Now, they may have LTE rolling out and they may not, but by and large…

You know, it’s hardly worth ranting about at this point.  We have settled into the every-two-years model with carriers and phones, and the FCC and FTC have essentially given the AT&T-Verizon duopoly the whip hand.  And that’s just how it’s going to be, absent a major uprising.

My solution was to give up my personal phone and let work pick up the tab for the Verizon iPhone 5. (And not a minute too soon, as my cellular data usage has basically trebled in the three months since I took possession.)  Once I need a new phone on my own…well, we can burn that bridge when we get to it.

Here we go

Looks like a two-pronged approach:

1) Executive-order action to tighten up and improve flexibility on security and mental health with existing law.  Which is what the gun-suckers are always clamoring for anyway.

2) Reinstatement of Brady Bill-style assault rifle restrictions and other measures that more or less bring us back to 1994-95 law.

3) The closure of the loopholes for gun show and person-to-person sales, thus putting a kink in straw-man purchasing and under-the-table acquisition of firearms (which, for all the butthurt from the gun-suckers, is a big part of how guns are criminally obtained).

In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t much.  Hell, a majority of gun owners want to close the gun-show loophole. The country didn’t collapse into some sort of socialist fascist tyranny in the 1990s for want of superior civilian firepower, not even after Oklahoma City (when Republicans whined that anti-terrorism law would make a terrorist of any kid plugging a stop sign with a .22…an instructive contrast to the post-9/11 era).  Under the circumstances, this is as modest an effort at curtailing gun violence as one can imagine. And right on cue, here come the gun-suckers, screaming for impeachment, screaming about tyranny, and already losing their shit.

 See, the NRA is all about the people who want to need the guns.  And that’s not suburbia. Suburbia hates guns.  Suburbia doesn’t want to need guns. And the GOP willingly gave up the white middle-class suburban vote outside the South, and in doing so lost any sway over national Democrats.  They took their best shot in 2012, they went all-in against a president who didn’t lift a finger against the proliferation of guns for four years, they insisted that he was the vanguard of Article 21 United Nations One World Zionist Occupation Government Tyranny…and they got beat.

The NRA has to be pissing themselves, because the House is the only thing keeping them from the full brunt of their efforts over the last 20 years to put an AR-15 in every pot.  They have the Confederacy, and they have the rural turf, and they have the old white men – and that’s it. And consequently their numbers are dwindling.  They were resoundingly clobbered in 2012, and now they’re paying the price for the Great Sorting that began in the 1990s.  The South, the rurals, and the old white people are fully absorbed into the GOP.  As long as there were still rural and/or Southern Democrats, there was still a modicum of bipartisanship in the gun crowd, and the NRA could have some pull with Democratic politicians – but the NRA went all in on the GOP and lost.  And now the Democrats aren’t afraid of them anymore.

One step closer.  The Civil Cold War gets warmer.  The gun-suckers get more and more irate, and the GOP has to decide who it wants to go with.  In the meantime, we wait to see just how far down the rabbit hole people are willing to go, and in a world where people are arguing that the Sandy Hook shootings were a hoax and a false-flag operation, that hole is pretty goddamned deep.


ETA: and right on cue, here come politicians from Tennessee and Mississippi arguing that they can somehow…what’s the word…nullify federal law. You remember how this finished last time.

The Graph

Here’s the thing: on the merits, Facebook’s new Graph Search isn’t a bad idea.  In fact, it’s sort of the holy grail of search: instead of relying on the tender mercies of SEO and Google’s algorithms and spam- and bot-riddled screen-scraping sites, why not ask all your friends whether the iPhone or the Nexus 4 is a better choice?  Or where there’s decent Indian food in Arlington, Virginia? (Hint: keep looking.) What Facebook proposes to provide is a rich data-mining tool for getting at the hidden information patterns and valued knowledge buried in the avalanche of information created and curated by your Facebook friends.

Two big problems here, of a piece with one another.

The first is that it requires you to put all this information into Facebook and make it accessible.  Even if that wasn’t a colossal pain in the ass – must click “Like” on some page for more or less everything in your life, fill in location check-ins, etc etc – Facebook is about the last company on Earth worth entrusting anything important to.  And for this to function optimally, you have to have everyone putting in all their information and leaving it largely public or at the very least broadly available.

The second is that you’re not the only one who gets this tool.  So does every stalker, spammer and advertiser on Facebook.  There isn’t an obvious solution for how you put all this information together and share it with your friends without also sharing it with anyone else – especially if some of your friends are data-sluts and put EVERYTHING on Facebook in the clear.  And Zuck already said today that they haven’t looked at how to monetize this yet.

But let’s be real, we know how this went down before: Facebook was once a walled garden, a place where you could use your real name – had to use your real name – and then, in the biggest Internet bait and switch ever, they pulled down the walls and went fully public with a huge stash of verified personal information.  Now, they’re asking you to feed even more information into their gaping maw, with the promise that their privacy controls will be as effective as ever…while also acknowledging that they haven’t yet determined how to cash in on it.  Remember, Facebook is a publicly traded company now, so job one is improving shareholder value.  And the way to do that is to make money, and the way to do that is advertising – now more targeted and personal than ever.

We are slowly coming to a reckoning in the Internet economy.  The prospect of value for money only seems to hold with some iOS applications – anything else, any web service, people expect to be free.  Facebook, Twitter, SBNation, Evernote, Dropbox, Google, all of it: free.  Well, if it’s free, how do they keep the lights on and the service running?  And in most cases, that boils down to advertising, and that advertising is only valuable if they can tune it as finely as possible to appeal to the target market. In a way, we may almost have to start giving in, because the choice could well come down to either a) some finely-targeted high-value advertising OR b) huge great whopping torrents of generalized advertising, because they don’t know how to target it any more precisely and the only alternative is the blunderbuss.

There are plenty of services out there I’d pay for rather than consent to personal data-mining in the name of “free-at-point-of-use.” Twitter, quite frankly, and I sort of do that already with…which hasn’t seen much growth because it costs to get on board.  Everybody has decided that the model is “start free and then use advertising to make money,” and cash-on-the-barrelhead-up-front just doesn’t seem to get traction.  Like it or not, we’re voting with our closed wallets, and since we’re not the buyer, we have to go about determining how we want to be the product.


Fifty years ago today, George Wallace was sworn in as governor of Alabama.  He got elected on a strictly segregationist platform, after losing to John Patterson in 1958 and swearing in unmistakeable language that no one would ever outflank him on segregation ever again.  And right on cue, he famously proclaimed “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”

I was born only nine years later.  Wallace was governor of Alabama for ten of the first fourteen years of my life. People will whine and wail that talking about segregation and civil rights in Alabama is dragging up old business, and those people are assholes and wrong. This is not Rube Burrows robbing the mail train in the late 1800s, this is living memory.  My parents were alive and married for this, and one of them is still living and remarried to someone who was alive and grown at the time.  And the children of these people, who were presumably born and raised in that same era, are in their forties and fifties, and may or may not be raising their own children with the same belief system.

The tragedy of Alabama is that the archetypal Alabamians are Forrest Gump, Atticus Finch, and George Wallace, and two of them are fictional characters.  The third won five states in a run for President in 1968 and was on the verge of doing it again in 1972 before he was shot.  He provided a wedge that prized off enough southern Democrats to make the GOP competitive in the South at a national level by the 1980s – and dominant by the 1990s.  And most of all, his particular flavor of resentment-driven racial populism provided the template for the modern Republican party.  Everyone from Lee Atwater to Newt Gingrich to Sarah Palin to the Tea Party identity-laundering movement – it’s all of a single piece going back fifty years, and the headwaters of that movement are in George Clio Wallace.

Because he didn’t much believe it.  Black defendants and attorneys who practiced in Alabama said they never got a fairer shake from the bench than from circuit judge George Wallace, and in 1958, he had plenty of black endorsers (such as they were, given the paucity of black voters in Alabama).  Which is the worst part of it all: even if he wasn’t a true believer, he was willing to use it to stir the shit.  He willingly leveraged the worst in humanity for his own political gain, and in doing so validated the beliefs of the most retrograde and primitive thinkers in American politics.

He’s dead now, after a dotage spent in tearful apology and relentless backpedaling.  This is the problem with a merciful and loving God: one hates to think that a man who drove his cancer-afflicted wife into an early grave and breathed life into fifty years of neo-Confederacy now reposes in the heavenly arms.  But then, maybe that’s how that grace thing works.  Or maybe he’s not, and we all have it coming one way or the other.

But he had his day.  He had sixteen years as governor, plus a few more over the shoulder of poor Lurleen, and he was never adequately defeated or repudiated, and his venom still poisons the soil and soul of his native state half a century on.

He was Alabama’s Hitler, and we let him live.  Shame on all of us.

The Moon Under Water

Apropos of my post-before-last, here is the link to George Orwell’s famous essay about The Moon Under Water, his favorite pub of all time.  He lists the ten criteria that make it the perfect pub, before confessing the obvious: it doesn’t exist.  He notes that he’s found a place or two that meet eight of the ten criteria, but never the perfect spot – somehow, the draft stout and the china mugs are unavailable.

I’ve been thinking about some of my places in relation to that, and what it is I liked the most from each place, and if they can be combined.  Not just pubs, but other “sit and relax and drink”-type establishments as well, especially since moving to NorCal where pubs are regrettably thin on the ground.  Onward, then:


OVERCUP OAK (Vanderbilt): had darkness, fireplaces, was generally quiet in the evenings.  Bar space, table space AND booth space available. Some minor food options until it got late (mostly in the mozzarella sticks and chicken fingers line), beer but not liquor available. TV on weekend afternoons but not on at night. Outside balcony, walkable from my apartment.  Come to think of it, this is nearly the most perfect place.

FOUR PROVINCES (DC): dark, amazing jukebox, live music.  Generally crowded and convivial, with a full menu and full bar.  Live music, lots of stomping and cheering and carrying on.  Perfect for socializing, but not really what I need in a public house anymore unless it’s for a birthday party.  No televisions at all, but a pull-down screen and projector available for World Series games, March Madness and election night.  Accessible by public transit but usually required a $20 cab ride home.  Would be lying if I didn’t admit I could smoke a pipe in here without incident back in the day.

O’FLAHERTY’S: dim, very limited menu, good bar selection, live Irish music of the pickup-session type, occasionally a song or two.  Accessible via light rail, in an hour.  A few TVs, prone to showing Fox Soccer or (when it existed) Setanta Sports, so easy to get the right Anglo-Hibernian feel as needed.

TRIALS: very dim, classic pub-grub menu, very good beer and decent hard liquors, assorted seating options, small fireplace (I think), NO television to speak of (an advantage, there) – closer to rail than O’Flaherty’s but not any closer to home. Fills up pretty good most nights.

LILY MAC’S: dim (seeing a theme here?), reasonably complete menu, not too crowded of a Sunday, live music (though more organized than walk-in-and-play), solid food and drink options, nice long spacious bar and high Tudor-esque ceilings, and reasonably close to home (more so than the San Jose bars).

RIPTIDE: dim, close enough to the ocean that you can walk outside and see the surf (and hear it on quiet nights). No food to speak of, but reasonably good drink selection at low prices, plus a real wood fireplace with two (uncomfortable) chairs near it.  Never been there past about 7 or 8 PM but it gives the impression it would turn crowded in a hurry.  About as unreachable from home as is possible to be without having to get on a plane.

IBERIA: dim (look, let’s just take it as read that any place I want to hang out will be dim and let it go), comfortable leather-chair seating in the bar area, big fireplace with actual booths enclosing it on two sides, remarkable array of tapas, sangria that would stop a bull in its tracks.  No TV or music (the place is a restaurant, although the bar half is of equal size).  Biggest drawback is that a night here will cost you HELLA money and not just because the 18% gratuity is built into every tab.  Not unreasonably distant but not a stagger-home either.

BRITISH BANKERS CLUB/OLD KNICKERBOCKER: a publish restaurant with a cigar shop attached, both now defunct. BBC had above-average pub fare and a remarkable cocktail list, if expensive, but also had a large outdoor patio space and occasional live music, which made it an attractive option on summer evenings.

DUKE OF EDINBURGH: a real English pub, built in England to be dismantled and moved to Cupertino.  All the fittings and finishings of an upper-class English pub, with the velvet wallpaper and seating.  Solid food and drink, televisions always tuned to some Brit-sport channel, small outdoor patio for seated smoking.  Absolutely inaccessible by public transit, but easily walkable from the forthcoming new Apple campus.

SECRET DIVE BAR WHICH I WILL NOT NAME, GET YOUR OWN DAMN DIVE BAR: Close enough to easily get to or home from.  No food options at all, no draft options at all.  Stupidly cheap drink, but don’t go looking for any fancy cocktails or flat-panel TVs: the couple that are mounted in high corners are old CRTs usually tuned to Oakland A’s games. This is a place to drink and get out; the only signage is a piece of Xerox paper stuck to the door and it always has a faint atmosphere of “we might get our asses kicked in here”.

DAN BROWN’S LOUNGE, may it rest in peace: equal halves dive bar and sports bar.  Front half dark with a couple of leather booths, big framed Marilyn Monroe poster over the bar (you know the one), absurd amount of hard liquor with bottles that might not have been touched in a couple of decades.  Back half well-lit with a dozen televisions, couple of pool tables, small space outside for smokers with TVs visible through the windows.  No food to speak of, except for the bit brought in for Redskins fans on a Sunday morning.  Generally crowded as hell, especially on karaoke night.

Note, too, that I’m leaving off the speakeasy-type high-cocktail places.  No Bourbon and Branch, no Singlebarrel, no Public Edition or Rickhouse or Alembic or Clock Bar.  I’m looking for the sort of a place I’d be happy to go to any evening or any weekend and not pay $11 for a drink, not to deny that their drinks are well worth $11 a pop.


So what does my perfect place have, then?  Behold, the Bear and Commodore Publick House*:

* Drumroll please: dark.  Dark furnishings, dark fittings, dark wood all round and perhaps some of the trappings of the traditional Irish pub.  No objection to an outdoor space attached, but not critical at all.

* A solid selection of beer and whiskey.  I’m not here for a guy in suspenders to ask about my flavor preferences and concoct something impressive, I’m here to work on a pint or two of Guinness. Or Newcastle. Or maybe a short glass of Laphroaig or Ardbeg with one large rock.

* Comfort food.  There should be a couple of plausible meal options for dining with friends, but there need to be potato skins and cheese sticks/fries to nibble on whilst working on the aforementioned pint.  Goes without saying that there should be options available for people with dietary restrictions – veggie, celiac, etc etc.

* One modestly-sized television is OK, but not obtrusively so – maybe have the space divided in such a way that half has a TV and half does not.  Under no circumstance should the television show anything other than games in progress. Any person tuning the TV to CNN or MSNBC shall be whipped, and any person tuning it to CNBC or Fox shall be shot.

* A fireplace is a must, ideally featuring actual burning wood.  Two fireplaces, one in each half, would be even better.

* There should be a few big comfy overstuffed chairs near the fire suitable for sitting in if one is alone, and it should be possible to get up and replenish drink or avail oneself of the facilities without losing one’s place in the chair.  It wouldn’t hurt to have a couch or two in the non-TV room.

* Games – pool, foosball, darts, Golden Tee – are to be highly discouraged, if not banned outright.  Takes up too much valuable space and encourages untoward displays of bro-dom.

* The place should never be a hundred percent full.  I know, I know, they have to make money, but this is my ideal dream place, so indulge me – it should always be possible to go in and get situated however you require, be it at the bar or at a table or on the couch or comfy chair.

* No wi-fi.  Excellent cellular reception, so you can get text messages in and out and check Twitter if necessary, but nothing that would allow or encourage people to be camped out with laptops.  Anything you need a laptop for, you ought to be doing somewhere else.

* Live music, if provided, should always be acoustic Irish stuff.  Otherwise, the background should be full of 80s 2-Tone, traditional Irish music, old bluegrass (think Bill Monroe-era) and Johnny Cash. Loud enough that you can listen to it but not so loud you have to.

* It should be possible to have two drinks and a plate of cheese fries for $20, tip included.  That’s an hour or two just to hang out or read or chat.

* I have to be able to get home from this place alone at 10 PM on a school night in under 15 minutes.  Train, cab, walk, whatever.  If I can do it on public transit, all the better.


Hmph. No wonder I can’t find this place.  Picky picky, I am. =)


Congrats, I suppose. I’m not one to go in for conference solidarity, especially given the raw deal Vanderbilt tends to get from the SEC, but after winning seven titles in a row it’s hard not to acknowledge there’s something to this “S-E-C” nonsense, even in a down year like this one. I’ve said it before, but this league is where the Big XII was five years ago: couple or three national contenders (Bama, UGA, A&M), couple or three solid competitors (Florida, LSU, South Carolina, maybe Vanderbilt) and a bunch of skells (not to deny credit to Ole Miss for the 7-6 come-up). And yet, given the vagaries of the BCS system, the Tide has lucked into a rematch last year against a beatable foe and a title game this year against an undefeated team that, in retrospect, was materially inferior to at least one and maybe two other teams not in the title game.

If nothing else, Notre Dame’s categoric defenestration should be a cautionary tale to everyone asserting that an undefeated team deserves a crack at the title. It wasn’t halftime before the Twitterati were moaning that Alabama-Oregon was the rightful matchup and damning Stanford for both a lucky break against the Ducks and an unlucky one against the Irish. And while Notre Dame’s 12-0 run was nothing to sneeze at, the number of close games – triple overtime to beat Pitt? The same Pitt that Ole Miss handled easily? – should have been a red flag: if the defense can’t stop somebody, the Irish aren’t going to keep up in a points race. And then – down 28-0 at the half, the most points they’d given up in any game all season, and one of my BFFs (Notre Dame ’90) called it a night and went to bed.

Thing is, it’s hard to root for this Bama team. Yes, I get that the college football blogosphere has venom for ND because they haven’t won a title since 1988 and have yet to win a BCS bowl game, and because they have the NBC deal and they have the independents’ clause into the BCS mix and they still have millions of fans with no other tie to the school. But so what? The B1G (formerly the Big Ten) has its own cable channel, and a brand of pious fart-sniffing superiority ill-suited to their abysmal performance in meaningful games since 2002, and an undefeated should-have-been champ on mega-probation and unable to compete. The Pac-12 took the best-aligned conference in America and stuck on two crap football teams, then set up a title game that got filled with a .500 school the first time out – because their standard bearer for a decade was a USC team that cheated their way to prominence and got the Pac-1 treatment from a conference administration that couldn’t care less about anything but the Rose Bowl. Boise State took a single win in a BCS game, by ONE point in overtime, requiring three ridiculous trick plays to get there, and spun it into being the rightful uncrowned champions every year thereafter forever on a schedule of one BCS foe to start the year and a diet of Girl Scout troops and crippled-veterans homes thereafter. Hell, the Big East got a BCS bid every year and deserved it about as much as the CCS league in California. And lest we forget, the only way Oklahoma won a BCS game in six tries was to get matched up against one of those 8-4 Big East champions. Yet the venom all goes to ND. I don’t get it.

Because let’s face it, despite what Brent Musburger said between ogling college girls, Bama didn’t “win it on the field.” They won a game, on a field, but they got to that field because of a steady and reliable media drumbeat for half a decade that any SEC school automatically trumps a school with an identical record from a different conference. One-loss Alabama trumps one-loss Kansas State or Oregon or Ohio State. ESS EEE SEEEEE. And within the conference, they benefited from a schedule that kept them from facing the full run of Georgia AND Florida AND South Carolina every year (much like Vandy gets to duck Bama AND Texas A&M AND the Bayou Bengals) and from a league whose officiating is more or less openly skewed in favor of whoever has the higher AP ranking. If Notre Dame is a product of hype, Alabama is no less such a product – and yet, they make it stand up in the clutch.

Charmed life, really. Florida gets two titles because of the confluence of Tim Tebow and Urban Meyer. LSU is in the right place at the right time when a two-loss team gets a crack at the title. Auburn’s lightning-in-a-beer-bottle run through a substandard SEC gives them a crack at an Oregon team whose offense was completely stoppable with a month to prep (and don’t forget Auburn’s defense was nationally ranked WELL below the Cal team that provided the blueprint in 2010). And Bama gets a second crack at an LSU team with no discernible offense, followed by a shot at an undefeated-but-eminently-defeatable Notre Dame.

You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about the Texas matchup after the 2009 season. That was the one I sweated. I wasn’t much of an Alabama fan at that point, but too much was at stake. A game in the Rose Bowl (if not the bowl game itself), for a 14-0 season and national title, featuring Alabama’s first Heisman winner, against the one foe in all of major college football that Bama had never won against…well, it was biblical stuff, to the point I went to Bible study because I was too scared to watch live. Which they did, of course, and at that point I guess I was done. Two years later, I was kind of secretly pulling for LSU (possibly thanks to the New Orleans residential presence in the house) and this year I kind of wanted ND, simply because a bunch of Papists taking a title from Bama right before Obama was sworn in again might have killed Cousin Pa for good.* And yet the process continues and the machine grinds on.

Because that’s what it is: a machine. One commenter on Twitter compared it to the Red Army hockey teams of the 1970s: joyless, merciless, indefatigable, inexorable, an unsmiling juggernaut that ground everything in its path to rubble. No venom, no emotion, no malice – a steamroller has no malice toward asphalt. Bama QB AJ McCarron has as many national championships as he has losses as a starter these last two years. Five players off last year’s Crimson Tide were taken in the first thirty-five picks of the NFL draft, and it didn’t even make a blip.

At this point, it’s the late-90s Yankees. It’s the Shaq-Kobe Lakers. It’s the new-look Miami Heat. It’s Manchester United. Everything leading up to the title is a foregone conclusion and the championship game is a formality. It’s equal parts triumphant victory and a sigh of relief that they weren’t the ones who broke the streak. And not to put too fine a point on it – it’s bred a strain of Alabama fans that are more annoying, more embarrassing, more entitled and arrogant and oblivious than anything Notre Dame cranked out at the height of the mid-20th century.

I think I knew that at some level. Cal was the halfway house that pried my affections open and made it feasible for me to go in on Vanderbilt, and James Franklin took care of the rest. I’ve got my team now. I could claim Alabama on the basis of a quarter-century of fandom and upbringing, and Vanderbilt might be tenuous because of my brief three-year sojourn and how it ended, but I’ve made my choice. And the joy in beating Tennessee and plating the most wins since the First World War is all the greater because we don’t have a rack of five-star prospects reloading every year. You can’t buy the merchandise in every sporting goods store in the country. Nobody’s thinking about us when the mindless crowds chant and tweet and scream “S-E-C” over and over. And we don’t have to win the BCS title game to give meaning to a successful season. We know who we are, and what we are, and we hold our heads higher for it, and somehow, that’s enough.

So go ahead, Tide. Congratulations. It’s yours. But it’s not mine, not any more, and that’s just fine with me.

* As it is, I can only point out that Bama has won three titles in four years since Obama was elected. Hopefully one can die of cognitive dissonance.

Down the pub

The Overcup Oak was the pub at the top of the student center at Vanderbilt.  It served beer (though not on the card, unfortunately, at least back then) and assorted simple foodstuffs, it had a fireplace inside and a balcony outside, and it was dark and cozy with a back row of booths down its own hall.  It was usually plenty full of an afternoon, but at 10 PM, it was rarely more than half-full.  Ideal for nursing a chocolate espresso milkshake (with three shots’ worth of grounds dumped in) while plowing through 250 pages of reading for tomorrow’s seminar.

That was something we didn’t have in undergrad – an on-campus third space, open late with space to sit and read and offering food and drink.  There was the Campus Store on the dorm quad (later a Pizza Hut) but it didn’t really lend itself to hanging out.  Ironically, right downstairs was a “lounge” with a pool table, a big TV and some easy chairs…which sat locked unless reserved for an event.  And of course, you had to be a “student organization” to schedule it…but I digress.

By 1998, things had changed – I lived in the greater DC area and “the pub” wasn’t a particular place.  Instead it was mental shorthand for any number of spots we might go – the Meeting Place, the Fourth Estate, Recessions, a handful of establishments frequented in the name of trying to woo Channels girls – but the big difference was that the pub had changed from ‘place to hang out and get some work done’ to ‘place to hang out with friends and socialize.’

Then, of course, there came the 4Ps, and for four and a half years, that was The Pub.  That was where everything happened – birthdays were celebrated, new girlfriends were vetted, the departing were sent off in glory and the returning were welcomed back.  It was a place with its own routines and rituals, a collective home above and beyond just a role as “third space” – it’s where we were us.

It took a couple years out here before I started to realize I was missing the pub.  I scoured everything from the Sunset to San Jose in search of another Irish pub that featured live Irish music and was public-transit accessible…and it didn’t really work.  The mistake, of course, was trying to recreate exactly what I had before.  I know that now, obviously, but the inability to house nine pints and bellow out a teary chorus of “Fields of Athenry” was highly discouraging in 2007.  I forgot my own advise: stop trying to be the person you were and become the person you are.

So for about five years I always tried to start making a habit of Sunday night at the pub, first of the month.  And there were a couple of good spots in San Jose – one Irish place with live music (though it tended more toward instrumental pickup sessions) and one ancient old building with a couple of big leather chairs, cask-conditioned ale, no televisions, tons of soccer and 2-Tone memorabilia on the walls, and a pub quiz that I romped for the better part of a month in 2009.  It was perfect for just hanging around, killing time, getting my head together for the coming week.  And invariably, by March, it had gone by the boards every year.  Maybe it’s down to the coming of sunlight past 6 PM, maybe it’s part and parcel of March Madness taking over all my weekends, but for whatever reason, I got out of the habit every time.

And then, last month, I discovered my new pub. Close enough to make transit not-awful and a cab theoretically plausible.  Some simple food options, including the apple pie (why do all Irish pubs have apple pie?) – and most importantly, live music on Sunday evenings.  Everything I’d had previous Januarys, but without the hour on the light rail at the end of the night.  A pint an hour, music in the background, not too light, suitable for…what exactly?

Because being down the pub isn’t a social thing anymore – quite the opposite.  It’s 5-time and 5-space, an opportunity to hide in plain sight somewhere that’s on the darker side and has Guinness.  And with the cunning use of the Kindle, it’s a mental vacation from the laptop and the television and the threat of work on Monday morning.

Now, the trick is going to be doing the same thing Tuesday nights at home, albeit in slightly different form: the cellphone stashed away upstairs and only the Kindle and TV at home.  Chance to catch up on magazines, on Downton Abbey (oh yes), to maybe actually go out and socialize or have people over (we’re way behind on cocktail hour).  Two kinds of getting separation from the constant stream of updates, the eternally recurring refresh, the hole I dug for myself when I took on the modern geek lifestyle.

Step one toward a healthier 2013.  Steps two and three–but you’ll have to wait to hear about those…