flashbacks, part 61 of n

The six-part National Geographic Channel series “The 80s: The Decade That Made Us” was something I was a little wary about when I first heard it promoted. For one thing, it reeked of “I Love The 80s” and for another, it’s bang on time to be the exact same sort of annoying “NOTHING WAS EVER EVER THE SAME” Baby Boomer bullshit we’ve been hearing for…well, about fifty years now.

It turned out pretty good, not least because of the crisply ironic narration by Rob Lowe (I didn’t think it was possible to laugh so hard at a mere ‘thank you’) but largely because they skipped going by year. Instead, they went with broader thematic episodes, starting with the malaise of 1980 that led to Reagan’s election in the first place and ending with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the entirely-persuasive argument that pop culture is what brought down the Soviet Empire (granted, the shortcomings of Communism and the disguised internal rot of the USSR’s economy didn’t help).  Along the way, they looked at MTV, Madonna, the emergence of the cell phone and the arrival of computers on desktops, the creation of the cliffhanger as the indispensable end-of-season dramatic TV device…

The annoying thing about the 60s is that they always get the ham-handed booming “THIS IS THE DECADE THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING” treatment, usually with Buffalo Springfield or Jimi Hendrix in the background. They changed a lot, sure.  But Vietnam didn’t serve as enough of a cautionary tale to prevent Iraq, and the expansion of social programs of the 1960s has been going the other way for quite some time.  Only in the field of civil rights do you see the slow widening of the American circle still happening, and there’s a case to be made that time takes care of that anyway (how many people still look at Irish or Italians as an “ethnic minority” with racial prejudice as an obstacle to their progress?) – not to deny the impact of a black President within living memory of Birmingham’s dogs and firehoses.

But the old firm nailed this one: the 80s were the decade that made today.  Hell, the entire GOP platform is built on the (hazy) memory of Ronald Reagan, or at least what they thought Reagan stood for. Cut taxes, always. Robust aggressive foreign policy, everywhere. Make America look as much like 1955 as possible.  As it was in the 80s, so today. Similarly, the promotion of individual achievement at the expense of collective good – definitely 80s. The apotheosis of true American working people stopped being the blue-collar hardhat and started being the yuppie.  The man at the top is far more to be admired than his staff and employees.  For crying out loud, Donald Trump is still afflicting us thirty years on.  Will no one rid me of this meddlesome onion-loaf-hair-having jackass?

Personal computers and mobile phones weren’t invented in the 1980s, but they were first made commercially practical – which puts us on the road to the iPhone. Popular music in its current form relies on MTV visuals and hip-hop beats, both of which came into the view of mainstream America in the 1980s.  What are Katy Perry and Lady Gaga if not an extended pastiche of Madonna? The modern concept of protest, of charity, of collective action – draw a straight line from merely buying a record to merely retweeting a hashtag.  80s.

There was, however briefly, a bit of a 60s moment in the early 90s.  We acted like we cared about the planet for about a year and a half. We made a big show of disdaining the greed and excess of the Me Decade.  We elected a couple of children of the 60s as young dynamic types to be our Democratic ticket for President.  And then the other side went right back to fighting the same battles of the 60s, which will apparently always be with us.  And all you need is Rambo to show that refighting the 60s in perpetuity is itself a child of the 1980s.

The 80s made us?  We still live there. Mostly for worse.


Hot Sprots Takes [sic]

The height of irony: Tim Tebow, who made a bigger deal of his faith than any athlete in recent memory, gets cut by the Jets on the same day that Jason Collins becomes the first active openly gay athlete in a Big Four league sport. No doubt this will be heralded as another sign of the apocalypse by the holy rollers and their enablers in the media.  Yet the thing people fail to grasp is this: people don’t hate Tim Tebow because of his faith, they hate Tim Tebow because ESPN was using the word “Tebow” 88 times an hour on Sportscenter in a year where he scored exactly as many NFL touchdowns as my wife did.  There has never been a bigger delta between hype and performance that I can remember – at least during Linsanity, another prominently Christian athlete was running up sick numbers for the Knicks.

The problem with the holy rollers is that by their logic, Tim Tebow is a God-fearing Christian man who takes every opportunity to witness and share the Word of God with his own testimony, and therefore the fact that in three years he delivered a turnover for every two touchdowns and averaged less than 50% complete passing is immaterial. And that’s not how the NFL works. Hell, that’s not how sports works.  People didn’t want Jackie Robinson in the major leagues at first, and then the Dodgers got really good really fast.  People didn’t want Alabama to field black players, but then they rattled off three national titles in the 1970s (and should have had a fourth).  People didn’t want an influx of Russians in the NHL, until they turned Detroit into the Death Star. 

Sports may be the only field of human endeavor where who you are becomes immaterial.  You a Muslim? You Chinese? You gay? You could be a blue-skinned mutant with two husbands, but if you go to Chicago, hit .450 with 80 home runs and lead the Cubs to World Series victory for the first time since 1908, you will be the god of the North Side for the rest of your breathing days.  I assure you that there will be a shrine in my living room to whoever delivers to Vanderbilt a national championship in football (and the aforementioned wife probably has wireframes for the corresponding shrine to whoever delivers Rose Bowl victory to Cal), and it’s not going to matter to me whether the guy was purple or Chinese or Baptist or whatever – he got the job done and we got the ring.

And ultimately that’s what did for Tim Tebow in the NFL. The only thing pro football wants from a quarterback on Sunday is 350 yards and 3 touchdowns.  Everything and anything else you might do on Sunday might score points with God, but those don’t show up on the scoreboards of the NATIONAL. FOOTBALL. LEAGUE.

flashback, part 60 of n

With the exception of 8th grade, during what it took me twenty-two years to figure out was my first actual bout of chronic depression, spring was always a good time for me from the onset of adolescence to the end of high school.  The odd-numbered years were always progressively better, certainly, but by and large spring was good.  It meant an end to the steady gray rain and cold.  It meant pastel colors, warmth in the afternoon and a pleasant morning cool that didn’t demand a jacket, a general green-ness to a world that had been dead and brown for months.  Sure, it meant bushel baskets of pollen, but that was never quite as bad so long as I stayed away from the billowing yellow clouds from the trees and begged off cutting the grass.

I know that spring and summer 1989 get referenced endlessly as the perfect time in my life – had my crew, had the (complicated) affections of a sweet young thing (or two, kind of), had the kind of success where you always blurt out the right answer as if by Jedi mind trick and don’t think twice.  In a way, though – and unlike 1994 or 2003 or 2006 –  I had more than just that.  In retrospect, I knew I was doing well. I wasn’t moping over the lost opportunities of the past, because there really weren’t any and they didn’t matter anyway – I wasn’t pining for the days of being the biggest dork in day care.  Nor was I dwelling endlessly on the future and pinning my hopes on getting out and taking the next step – looking forward to college?  Absolutely, but not with one foot out the door.  The future?  Hell, ten weeks away was future far enough.

In a way that took me 25 years to recognize, I was living in the moment.  I knew that I was living in an amazing time for me, I soaked it up, I cherished it, I wrung every last drop of life from it.  And I wonder if that isn’t what keeps that era resonant, a quarter-century on: I was living wide-open and flat-out and was fully present for all of it.

Of course, by the next spring, it had all gone to pieces.  I was feuding with most of my class, all my friends had graduated the year before, one of the sweet young things turned out to be a figment of my imagination while the other vanished to be replaced by a poorly-programmed clone. And the bulletproof victory streak ran out by the end of February, leaving me to coast to the finish line with an empty tank…but I didn’t care, because by that time I was looking to the future.  The present might kinda suck, but that’s fine, because come September I won’t care about high school at all.  And so I suppose in a way I did live in the moment a little, as I motored around that summer soaking in the way things had been until now, thinking it would all be different come fall.

You all know how that turned out.  It’s not much fun to live in the moment when the moment sucks out loud, and I pretty much forgot how.  Fast-forward twenty-five years.  It’s spring now.  The jacket is fully optional.  The Sperrys are out from under the foot of the bed and the socks are back in the drawer. The three new shirts are button-ups from Tommy Hilfiger, one a pink-and-white stripe and the others a mostly-white-with-pastel-plaiding. I can hear and feel the echoes across the years.

There are plenty of guys who wander around dwelling on their high school years and wishing they were that again. That’s not what I’m after.  God knows I don’t want to be 17 again, least of all in a world of living at home with no Internet or iPhone or Silicon Valley money.  But if I could get my head back to thinking how I did in high school, living not like I did but how I did…that wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, would it?


And the compromise Toomey-Manchin bill – the simplified background check bill, the one proposed by one Democrat with an A rating from the NRA and one Republican, the one that included prison terms for any government official retaining those records – goes down to defeat, 54 to 46.  That’s 54 votes in favor of the bill and 46 against it, so by 21st century Senate rules, that means the side with 54 votes is the loser.

As with so many things over the last five years, the person to blame for this is Harry Reid, who after 2011-12 had no reason whatsoever to leave the old filibuster rules intact.  It’s not like we didn’t know the GOP had shattered the filibuster record in three consecutive Congresses, except we totally did.  Instead, the Man With No Balls let himself get rolled again, and again, and again, and a Senate with a Democratic majority is completely unable to pass a Democratic bill.  

Then again, if Republicans didn’t live in pants-shitting fear of the NRA, this wouldn’t be an issue.  But that shouldn’t be a surprise either.  After all, pants-shitting fear is what it means to be a Republican, ever since an attack on New York and Washington DC made red America soil its britches.

We get the government we deserve.  Twenty dead kids is the price of doing business, because we as a nation are too chickenshit to take on the chickenshits.

Fifty Years

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law…”

Down by the river

…down by the banks of the river Charles

that’s where you’ll find me, ‘long with muggers, lovers and thieves

(yeah but they’re good people)

well I love that dirty water, oh Boston you’re my home


This is always a big day for Boston.  The Red Sox have a dispensation from Major League Baseball to always play at home on Patriots Day and to start at 11 AM so the game lets out in time for the crowd to see the marathon pass through Kenmore Square behind Fenway (even if the scheduling has been screwed up some in recent years).  It’s a state holiday, it’s a three-day weekend, it’s the essential sign of spring.  And now, this shit.

Twitter is how we find out about these things now, and I’m not checking Twitter every five seconds since my thumb joints started to hurt in the afternoons, so it took a text message before I pulled away from a busy and annoying day at work to see what was up.  And I know what day it is, and my first thought was Oklahoma City.  Then Judge Vance, before that. Olympic Park. The women’s clinic in Birmingham. I mean, comment-section idiots can say what they like, but I’m from Birmingham, and when a bomb goes off? Spoiler alert, my first thought isn’t brown people.

It’s all speculation, of course, idle and ill-informed (but given the anniversaries that Patriots’ Day commemorates in New England, it’s better-informed than the typical Facebook poster) – as much as it hurts to admit, we won’t know anything worth knowing for at least 24 hours and more like 48. Until then, you can only do the usual: pray, and line up to give blood.  As badly as they butchered my apheresis for platelets a couple weeks ago, I’ll probably be lined up with everybody else tomorrow or Wednesday, sticking out an arm still purple with bruises, because it’s important.

I’ll also be steering clear of TV news.  TV news is like my mother: they may not have anything useful to say, and what they have to say my be wildly counter-productive, but far worse would be to preserve any kind of dignified silence. So I’m going to spare myself the annoyance of mouths running for the sake of running them, and I suggest you do the same.  Hell, a blog post is probably too much.

The Network

It was recently made clear to me that I spend rather too much time on Twitter. This point was driven particularly home when I dumped Twitter off my iPhone for two days. Not only did I not have to plug the phone in at work once, not only did I carry on using everything else like normal (including podcasts and playing music for most of the day), but when I left work I was still at 50% battery. Clearly, something is amiss with Twitter. It could be the app itself, but I think it’s the fact that checking Twitter like I tend to check Twitter means the screen is constantly on and the network is constantly refreshing.

Others (like Mat Honan and Ezra Klein) have written better about the firehose quality of Twitter and how it’s become progressively more difficult to drink from. I only routinely monitor about three accounts of my own. One is the (locked) original account, mostly just my actual friends. One is entirely for Vanderbilt purposes. The other, and effectively the primary one, is a catchall for everything – acquaintances from the days of all-day EDSBS comment sessions, assorted Redskins, critical bloggers and sites, parody accounts, authors, radio hosts…basically it’s a distilled stream of my Internet and broader interests, some 300 sources strong, spraying at full power pretty much all day every day. And like the early days of email, there’s the little endorphin hit that goes along with hitting “refresh” – less because maybe this time you’ll have something (oh, the agony of watching that Eudora progress bat at 14.4K waiting for the FROM header) and more wondering what you’ll have with this reload.

Ironically, the “Top News” feature I decried in Facebook is exactly what I need in Twitter. In Facebook, where the people I follow are actually my friends and number less than a hundred, I want to see everything they put up. On Twitter, where I’m following almost five hundred people between three different accounts, I would be fine with something that just hit the high points for the primary account and still let me look at the personal account Tweet by Tweet.

The problem now is that a technical fix may not be easy to come by. Twitter is slowly cutting off the oxygen to third-party clients, so coming up with a solution in software will largely depend on whether Twitter wants to offer one. It’s tough for me to imagine that something like that is too far off, though – the ability to charge people for pride of place on the pile is too good a revenue opportunity to relinquish, especially in a world where “promoted tweets” are already a (grudgingly) accepted part of the ecosystem.

(In non-tweet related technical news, today is a red-letter day: U-Verse access has just gone live on WatchESPN for iOS. For the first time, it’s possible to watch any games ESPN is offering online via my iPhone or iPad…and even stream them to the TV via the AppleTV unit. Given the nature of Vanderbilt athletics and SEC television contracts, I can now basically count on seeing any televised Commodores game on any device – no longer does it mean digging out the laptop and crouching around it. The last major obstacle to an iPad as my sole personal portable computing solution has been surmounted. This is what Vice President Biden would call “a big fucking deal.” Of which more later.)

Tramping down the dirt

It bears remembering that Britain in the late 1970s was on a malaise bender that made Carter’s America look like a frat party.  Three-day workweeks, Callaghan’s “Winter of Discontent,” strikes, and the detritus of nationalized industry caught in a stagflation spiral – Margaret Thatcher came to power in a country infinitely further down the road to socialism than the United States ever was, no matter what modern wingnut media blowhards will tell you about the collectivization evils of raising the top income tax rate to 39.6%.  Thatcherism was very much a philosophical and intellectual challenge to the political and economic ethos of postwar Britain, and represented meaningful change.

Consider also that this was largely a battle over economics.  Thatcher was no particular friend of social liberalism, not that the 80s were a boom time to be gay or black or a woman (one person famously remarked that because she had climbed the greasy pole herself, Maggie’s conclusion was that there was no such thing as grease) – but the sort of Christian Right-Moral Majority fire that fueled the Republican ascendancy wasn’t so much a thing.  Thatcher’s elections never turned on the likes of prayer in school, or the Pledge of Allegiance, or abortion: it was all about capitalism and the fight against Soviet Communism.

And the Tories held on seven years longer after she was pushed out, and when Labour finally came to power after eighteen years, it was “New Labour,” the Clinton-esque Third Way-styled party of the left that had foresworn government control of the means of production.  Nobody was rushing out to re-nationalize British Rail, and until 2008, nobody was attempting to slap the reins back on the City of London and wrangle with the bankers and financiers who made London the money capital of the world from the 1990s on.

It’s because of that transformation that she’s still such a polarizing figure. “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead,” from The Wizard of Oz, is literally climbing the charts in Britain right now and could possibly be the #1-selling track by the weekend. There were street parties at the news of her death, especially in Brixton (home of riots in 1981) and the northern coal-towns where the miners lost a year-long strike effort.  You could make a case that the Big Bang – the 1986 financial deregulation – was the pivotal blow in replacing the Little England of old with the modern whiz-bang high-roller economy, with foreign investors living two weeks a year in vacation homes in Mayfair while Dr Martens production gets shipped out to Vietnam.  Thatcherism turned the UK into a 21st century economy, for better and for worse.

One of the refreshing things about the UK is the agreeable lack of hagiography as soon as somebody dies.  When Reagan went in 2004, all of a sudden everything was Saint Ronaldus Magnus all the time, indulging the idolatry of every GOP fetishist in a tidal wave that continues to this very day. In Britain, among the hosannahs and glorious remembrance of the Tories, you’re also getting the Beat and Elvis Costello and the Specials and memories of the Young Ones. “Vyvyan’s baby will be born a pauper!  Back to Victorian values! Charles Dickens! Oliver Twist!  I HOPE YOU’RE SATISFIED THATCHER!!”  As Geoff Lloyd pointed out, irrespective of what you think about her, 80s music in Britain isn’t the same without the Iron Lady.  (And unlike in the United States, British political protest usually has a beat and you can dance to it.)

Margaret Thatcher transformed Great Britain.  That’s a fact, regardless of what you think of the transformation. And what she did doesn’t all become good just because she popped her clogs.  A fact that Americans would do well to think about and internalize for future reference.

Margaret, stood down

House rules dictate that everyone gets safe passage across the Styx.  Plenty of time for brutally honest assessment tomorrow.  Still, it bears thinking about that Margaret Thatcher made sweeping changes to Britain, and two facts are true:

1) Nontrivial numbers of British people are still viciously pissed off about it.

2) None of the sweeping changes have been reversed in any meaningful way.

I also stand by my post of almost five years ago: irrespective of what you think of her, the prospect of having to tell your parent over and over that their spouse has died, and have them relive that over and over, is maybe the most profoundly sad thing I can imagine.






We have embarked on a world of post-PC mobility computing where we have silos.  There’s still some overlap – you can get a Kindle app for damn near everything and anything with a processor, for instance, and your current .m4a iTunes files will still run on other players, and Google Maps is out there for your iPhone – but by and large, we’re sort of where we were in the pre-PC era, when you bought your computer from Apple or Radio Shack or Texas Instruments or Commodore or what have you.  The difference being that now you buy not only hardware and software but a variety of online services and media content through the same silo.

I think to a certain extent, my desire to own a Nexus 7 tablet is pushed by the same impulse that led me to go out and buy that Dell netbook back in 2010.  Something that came with a viable OS of its own but which could have other ones slapped over top of that (or in place of it). Something that would run an open source OS and not be beholden to anyone’s App Store, something that could sideload its programs and media and what have you, something to sort of provide that survivalist “in case shit” approach.  Something, in other words, which would fulfill the promise of a European-style mobile phone environment where carrier and hardware are separate and combine it with a screwdriver-shop Linux world where you could bundle together your own hardware and have something run on it.

And I don’t see that happening.  Problem is, with mobility computing – and infinitely more so with tablets than laptops – it’s difficult to have the approach you had with PCs where you go out and buy a motherboard, some RAM, a hard drive, a video card and the like.  Things aren’t nearly so modular in the miniature world, and going in and upgrading the processor on your tablet would almost certainly kick off a compatibility nightmare.  Android, notionally open-source, is already fragmented to the point where Amazon chose to fork an older version rather than keep pace with the current version, and many Android users never get the opportunity to upgrade (and many of those who do don’t bother), so the prospects for slapping something together from spare parts and getting CyanogenMod to run on it seems like a fool’s errand.

At this point, the biggest thing is to not pledge yourself too much to one service.  If Apple went down tomorrow (or did something to run me off), I would be kind of stuck as far as video purchases and a non-trivial chunk of my iTunes content…but Twitter, Evernote, RSS, weather services, Instagram, Netflix, WordPress, Tumblr? Could all run on an Android device.  Hell, most of them would probably work on Nexus or Kindle alike.  But until then, there’s no reason to jump off the current ride.

(This is the sort of logical post occasionally required to stop the glee.  The shoe glee has also been arrested for the time being, which is nice, because that was about to get expensive.  You can spend hella money on hand-sewn American shoes with a Goodyear welt.)