Peach pits

So about three weeks ago, there was a brief Friday stir when a new app called Peach dropped. At least one website sardonically slagged it off as “the hottest new social media app of the afternoon,” and by Monday it had already been proclaimed dead. Naturally, I signed up for it, as did a couple of friends who sign up for everything that comes down the pipe just so they can have their login name.  And sure enough, of the four or five people I “followed” not one has put anything up in over a week, going on two. 

Social media has a problem. Twitter doesn’t seem to know what it’s for and insists on trying to become Facebook. Facebook wants to be AOL – basically the Internet for people who don’t understand how the Internet works – but is largely a place for baby pictures, game spam and the reposted screeds of racist relatives. Snapchat is for getting the coed in your freshman English comp lecture to send nudes. Instagram, at least, seems to know what lane it’s in and is mostly a photo-sharing service, although one where you’re almost obligated to have it autopost to Twitter.

And that’s the interesting thing. I will see the same things crop up three times sometimes: on the ‘Gram, in Twitter and in Facebook. Usually automatically, as if you have to cover your bases by making sure that it’ll go onto one of the services everyone has. Or maybe it’s just easier to have things automatically show up everywhere.  But it drives home the fact that if you’re on social media for the purpose of keeping up with friends you already have, you basically have to have a very tight and judiciously managed Facebook account – which in turn is the last thing on Earth that Facebook wants you to have.

Things come and go to try to deal with this. Google+ wanted you to organize everyone into circles, which was actually quite sensible, but Google didn’t have any more success convincing people that it wasn’t out to strip-mine your personal data. Path actually capped your friends list at 150 to make sure you were friending, well, friends – but it had an even worse time with data security and sank like a rock. And Peach got traction for about thirty seconds with another largely closed model.

Because the fact of the matter is this: Ed Earl Brown doesn’t want to have to check four apps over and over, and Facebook has the lowest barrier to entry for a civilian. You just fill in your real name, you can tell who the other people are, you’re encouraged to share everything, and let’s face it, Facebook is where the baby pictures are.  If you want to keep up with people you’ve met in real life, your actual friends, then beyond the age of about 28 you’re basically committed to Facebook as the option. That’s why all these other things – Google+, Path, Peach, and whatever comes up next week – sank like rocks. It’s how Friendster got smurfed by MySpace which in turn got destroyed by Facebook; in the end nobody wants to do more than one.

Because there’s another problem, and it is this: social media is inherently shallow. It’s a picture, it’s 140 characters, it’s emoji, it’s perfectly crafted to accommodate snark and shallow reaction. To quote someone more clever than me about these things, “Like anything else virtual…social media is an imperfect repository for the content it is fed, which doesn’t capture the essence of the people who use it.  It definitely doesn’t reflect the things that truly make us who we are – our hopes, fears, aspirations, and burdens.”  And an imperfect slice of the real world is a poor substitute for the real thing, especially when you’re not enough in the real world. Which is why the slugline for Peach made me stop and think…”Peach is a fun, simple way to keep up with friends and be yourself.”

I’m not sure you can be yourself on the Internet anymore. After all, twenty years on, the reason I’m close to my dearest friends is because at some point we stopped being Internet friends and just became friends. Maintaining a shadow life for everyone else, especially in more than one place, is more trouble than it’s worth.  We keep getting an attempt at Peach or Path or Ello or Diaspora or (INSERT $TRENDYAPP HERE) because at some level we want to have a separate space for our actual friends, not just the voices in our phone. It’s how we end up with badly-curated Facebook filters and multiple Twitter accounts and a Peach login…but to get everyone on there is problematic and the edge cases are tough to judge (I really like this person’s Twitter but we’ve never met and I don’t even know their real name so do I want them in my Real Life Friend Space?) and…we all wind up back on Twitter and Facebook in the end.

I do want something like that.  Something ad-free, something without all the cruft of games and memes and reposts and stuff that your aunt forwards. For now, I have it in the form of two Twitter accounts, one identified as me and one not, both accessed primarily via Tweetbot, which are the only accounts that live on the phone. The larger and busier Twitter accounts where I follow and am followed by many more people? Those are only on the iPad or in the browser. The phone has become the bouncer…if only the battery would hold out all day, of which plinka plinka hee hawwww.

Doomsday Eve (ish)

Well, we don’t know how the debate will go down for another couple hours at least, but one thing is for sure, the Clusterfuck to the 2016 GOP Presidential Nomination has gone what the wags at Every Day Should Be Saturday used to refer to as “Full Ham.” Last I saw, Donald “Il Douche” Trump had booked his own event, billing it as some sort of wounded warrior benefit and setting it up to compete with the Fox debate from which he ran like a scalded dog once he learned he would be exposed to the moon-goddess witchcraft of Megyn Kelly (as one person said, if you’re not going to have a last name could you at least spell both your first names right?), and at least one undercard-class debater (Hee Haw Huckabee WOOOOOOOO TENTH PLACE SOOOEY) will be joining him there.  Other candidates (including Carly “Demon Sheep” Fiorina and Ted “I’ve Picked Up All Ben Carson’s Holy Rollers So Don’t You Dare Call Me A Maple Beaver” Cruz) are offering millions of dollars in PAC money as charitable contributions to try to buy a 1:1 with His Hairpiece, and all we’ve really learned so far is that “Support The Troops” hasn’t yet yielded to “Support The Police” as the all-outs-in-free conservative shibboleth just yet.

Meanwhile, I wonder if any of the candidates will be asked about their support for the Vanilla ISIS contingent in Oregon which was not only so stupid that their entire leadership went on a long drive to a rally AND ANNOUNCED IT, but so stupid that those left behind were webcasting the aftermath and their planning ON A LIVE CAMERA complete with one donk with a text ringtone OF A SUPPRESSED GUNSHOT.  After all, Trump’s base voters are fair game for discussion, right?

This is no way to run an election, and Josh Marshall nails it once again: this is what he once indelicately referred to as the Bitch Slap Theory of Politics run wild. And that’s a crucial element of the Southern style of politics: you basically have to demonstrate dominance over your opponent in much the same way a rutting dog in the street might. You have to smack your opponent around and leave him unwilling to come back at you in the same fashion, which is why Dukakis lost horribly and Clinton won handily twice. And right now, this is The Donald basically carrying on a campaign in the same fashion as his WWF Wrestlemania appearances in the 1990s.

The critical thing is that not one single binding vote has been cast, in caucus or primary, to determine who will be the nominee.  Polling in Iowa is notoriously unreliable, and polling in general is in poor odor on the GOP side after the “unskewing” fiasco of three years ago, but Trump sits in the lead most anywhere and everywhere…but he has exactly no votes to show for it yet. No one has had their viability as a candidate marked to market yet, and we have Iowa and New Hampshire and most of the SEC yet to vote, all in a time period where we could either have the public tire of the clown show for good or else decide that it’s all right to select the leader of the free world with the equivalent of talk radio braggadocio and reality TV histrionics.

All of this, though – the election, the occupation in Oregon, the emerging Twitter phenomenon of the “Bernie Bro” (since no lessons were learned from Ralph Nader or Howard Dean or Jerry Brown or Walter Mondale, apparently), the general state of the online world and the angry electorate – so much of it comes back to one thing, to my mind anyway: society hasn’t come to grips with what it means to be a man in the 21st century, in a world where ethnic diversity and a changing economy and three waves of feminism have altered the fabric of what used to be reality. Time was, you graduated high school, you could get a job, get married, buy a house, raise a family and send your kids off to college with the promise of a better future.  You could support a family on one income, have a pension to retire on, and probably be assured of a steady job for thirty years.

Now, either you have a college degree and probably six figures of student loan debt to go with it, or  you’re scrambling for some sort of entry-level manual labor job, because the medium-sized businesses – what the Germans refer to as the Mittelstand – is largely hollowed out. There are small businesses, there are mega-coprorations, and the rank-and-file business in between has either been absorbed, acquired or plowed under. So when Donald Trump brays about making Apple build its products in America, he misses out on the fact that for fifteen years now, the entire supply chain for computer electronics has been in China. Components, assembly, all aspects of manufacturing: they aren’t done in America because for the most part they literally can’t be.  We don’t have the fabrication, we don’t have the tool and die operations, even the custom-assembled-in-Fort-Worth first-gen Moto X was put together from parts made in Shenzhen or thereabouts. And this happened because it was cheaper – and if it’s cheaper to move manufacturing halfway around the world, how much cheaper to move your pension obligations into some sort of stock market roulette and be spared that expense too? Wrap it all up in a blanket of entrepreneurship and personal responsibility, and the next thing you know, your parents are still living off their pension while you’re looking at a flatlining 401K and wondering how you’ll ever afford to send your kids to college. And if you’re young enough, you and your spouse are probably both working and looking at your loans and trying to decide which two out of three pieces of the American Dream you’ll take: kids, home ownership or financial stability.

And so guys fixate on the stupidest stuff imaginable. The felicitously-slurred “cosplatriots” of the Pacific Northwest are typical of their breed: aging white guys who want to need the guns and fancy themselves highly elite and specially trained and basically just the sort Blue Ant wanted to market to in William Gibson’s Zero History.  The keyboard commando warbloggers of a decade ago, and their bizarro-world “progressives” on Twitter sneering at anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders as an agent of Trumpism, are the political equivalent of Gamergate neckbeards – all slurs and slander online from the safety of anonymity. Masculinity is reduced to whoever can be the biggest dick. I got mine, fuck you. It’s toxic and it’s unhelpful and it’s quite frankly unsustainable, because the same globalization that wiped out American manufacturing is now coming for American services. Being a big swinging dick with an MD won’t help you out much when the local HMO decides to cut costs by having some nice young person in Hyderabad look at your patient’s MRI over telepresence and make a diagnosis.

And as with so many things, the solution isn’t technological or even legal, it’s societal. Time was, being a loud-mouthed jackass who waved your money around made you kryptonite in polite society. Now it’s good for 41% in Iowa. People praise themselves for being “politically incorrect” in a fashion which thirty years ago would merely have been disposed of with the term “unmannerly.” And to hear its current defenders, the cause of free speech is only worthwhile if it’s protecting the right to racist and sexist abuse that would almost certainly have drawn a punch in the nose – or worse – in a pre-digital era.

Maybe we’re actually well overdue for a little fascism – albeit by way of Emily Post and Amy Vanderbilt.

Change of plans

So my work-provided iPhone 6 is now unlocked. I don’t know what made it possible but for whatever reason, I asked for it and they did it and pop goes the weasel, I now have an unlocked phone capable of going abroad.

This changes things.

First off, I don’t need a different phone to be able to go to London and still be able to take good shots. I will probably buy a Three SIM right off the plane and be good to go – no need to buy a notional phone that doesn’t exist yet. I also have an external battery case for it, one that’s over 3000 mAh capacity. Since I won’t be syncing it to the Mac while out of the country, I can just leave the case on it and recharge it through the case with any micro-USB cable, which in turn means that I will almost certainly be just bringing a power brick, the iPhone, and the Kindle as a reading tool on the trip. The test is going to be in Hawaii – I will just take that loadout electronically, nothing else, and see how things go.

Which should be fine, honestly – I took the iPhone and Kindle to Japan for a couple of weeks and there wasn’t a problem.  That means one cable and one charger, and no messing with an external battery pack, and I just have one thing to fit in my pocket and be done with it. Which is what I wanted out of a new phone. And really, that’s it, isn’t it?  We got LTE in 2012, we got fingerprint readers in 2013, we got ApplePay via NFC and big Android-style phone sizes in 2014. Short of providing us with a one-handed phone again, the only thing left for the iPhone to give us in 2016 is enough battery to make it through the day, and as I’ve said elsewhere, the existence of the Smart Battery Case for the iPhone 6/6S is as much as a tacit admission that battery life has become a problem. On the 6/S Plus, the phone is big enough to hold a battery big enough that all day use is a done deal, and on the 4-inch phone it’s possible that the screen won’t be so big that the battery bleeds out. But that 4.7″ phone is in the sour spot, and the 6S more even than the 6.

But now that’s not going to be a problem. Because nobody does phone contracts anymore, and there’s no need to re-up the phone every 24 months just because that’s the upgrade window. Maybe you’ll want the new phone after two years, but as long as the battery was okay, you could buy an Apple Watch and give your iPhone 5S all the powers the 6S has. So I have a sneaking suspicion that the notional iPhone 7 (which history forecasts should be announced around Labor Day sometime) very well may not have anything that makes it worth replacing a viable iPhone 6.

Amazing what you can accomplish by just unlocking the device and separating phone and service.  Welcome to the 21st century, America.

Stupid is easy.

Ultimately, that’s the lesson of the 21st Century. Stupid is easy. Stupid doesn’t require you to think, or question yourself, or examine your beliefs. Stupid means that you can howl and cry crocodile tears about how “we” were attacked on September 11 while turning on Washington DC as a uniform cesspool of corruption and New York City as the repository of perversion and unnatural other-ness. Stupid is what propels a reality-TV star with zero political experience and precious little to give confidence in his business acumen to the top of a major party’s field of Presidental candidates. Stupid is what lets you write off decades of mounting scientific evidence for climate change as somehow irrelevant because “liberal” or something. Stupid is how Uber can claim it’s not a car service and AirBnB can claim it’s not a rental service and Y Combinator can claim that Silicon Valley isn’t about credentials.

Stupid breaks democracy, largely because it incentivizes one side to say (in PJ O’Rourke’s legendary formulation) that government doesn’t work, get elected and prove it, and then get elected again because government doesn’t work.  Stupid breaks democracy because stupid people think they’re entitled to their own reality, and being shown something different only causes them to shove even more chips to the middle of the table. Stupid breaks democracy because people who are entitled to their own opinion decide they’re entitled to their own facts. Stupid breeds racism and sexism and bigotry because stereotypes are easier than thinking.

Stupid breaks society, because there’s nothing stupider and easier than “I got mine, fuck you.” Stupid has no problem blowing through stop signs. Stupid thinks it can beat the train across the tracks. Stupid rides its bike through a crowded pedestrian tunnel under a DISMOUNT ZONE – WALK BIKE sign and then has the temerity to take offense when yelled at. Stupid doesn’t read the instructions and complains to no end when doing what the instructions say not to do goes badly. Stupid glances through Facebook and YouTube for viral content and uses that to fill the news instead of bothering with boring stuff like reporting.  Stupid hears people comment on the need for focus at work, then puts seventy-five people in a giant open space without cube walls and runs a call center, then wonders why people keep ducking out somewhere else to try to get work done.

Stupid always privileges itself. Stupid undermines thought. Stupid goes with its gut. Stupid thinks nothing matters more than its own feelings. Stupid isn’t worried about tomorrow. Stupid knows those other people deserved it and nothing bad or undeserved would ever happen to me. Stupid believes whatever makes it feel better.

Stupid is an infinitely renewable resource. Right up until everyone dies. And if we want to live, then stupid should hurt. Lots. Stupid should bleed. Stupid needs consequences. Sometimes, those consequences need be fatal. Because they will be, for everyone, sooner or later, and better they should be for the stupid than for everyone else.

Stupid is as stupid does.

flashback, part 74 of n

Twenty-five years ago next week is when the shooting started in Kuwait. I’ve written about that weird month before, and it stands out in my memory for more than the geopolitical situation. That was the beginning of a New Yorker subscription which has carried on uninterrupted for twenty-five years, save for the bump in the road transitioning from paper to Kindle (and now it’s a Sunday-night-in-bed thing). It was when the sports itch truly began – when I arrived at college, I was interested in Alabama football and playing Cyberball at the arcade; by the end of calendar 1991 I was all in on the Atlanta Braves, the Washington Redskins, college basketball and the NFL in general and starting to immerse in the NBA, as I raced to backfill an enormous gap in my upbringing.

I don’t give it enough credit, but 1991 was a transformative year for me. In 1990, even through that first rough semester of undergrad, I was largely the same person I’d been my senior year: unformed, protean, trying to figure out what i would make of myself now that I was living the dream I’d had since I was five years old., and coming to grips with the fact that this college was nothing like what I’d been led to believe by television and movies and Real Genius. 1991 is when I actually did some regenerating – the wardrobe changed to all sports everything, jackets and hats and Nikes, while Sportscenter completely replaced watching the nightly news. And in the autumn, I first started to conceive of an older world, one where there was an NFL before the Super Bowl era and where big band music had been a thing, and that temporal fugue led me to Glenn Miller and joining the pep and jazz bands with a trombone I hadn’t used in five years.

I was particularly obsessed with the history of the school – I was desperately looking for old traditions, anything I could latch onto and build up the college experience I’d wanted. There were clubs in the 1920s that I wanted to revive (and for the first five years of my relationship, I was interpolating the lyrics of one of those clubs’ songs into California Drinking Song for myself until the disavowal…but that’s for later). I read the old yearbooks voraciously (including the one from 1926, which was hilarious, and the one from 1930, which was drawing parallels between the Reconstruction and the Depression) and managed to get myself let into the school archive, where I could find the gold-fringed Confederate flag that used to sit at one end of the stage. Or the handbooks they used to give to freshmen with cheers and yells (some of which were more racist than others, but Alabama in 1926 wasn’t exactly a progressive bastion on race).

I say all this because I applied twice to join something called the Student-Alumni Association. It was supposed to be – well I’m not even sure what it was supposed to be in retrospect, and it doesn’t appear on the website now, but in theory it was something to do with the history of the school and maintaining relations with alums and blah blah blah. And there was an application and a sort of cocktail party meeting which was…exactly like fraternity rush. And shocker, I didn’t make the cut either time, despite having gone to great lengths to internalize the history and “tradition” of the school.  Because the fact of the matter is, there’s only one tradition at Birmingham-Southern, and it’s having smoke blown up your ass, and if you don’t believe me ask the scholarship athletes who were there in 2006. Of which…

One of those things

I couldn’t explain on what grounds I was so emotionally overtaken by last night’s national championship game. It’s not that I have some overwhelming Bama fandom, and I didn’t even watch the game – I had an event in the city and a trip to the saloon on either side of it, so all I saw of the game were glimpses of the second quarter on the TV in the background of my meeting.  And to be perfectly honest, the last two times the Tide played for the title, I was pulling for LSU and Notre Dame respectively.

So why was I overcome with this one? Probably because, as you can guess by the turn this blog took in the last week or so, I’ve had a lot on my mind about days gone by. And in those days gone by, I was a Crimson Tide fan. Not a sports fan, not a college football fan, an Alabama fan. It was one of those things, like Baptist or Chevrolet, that was a cultural shibboleth.  And it went by the boards while I was in DC, and I basically shoved all in on Vandy in 2006, and my only concern was that the Tide handle the Vols every year (which they have been doing with aplomb) and beat Texas when offered (which they did).  After all, Nick Saban’s squad is as mechanically ruthless and joyless as the Soviet Red Army hockey team…or maybe an industrial bandsaw. Supporting the Tide was functionally similar to cheering for Germany in soccer or the Yankees of the late 90s – the moral equivalent of rooting for the blackjack dealer.

But here’s the thing: I’ve been consumed lately with how much I no longer enjoy football. The collegiate game is a mess; the have-nots are without hope and Vanderbilt in particular is hamstrung by standards in a conference without them. The game is fixed. But I have decades of historic and family ties to the team that is at the top of the heap, the one everyone hates for their joyless efficiency, the one which has racked four titles in seven years and routinely destroys Vanderbilt’s arch-rival. Why not allow the team of my old affections to act as my agent now? Let Vanderbilt be a team I support for all the right reasons and let the Tide be the one I support for all the wrong ones? I don’t even have to be that plugged into it, I just have to look up occasionally and nod gravely as they blank-face piledrive yet another contender, like a giant crimson version of the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.

And I guess in some way, it worked. That – and the cocktails – broke a weeklong funk, made me smile, reminded me of happier days, and pointed up the fact that it’s been over forty years since Alabama lost a national title game. In my lifetime, since I was old enough to watch, whenever it’s one fall to a finish with the belt on the line?  Penn State, Arkansas, Miami, Texas, LSU, Notre Dame, and now Clemson. If they get to the last game of the year, they’re not going home empty-handed.

Rammer jammer yellow hammer – give ‘em Hell, Alabama.







For Lee and his brothers and his father and his children, even when they strayed from the faith of their fathers, this one’s for you. That makes sixteen. Couldn’t be sweeter. 

flashback, part 73 of n

Start here to see how the summer before went down.  Then click here to see what happened the first week.

The school itself is colloquially known as “the Hilltop”, or in some circles “Hilltop High.” The colors are black and gold and the alma mater is a word-for-word crib of Vanderbilt’s except for the school name.  If you look at a campus map now, you’ll see a lot of things that simply didn’t exist then. The fraternity row was where the Lakeview dorms are now (there were no Lakeview dorms or even a lake, just a swampy patch of woods by the intramural fields). There was no bell tower in the academic quad. There was no swanky “fitness and recreation center,” just the old gynmasium. No softball park, no athletics complex, no football field – no football team at all since 1939. In fact, go to that map on the website, draw a line across it about a quarter of the way down, and everything above it didn’t exist.

As far as I can tell, actually, the ensuing two decades have seen the construction of maybe one new academic building. A whole new fraternity row, multiple athletic facilities (oh irony), a couple of new dorms, sure…but that’s about it. Much has been made elsewhere of the country-clubbing of higher education; you’ve got to have plush dorms and a lazy river in the rec center and the right sort of frozen yogurt in the food court – and a food court, for that matter, no cafeteria. And it certainly looks like they’re doing their best to stay on trend.

But in the fall of 1990, it was the cafeteria three meals a day (paid for by individual punch rather than any sort of debit) the Campus Store atop the dorm quad for cheap pizza that might have been better with the cardboard left under the crust, and whatever additional exercise you didn’t get from hills and stairs had to come from whatever was in that old gym – some weights, maybe a machine or a treadmill, and a lot of stuff that hadn’t budged since the building opened in the 1940s. There weren’t even phones in every room – you had to contract with South Central Bell to get a phone in your room, and a central PBX and four- or five-digit dialing for dorms was a few years away. No internet access. No networking to speak of. DOS-based computers in labs in two or three different buildings. And an on-campus population of maybe a thousand or twelve hundred at most.

So that’s the setting: a fairly sparse array of campus amusements, a town whose entertainment potential I’d mined out in high school, and a fairly unambiguous statement of you don’t belong here. And my solution was…to latch on like an imprinting duckling to the first girl who showed interest. Which I did. And it was a huge mistake, because I had tendrils to other people who were slowly building their own thing, but the girl to whom I’d tethered myself basically wanted every moment of my free time and every particle of my attention, and – hold the shock, please – I was afraid to risk the devil I knew in the face of the devil I didn’t. And so I let these other people go by the boards over the course of that first semester because I was betting everything on this one girl who had kind of sort of provided me with a nugget of validation.

Big mistake. Huge mistake. Life-altering mistake.

Because what I didn’t realize is that there was a group for everything. If you weren’t in one of the frats, if you weren’t in a sorority, if you weren’t a theater major or a baseball player or a foreign student or living off campus, there was a loose-knit amorphous sort of clique for you and the rest of the losers. You had to really really like Star Trek and Blackadder and be willing to speak in extensive strings of Monty Python quotes…and to my immense chagrin, I realized that I wasn’t really this guy either. Here I was, whole entire personality defined by needing somewhere and something to belong to, and the music had stopped and not only were there no chairs left, there weren’t any chairs at all and all the players were gone.

Only three years and eight months to go until graduation.


to be continued…

flashback, part 72 of n

It’s been a quarter century. Over half my lifetime ago. It’s the black hole, it’s the original mistake from which all others stem, it is the defining catastrophe of my life. And it’s starting to surface again in ways I honestly had not anticipated.

Part of that is down to college football – and the realization that as I think about possibly having gone to some other institution that didn’t play major college football, leaving me with the opportunity to take or leave Alabama…well, that’s exactly what I did in undergrad, didn’t I? There was nothing requiring me to take Vanderbilt; I could have held onto free agency if I wanted, just had no team at all, never made any other emotional investment. Heaven knows I was punched out on Bama for pretty much my entire life in DC, barring the obvious two games a year. (And they made it easy to punch out from 1997-2003, to be perfectly honest.)

But it isn’t just football that brought this back…it’s Silly Con Valley. Twenty-five years on, I look around me, and I have the exact same feeling that I had walking around a dark campus in the west end of Birmingham: this place is not meant for the likes of me. Sure, I live here and I work here and I do a good job and on paper I am part of the high-tech sector, just like I went to class and made good grades and was officially a student at BSC…but as there before, so here now: who I am and what I do isn’t a good “culture fit”.  I’m not actually a part of this place, and I don’t stand much of a chance of becoming one – I could dress up like a Jersey cow and moo from dusk ’til dawn, but no matter what I try, I’m never going to be able to give milk.

In retrospect, it makes perfect sense that I latched onto Vanderbilt for degree laundering; Nashville felt like home on day one in a way no other place ever did before or since. And in a world where I’m caught between Stanford on one side and the University of California on the other, I needed a university affiliation of my own that could punch in the same weight class. But the brutal truth of the matter is that unless people here are very knowledgable baseball fans, are really into the origin of the Golden State Warriors, or happen to have had some other sort of connection, Vanderbilt isn’t any more of a household name out here than BSC would be, and in the areas of football and basketball, they aren’t doing anything to improve my mood or outlook on life – quite the reverse. If the rule for 2016 is to do the things I enjoy and stop doing the things I don’t, I’d pretty much have to shut down any connection to the Commodores between June and March.

The thing that really tipped it, though, was…Rocky Horror. I’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show twice in my life, both in undergrad, the second time the night before Bama-Tennessee in 1992. The soundtrack got a regular and frequent airing throughout most of 1991 and 1992, and then disappeared from my life until a few nights ago, when I was looking for one song and realized that in all the years of digital music I’ve accumulated back to 1998, I never once got a song off that soundtrack.  And I’ve been booming the whole thing ever since, and it’s become the waldo-arms with which I can start manipulating the radioactive material of my undergraduate experience.

So this is the beginning of revisiting that story. Four years off the rails, four years that I’ve been trying to recover from for two decades plus. Four years that arguably shaped me more than any other, if only because the rest of my life has been spent pushing back against them – and now that I see the same thing happening around me again, it’s time to remember the lesson and push back right this time.

Zip up your Starter jacket, tie your Nikes tight, turn your hat backward and let’s jump down the hole.

7 Out

So the Great Mentioner is more convinced than ever that the iPhone 7, so-called, will finally do away with the standard headphone audio jack in favor of having headphones plug directly into the Lightning port – or not plug in at all.  Depending on who you believe, there will be an adapter for regular headphones and it will or will not be included. Or the phone will incorporate wireless charging so you can charge with the headphones plugged in. Or everything will be done with wireless headphones which will or won’t be included. The only thing everyone seems to agree on is that the move is being made so that the phone itself can be thinner.

If this is true, and this is how it goes down, it’s the final proof that Jony Ive is too big for his britches. The iPhone doesn’t need to be any more thin. It’s arguably too thin already, as the camera protrudes from the back of the last two years’ models unless you put a case over them (which in turn compromises the whole “thin” thing). In fact, the release of the Apple battery case for the iPhone 6S is (or is as good as) a tacit confession that the iPhone 6S went too far in sacrificing battery for svelte. It would be one thing if the iPhone 7 sacrificed the headphone jack for the sake of using that space for battery, but if this is all about shaving yet another millimeter off the thickness while leaving the battery the same size or smaller, we have a problem.

Because, like I said, the phone crossed the finish line two and a half years ago. The original Moto X, processor and OS notwithstanding, had just about a perfect hardware spec sheet: 4.7” AMOLED display in a smaller footprint than the iPhone 6S, 2 GB of RAM, LTE and WiFi and Bluetooth and NFC, the smaller nano-SIM form factor, and a 2200 mAh battery – 28% larger than the one in the 6S. Apple has yet to break the 2000 mAh battery mark in a non-gargantuan phone, and 2 GB RAM only became standard with the 6S.

Now, consider the Moto G. It doesn’t have NFC and the camera is the same step down you take with most Android phones, but this year’s Moto G has 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of onboard storage expandable to 48 GB with the use of a micro-SD card. It’s got a 2470 mAh battery, all the LTE bands you need for domestic use, 1080p HD video capture, it’s functionally waterproof in daily use…and it’s $220, sack and all. No contract. Compare this to last year’s iPhone 6, in 16 GB form, which – unlocked and contract free – costs you $550. It’ll be another $100 for this year’s most basic model, and the cheapest iPhone you can currently buy – the two-year-old 16 GB iPhone 5S – will set you back $450.

You can get two topped-up Moto Gs for the price of the cheapest shipping iPhone. Or you can go balls-out and order the most expensive current Moto X – with 64 GB of storage, a leather back, custom engraving and a rack of different colors – for less than last year’s base-model iPhone 6. And this is an important comparison, because yesterday AT&T became the last major carrier to give up on two-year contracts with phone subsidies. From now on, everyone is paying the full price of the phone, either up front or in installments.

This is significant. The iPhone was differently priced for about a year before turning into just another phone, as far as AT&T was concerned – but the flip side of that was that the contract subsidy obscured the full price of the phone and it was still better than anything else out there. But now, as we start 2016, there are brand-new Android alternatives out there that are perfectly good – certainly good enough for Ed Earl Brown – for literally half the cost or less of an iPhone.  Circumstances have contrived to take a device that was cutting-edge-yet-affordable and transform it into far more of a luxury good than ever it was previously.

And what Jony Ive proposes, if this report is true, is to take it even further up the fashion ladder and sacrifice even more practicality for style. To some extent, Apple was always willing to be a high-end product at the expense of market share, just keep those margins up – but this would be an unambiguous gesture in the direction of surrendering the middle ground for good.  And if that’s the space they want to play in, so be it. I’m just not sure it’s the best space to lead from.