Before we take the plunge…

…the conventional wisdom is already firming up that it’s going to be Hillary vs Trump. And that’s terrifying to me. Not because I have any doubt that HRC would do a fine job as President – at least as fine a job as it’s possible to do in the 21st century with our inherently-broken system – but because Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line, and I am positive that for every Bernie millenial that sighs and punches out of the process there’s a Republican who will forget they tweeted #NeverTrump last week and join the National Review in deciding that no matter how bad The Donald is, he’s still better than allowing the Evil Queen Bitch-Goddess of all Republican demonology for the last 25 years to make her way into the White House.

Memo to all Democrats thinking of crossing the aisle to pull the lever for Trump because he’s more beatable: you better fucking know you’ll be able to beat him.

He said nobody move and he pulled his .44

Last year at this time I wasn’t even blogging to speak of. The year before, when I was reflecting on the year gone by, I noted that things were on a slow steady slide, each year seemingly less hopeful than the last, and I guess that was the case because in 2015 there wasn’t a post at all. So the fact that I’m even typing this out is a good sign.

The wider world hasn’t gotten any better. In fact, it’s probably gotten worse. This year was rife with shitty developments – politics (seriously? Donald Trump? SERIOUSLY??), divorce (both the best man and matron of honor from our wedding in this past year), mechanical (we’re looking at the prospect of having two car payments in 2017 unless we’re willing to roll the dice on only having one car), health (after allergy shots and three kinds of nasal steroids and a CPAP machine, I still can’t sleep through the night)…but one thing did change.  I ran out of patience, I put my resume out, and then I told the management that I was on the market. Lo and behold, they found a new job for me internally, doing exactly what I’d been doing minus the parts I hated doing…and for a 10% raise.

That helped. I’ve noted before, long ago, that work as an adult takes up a good half of your waking life: not just at the office, but shaping when and where you can go for lunch and how you commute there and back and how you have to plan other bits of your life, and anything that’s going to eat up 50% of your conscious life has to be something that at the very least doesn’t make your life actively worse. I think maybe I crested that with this change. It doesn’t make my life substantially better, as I’m still surrounded by everything I hate about Silly Con Valley on a daily basis, but it’s not a constant source of existential despair anymore, so I got that going for me, I guess.

When you go by Stagger Lee, you rather expect 44 and 45 to be good years. It’s right there in the songs, after all. 44 is that hard eight on the craps table that made money at my bachelor party. 44 is Riggo plowing through a 50 Gut pulling-guard block in the days when football was fun, rather than a boundless misery. 44 sounds and feels like somebody set with adulthood and nothing much left to prove, which is what I’ve been trying to prove for over twenty years now without success.  And yet, I’ve always skewed older than I really was. Maybe I’m finally hitting equilibrium. It would be nice.

So we set forth on the goals: don’t give up on fixing the health issues. If it means having to liposuction the inside of my nose to breathe at night, do it. If it means the monthlong moratorium on hard liquor has to be extended, I’ll live with it. If it means that cutting out carbs and soda and eating salad for lunch every day and going to see all manner of exotic specialists will actually produce results, then I’ll have the results.  And I’ll plug in the headphones of a Sunday evening, with a reading lamp and a Kindle with the wireless turned off, and listen to music and sip something out of a fresh jug of oatmeal stout and do the pub thing at home where it’s inexpensive and easy to get up the stairs.

Do the things that make you happy. Stop doing things that don’t. And if you have a chance to book eight days in London, do it.

Too little, too late

The GOP establishment and other Presidential candidates assumed Trump would fail. They assumed Trump would flop. They assumed the public support for Trump was all name recognition.  And when he was pulling 20% and everyone else was in the 5-10% range, it made perfect sense to just wait around, hold fire, pick off a few of the weak stragglers, don’t give offense to Trump or his supporters, and then when The Donald manages to blow it and falls out of the race, you’ll be there to scoop the pot and ride to victory.


Everyone stuck around way too long, because with nobody breaking 10%, everyone was equally viable and there hadn’t been any votes yet to say otherwise. Everybody let Trump go and go and go, assuming he couldn’t stick around long enough to make a difference. And now, it looks like we’re down to only three options: the callow youth that’s the de facto “establishment” choice, who barely passes a Turing test and is in desperate need of an OS upgrade; the loudmouth Texas-Canadian who literally no other elected Republican Senator can stand (Lindsey Graham literally said that if you stabbed Cruz to death on the Senate floor, and the trial was held in the Senate, you would walk); and Donald Trump, who is the final boss of the GOP’s multi-decade game of post-reality politics.

This started a long, long time ago. It started in the late 1960s when Kevin Phillips posited the plan to pry away racist Democrats down South and use them to craft a Republican majority. It moved down the field substantially in 1988, when Lee Atwater built the George H.W. Bush campaign around the Pledge of Allegiance and racist fearmongering around crime. (Sidenote: people now bashing Hillary Clinton for her husband’s 1994 crime bill have no memory of the combined firepower of a War On Drugs coupled with Willie Horton.) And then, when Newt Gingrich finally captured the Congress, the controls were put in the hands of the South. From there, the Southern style of politics prevailed in an increasingly homogeneous party: with no substantive policy differences and Congressional districts increasingly gerrymandered to the point of guaranteed victory, the determining factor in Republican primaries became “who can sling the shit” – and in a political environment increasingly propelled by AM radio and Fox News, the GOP went right along.

And in this bubble, they rapidly approached a post-reality state. Never mind opinions; the conservative mind increasingly felt entitled to its own facts, especially in a strange and changing and scary world. When Bush the Younger luck-boxed into the Oval Office despite receiving half a million fewer votes than his opponent, he managed to spin the sucker-punch of September 11 into “He kept us safe” and used the aftermath to build the “live in fear” climate that has permeated the GOP ever since. There’s always something to be scared of – Mexicans, Muslims, the War on Christmas, all the gays that are going to force you to marry them, death panels to grind you into meatloaf for bilingual millennials, whatever. Nothing had to have the most remote basis in reality, which is why we had to suffer through years of “where’s the birth certificate” and “You lie” and all manner of made-up horseshit.

And there are really two places to lay the blame for this. One is on the much-maligned “mainstream media,” which was content to live neck-deep in the Golden Mean of false equivalence. Opinions differ, both sides do it, look a white girl is missing.  Disgraceful, but not as bad as the rest of the GOP. The Republican party has known for years – YEARS – that they were running campaigns and elections based on talk-radio bullshit and e-mail forwards, and they did nothing. They were content to keep riding the tiger…and now that they’ve slipped and fallen off, that tiger is hungry.

Thing is…Trump is a reality buffoon.  Cruz is a Christo-fascist asshole. Rubio is a shellshocked rookie. Carson is a human Ambien who’s not qualified for elected office above “hospital lounge coffee committee”. Kasich is an afterthought who still can’t break into double-digits in this crowd of insane people.  Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is an avowed Jewish-atheist self-proclaimed socialist in a world where Ronald Reagan in 1988 and the Heritage Foundation in 1994 are too left-wing for the GOP, and Hillary Clinton is the top-of-the-pantheon evil bitch-queen of GOP nightmares for twenty-five years and counting.  In theory and on paper, not one of these candidates – not one – can possibly win an American Presidential election.

I’m too scared to shit.

The lost cause

Right now, there is a truly horrific combination of circumstances unfolding at the University of Tennessee.  Multiple women are suing the university for enabling a culture of tolerance around sexual assault, and it’s being alleged that a football player who came to the defense of a woman was ostracized and ultimately physically attacked by his teammates, that the (current) head football coach referred to him as a “traitor”, and now, in a live press conference, the athletic director is making the argument that “bad things happen if you choose to go out at night.”

This is going to seem like I’m trying to score points at the expense of a rival, and it really isn’t. I don’t think you have to do much to score points in comparison to UT in most anything, save for maybe four hours a year on the football field, but it’s instructive to compare what happened when four Vanderbilt football players – all new to the program within a year – were implicated in a truly ghastly assault. In that instance, they were reported to the police by the university. Less than 48 hours after that, they were kicked off the team, kicked out of school and barred from campus. Their case went into criminal prosecution, not any kind of administrative internal process, and when a fifth player – whose character and conduct in all other regards was above reproach – was sent an incriminating message by one of the four, and told him to “delete that shit,” that fifth player was kicked off the team as well and referred for criminal prosecution, whereupon he took a plea deal and gave evidence against the four.

I say all that not to laud Vanderbilt, because that’s what ought to happen. You don’t get a cookie for doing the shit you’re supposed to do. Somebody does wrong, you prosecute them, you expel them, you don’t bury things or hush them up or slide it under the rug with some vague student-judiciary kangaroo court. And yet, while that’s what Vanderbilt does, it doesn’t seem to be what anyone else does.  Consider Tennessee, consider Florida State and the Jameis Winston horseshit, consider the allegations around Treon Harris at Florida, consider any number of things. Throw a dart, you’ll hit a football program with a rape problem somewhere.

This is what you have to compete against. You can try to play clean, you can try to do the right thing, you can do everything in your power to abide by the law and get your players to do the same – and then they have to go out and go up against other programs where the standard is “we’ll hush things up and get you off the hook.” Programs where all manner of misconduct – academic, criminal, whatever – is quietly buried for the sake of maximizing the win total.  And how the fuck are you meant to compete in a league and a sport that says “anything goes” without burying yourself in the muck?

I’ve said for years that Vanderbilt shouldn’t be in the SEC. I believe it, and I stand by it. It’s just that now I’m starting to wonder whether maybe we just shouldn’t be in the college football business at all.


What the FBI wants Apple to do isn’t so much opening the back door as it is deactivating the alarm and taking the deadbolt and burglar bars off the front door.  They are asking to disable the functions that wipe the phone after 10 bad tries with a password, and make it possible to enter the PIN via electronic means (currently you can only enter the PIN via the touchscreen, not via any sort of external keyboard or other device). Basically they want to make it easier to brute-force the phone, which – if the suspect used any sort of complex password rather than a 4- or 6-digit numeric PIN – may or may not even let them in anytime soon. 

More to the point, despite the FBI’s disavowal of any interest beyond this one phone, other law enforcement agencies in the US are lining up to have Apple do that voodoo to phones they have. And so we go sledding down the slippery slope. You don’t want to know how many demands like this China or Russia are likely to make. And even so, a bare majority of the American public is siding with the FBI, because A TERRISS. It’s the same reasons that Fast Eddie Snowden’s revelations made no impact outside of the EFF offices – the public takes for granted that technology companies can do whatever they want and cares about privacy not at all, especially so long as law enforcement jumps up and down yelling LOOK A TERRISS.

Apple’s going to take this to the rack – they have the money, they can hire the best and bloodthirstiest lawyers (and have already retained master criminal now trying to get into heaven Ted Olsen), they can pay contempt fines and legal fees with what Tim Cook found in the couch cushions at lunch – but ultimately it may not matter, because Uncle Sam has got the hydrogen bomb and nobody’s going to privilege privacy and personal security over O GOD A TERRISS, not in this administration or any one to come – simply because Republicans don’t believe in it and Democrats are terrified of what would happen if another 9/11 happened on their watch (not that having violated the privacy of a million people would buy them an inch of slack with the GOP, but so it goes). 

And of course Donald Trump is now advising people to boycott Apple – even as he continues tweeting from an iPhone. Personally, this makes me want to run out and buy the notional so-called iPhone 5SE the day it ships, whether I need it or not. But that’s for another time.

The Finish Line

The last couple of posts have led me to think about a few things.  For one, just how godawful the current crop of tech bros are – I haven’t decided yet whether this generation is godawful or whether social media has made it easier to see how godawful they are, but you can check out this quiz and see for yourself how it’s been lately.  Note especially that this is all more or less since 2013, which is about the time I started to feel like there was something very wrong with this place (actually that was more toward summer-fall 2012, but anyway).

Now consider my oft-repeated remark about how the smartphone crossed the finish line in 2013 with the original Moto X and the 64-bit, TouchID-equipped iPhone 5S. I hadn’t really thought about it, but how many of the tech things I rely on in my normal life have come along since then? Stuff like MarsEdit and WordPress for this very blog. Or Twitter and Instagram, the principal tools of my social media. Or Facebook and Tumblr, equally important to other people. Or iTunes, or the iTunes Music Store, or podcasting, or podcasting apps, or RSS (which has arguably gone backward, no thanks to Google, of which yadda yadda), or DVRs, or WatchESPN and HBOGo, or tools like Evernote or Foursquare or the like. In fact, I would argue that the only truly new thing in the last three years that I rely on, on a daily basis, is Slack.

What are we waiting on? The Apple Watch and its Android-based counterparts exist, yes, but even after six months I could certainly get by without it on my arm. Handy? Sure. Useful? Sometimes. Necessary? Not at all, and it’s one more thing to worry about charging. Wearable technology topped out with the Fitbit and hasn’t budged that much. Internet of Things? Not happening yet, for obvious reasons – who needs a thermostat or home security camera that keeps calling back in to Shenzen? If I had to guess, the biggest innovation to come down the pipeline in the last couple of years is that the United States has finally separated hardware from service in mobile telephony (largely because the phone part is ancillary and the “cell companies” are now mobile data companies).

But Apple is largely doing incremental stuff.  Google is doing even less – all the money is going on pie-in-the-sky moonshots whose principal purpose is to clog traffic around El Camino Real and Shoreline. Facebook has only become more annoying, Twitter has only become more like Facebook, a new social media app washes up on shore and out to sea again in a single afternoon. Uber has blown up – as you would expect of any company that gets literally billions of dollars shot out of a cannon without showing a profit or going public – but still exists in regulatory and legal limbo that could decapitate it before it even has to mark its valuation to market (and no, I don’t think Uber is more valuable than General Motors), while a million other companies try to be “Uber but for X” and hope against hope that they too can scoop pots of Y Combinator-flavored subsidy capital via regulatory arbitrage.

Maybe that’s why this current crop of tech bros makes me see purple with rage and want to walk up and down Market breaking teeth with a ball bat. Steve Jobs succeeded despite being a dick. Larry Ellison became a billionaire in spite of a defective personality. Tony Stark is a fictional character. None of those guys put a dent in the universe because they were assholes, they did it even though they were assholes. These assholes are making a post hoc ergo propter hoc error, and never mind a dent – most of them can’t make a scratch.

Here we go.

The FBI wants Apple to backdoor the phone owned by one of the San Bernardino shooters. Apple doesn’t want to. The tech industry is (slowly, reluctantly) lining up behind Apple. Various elected officials are, predictably, lining up behind the FBI because A TERRISS. And the whole thing is being driven by the All Writs Act of 1789, about the bluntest possible instrument for such a thing, because there doesn’t appear to be any governing black-letter law (not that there wouldn’t be given the opportunity, because A TERRISS).

For starters, read Ben Thompson’s take, which covered everything of consequence about this. What Apple is being asked to do is rewrite the operating system to remove security features – they are literally bring asked to remove the erasure failsafe and more easily facilitate brute-force attacks. And the judge – who gives every appearance of being another technological illiterate – thinks that you can somehow rewrite a phone’s OS in such a way that it only works on that phone, which is risible at best and disqualifyingly stupid at worst.

Here’s the problem: Ed Earl Brown doesn’t get this at all. Ed Earl wants Apple to do like Donald Trump said and cut the phone open so we can get THA TERRISS.  Ironically, if the FBI had said anything about unified national serial-number tracking for semiautomatic rifles like the one used in the shooting, Ed Earl would be pissing peach seeds and screaming about his freedoms, but then, we don’t look in on Ed Earl because he’s bright, we look in on him because he’s typical.

Apple has been building its brand over the past year on security. In a world where the Google model reigns, and everything is free at the point of use in exchange for being data-mined and advertised against, Apple is committed to an obscure and archaic business model in which goods and services are exchanged for cash on the fucking barrelhead. What the FBI is asking Apple to do amounts to an uncompensated taking: weaken your system and expose it to vulnerability, thus undermining your unique selling point, compromising your goodwill in the marketplace and forcibly gainsaying your previous commitments around security, in exchange for…well, as far as I can tell, in exchange for fuck-all. 

And it’s the purest essence of slippery slope.  Once Apple can be made to cut the phone for the FBI, they’re exposed in any country in which they do business, most especially China. Once the technology exists, they will be asked to exploit it – repeatedly. That’s why the FBI is doing this now, off the back of San Bernardino – getting any more information is a bonus; the real point is leveraging A TERRISS to get them the precedent of a back door into iOS, or anyone else’s mobile operating system, whenever they require it – and thereby to possibly prevent Apple from locking the back door in future.

I think the best hope for Apple is that this goes to the Ninth Circuit, where a judge with no fucks to give tells the FBI to go shit in a hat, and a divided Supreme Court defaults to letting it stand. In most other respects, I don’t see a win here for Apple, because we have established over and over and over again that Ed Earl Brown doesn’t give a flying fuck about privacy or surveillance or anything like it because THE TERRISS, just as long as they don’t touch his cheap-shit Chinese AK clone.

Fortunately, when you’re the biggest country in the world, the money and the resources are there to fight this thing as far as it can go, and I have no doubt Apple will do so. Donald Trump can say anything he likes, but Apple could buy and sell Donald Trump with a fraction of its cash reserves and have enough left over to buy all 32 NFL teams, so this fight will go as far as Tim Cook feels like taking it. And if there’s one thing you should never underestimate, it’s the caliber of bloody-mindedness an Auburn fan who grew up gay in Alabama is capable of.

War Damn AAPL, Tim.

Another day, another dumbass

Yet another young white startup founder has reacted in horror that a modern urban environment has a problem with homelessness. And reacted in horror that people somehow found his remarks objectionable, as if begging for capital on Kickstarter was somehow morally superior to begging for subsistence on Market Street and not just a matter of degree and Maslow. It’s of a piece with the other shitbags who seem to surface once a year – the Peter Shih and Greg Gopman types who are appalled that their hip downtown Disneyland is actually a real city with real problems that aren’t solved by companies that get tax breaks so they can come up with new ways to try to get nudes from coeds.

Honestly, I wonder if the continuing tech bro problem isn’t the inevitable result of kids who never have to face real problems. Grow up in a nicely-coddled bubble, head to Stanford (but I repeat myself) and then have money dumped in buckets on whatever stupid idea you have…and when it goes bust, get more buckets dumped on you, because failure is now some kind of badge of honor. Ten years ago, I defined a charmed life as “freedom from the consequences of your actions” and in a world where your mother will descend like a fucking Navy SEAL on a fast-rope to argue that you deserved better than a B+ in handwriting, it’s easy to see how the bros get like this in San Francisco, or on Reddit, or in any sort of shared environment (looking at you, Twitter).  When nothing bad can happen, and the worst is that you’ll have to work for someone instead of gulping down sweet sweet Y Combinator money, you don’t even have to acknowledge that other people exist.

That’s probably why I see that thing about “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” and want to throw a brick through the window. Because I’d teleport to London and drink a Guinness. But guess what? You can fail. Failure is a real thing that real people have to content with, and sometimes it means worse things than having to get your friend’s frat brother’s dad to cough up another angel round. Sometimes it means changing careers, sometimes changing states, sometimes losing your car, or your house, or your loved ones. Fear of failing – fear of real consequences – is how you keep from doing stupid shit. It’s how you achieve self-reliance. It’s what you do when your folks aren’t holding a net under you in case you go boo-boo.

This sort of thing is the result of permanent adolescence (and it’s not lost on me that this clown’s essay was written at about the sophistication level of a ninth grader writing a theme on What I Saw In The Big City). Maybe the biggest part of growing up is knowing that there are other people, that there are rules and limits in a society, and that getting along means not taking a huge public shit on people less fortunate than you. It means that we have to stop treating “founder and CEO” as if it means any more than “President of the Backyard Mutant Avenger Club,” because it doesn’t. The guys behind the counter slinging pizza or tacos, the bus and train operators keeping things moving, the woman who makes sure the trash isn’t overflowing your shared kindergarten table after hours when you’re not there – these people are every one of them far more important to the function of this society than the “founder CEO” of an investor-owned pre-IPO server management company that doesn’t clear seven figures of revenue a year.

These swine think this town and this valley rightfully belong to them. What are you prepared to do?

The Chase

Twitter was born on the phone. The shortcode was 40404 to text in a tweet, and the very 140 character limit was based on the 160 characters available for SMS so that you could use commands like ‘d username where the hell are you’ (why you wouldn’t just text in that situation, I don’t know). In fact, when the iPhone first arrived in 2007, it’s arguable that Twitter was one of the original killer apps, not least because it’s something that translated easily to the simplified web interface of a 480×320 screen. For the longest time (read: before they artificially limited access to the API), Twitter apps were the playground for new iOS developers; features as important as pull-to-refresh had their start in Twitter apps.

And all the while Facebook foundered. There were SMS features with Facebook, there was a rudimentary web interface and a succession of horrible apps (to this day, deleting the Facebook application from your iPhone is generally regarded as an easy way to recover 10% of your daily battery usage) and the abortive Facebook Phone (a cheap Android with Facebook as its US and horrible pricing).  I’ve seen people refer to Twitter more times than I can count as “the friends who live in your phone”, something I’ve never ever heard said of Facebook.

And yet.

Facebook might have won in the long run because it went for people who didn’t have smartphones. While Twitter was on a growing mobile platform, Facebook was on the PCs of everyone’s mother. Everyone was using it at work. It’s been almost six years ago since I argued in this very space that Facebook was the new AOL and wanted to be, and sure enough, it’s now famous for AOL-caliber penetration and discourse. Facebook is shorthand in the Valley for “your racist aunt sending you Donald Trump graphics with lies Snopes debunked two years ago”, but out there in the wider world, Facebook may as well be the Internet.

And this is what Twitter is chasing, to its detriment. 140 character limit originally defined by SMS? About to go. The system of shorthand that evolved from within the user base itself (RTs, dot-cites, the very @ itself)? Now built-in, in a fashion that isn’t even consistent from website to mobile site to mobile app. Even the straightforward linear timeline is going away, no matter how much Jack Dorsey protests, because just giving you your own personal firehose in order is less ad-friendly than mining the stream and percolating up things that make for better traffic and ad impressions, never mind the loss of a linear narrative.

Twitter is brilliant in its simplicity, because it was a dumb app and a dumb protocol. I described it at the dawn of time as “blast texting” and given that SMS/iMessage is my primary social network these days, that isn’t far wrong. I’ve been making use of it since 2007 and in the simplest form, with the fewest followed people, it’s quite handy (even if my more populated accounts always seem to make things worse at some level; the Vanderbilt-related one…but that’s another story for another time). But the more they make it like Facebook, which I abjured the regular use of years ago, the less valuable it becomes.  Once again, not everything has to be the market leader, but in Silly Con Valley in 2016, nobody knows how to do anything else.

And so Twitter chases the least common denominator, while I try to figure out how to persuade my friends to consider or Peach.

Shit just got real

Antonin Scalia was the intellectual firepower of conservatism on the Supreme Court for thirty years, for better or worse. The phrase “evil genius” springs to mind, as his jurisprudence and perspective reflected both in equal measure; while he could be surprisingly forward thinking on issues of net neutrality and castle-doctrine privacy, something – perhaps the intense Catholic devotion, perhaps just age – prevented him seeing the individual lives behind sweeping arguments against women, against gay people, against the criminally accused (not to deny him his scathing and correct judgement in Hamdan). Ironically, his closest friend on the court was his ideological foil, Ginsburg – perhaps because game recognize game, possibly because when you’re one of nine demigods up on the Olympus of American jurisprudence, there are few others who understand what it’s like up there. 

But he’s gone now, and as predicted, the GOP is closing ranks to argue that Obama should not be allowed to send a nominee to the Senate, despite years of precedent to the contrary. If it were the day after Election Day, and a new President was already elected, then absolutely, sit on things for the two months and change until the new candidate is sworn in. But we are almost a year out from Inauguration Day for the 45th President, and the idea that Obama should be obligated to shut his administration down early is beyond risible. Then again, in a word of perjury-trap impeachment and government shutdown over the debt ceiling and potential default and a President elected when another candidate had more of the popular vote, it’s pretty clear that precedent and norms mean nothing to the modern GOP. That the party of the Confederacy should argue that the first black President deserves three-fifths of a term, to quote numerous Twitter wags, is hardly suspending by this point. 

Because this is a huge pivot point. If Obama gets to do his duty, any candidate who gets through will replace Anthony Kennedy as the pivot point, and for the first time since God knows when, the Court will have a majority of Democratic nominees. (Thurgood Marshall joined in 1967 and no Democrat President got a nomination again until 1993; since 1980 Republicans have named 7 members to Democrats’ 4). The stakes for this election have just skyrocketed, and that may not be to the benefit of the GOP if the Democrats can make their voters aware of the consequences.