Sic Transit Yahoo

It’s staggering to think that Verizon now owns AOL and Yahoo for the combined sum of nine billion dollars. I don’t know why they want to corner the market on the 1998 Internet, but that’s not really my problem. I come here not to bury Yahoo, but to remind people who it used to be.

One of my friends once said, circa 1999, that he automatically disrespected anyone who didn’t just have Yahoo as the startup page. I concurred. The personalized portal at My Yahoo was my homepage for years, just for the sake of the instant dashboard for ball scores, weather and at one point even TV listings. Now all that stuff is on the phone, which probably explains why Verizon bought it – it’s a content provider of sorts for a company that is at its root a dumb pipe and wants to be more.

Thing is, I often wonder why Apple didn’t just buy Yahoo, as an instant user base for services that Apple has struggled to provide. Yahoo’s weather (itself sourced from God knows where) was the back end of the Weather app in the iPhone for time out of mind anyway (not to deny Yahoo credit for a very nice free-standing weather app themselves). Yahoo was the first and at the time only provider of push-enabled mail on the original iPhone. Everyone in Gen X has a Yahoo account, even if they haven’t logged into it in years. Yahoo was perfect Google insurance for Apple, at a time when the name still had a little cachet. But Apple apparently isn’t interested – the service offerings are still only what’s necessary to sell hardware, and search isn’t their thing, so Yahoo winds up under VZW.

But Yahoo let itself get lapped by Google, mostly because of AdWords – the one true innovation on which Google is built is better and more precise advertising than anyone else was able to muster, and it let them club Yahoo to death with simplicity. Meanwhile, Yahoo struggled to provide meaningful content – it wanted to be a media company but couldn’t produce any media people wanted to consume. That’s where Tumblr came in – but that wasn’t nearly enough. Millenial Livejournal wasn’t going to save Yahoo. Maybe if they’d bought Twitter instead…but that didn’t happen either. They could have turned their guns on trying to be the Facebook alternative that offered granularity and didn’t gorge itself on your personal information. Instead, we got Yahoo 360 and Yahoo Meme and Yahoo Buzz, and unlike Google Buzz or Google Wave or Google Latitude or Google Reader (still mad) or Google+ or half a dozen other things, Yahoo didn’t have the cash cow and resources to keep throwing unlimited shit at the wall until something stuck.

So here we are. They’ll still exist – hell, AOL still exists and by some accounts is still clocking two million dial-up users a year, probably accounts that never got cancelled by people who never look at their credit card statements – but Yahoo isn’t going to be around anymore. One of the last major stalwarts of Web 1.0 is going down at last. They aren’t where the future comes from any more, which is about as Silicon Valley an epitaph as you could ask for.

The Big Dog

“Love him or hate him, right now Bill Clinton could spot you a year, start campaigning in August & still pull 300 electoral votes.”

-John Rogers

Waiting for the Wild Bill speech is the best part of any Democratic convention, even in 1988 when we didn’t know it. Back then, he ran on so long delivering the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis that when he said “And in conclusion” the audience began cheering and clapping. By 2012, over a decade after leaving office, his performance at the convention was absolutely spellbinding, the equivalent of David Ortiz’s amazing year at DH in his last season for Boston. This year? 

Josh Marshall nailed it, I think: he’s old. This isn’t like last time when it was “holy shit, he’s still got it” – this is the lion in winter, your raffish older uncle spinning the family stories you’ve heard a million times. Only this time, it wasn’t his story – he was up there defending his wife, advocating for his wife, saying all the stuff that never makes the news anymore (if it ever did) through two decades of calcification of What Hillary Means ™. Some of it may have come off a little clunky, or a little weird, but it does drive home the point that the 1990s were a different time. Triangulation was the best you could do. You ground away at the coal face and came back the next day and the day after that. It’s not easy and it’s not always fun, but it’s how you go from the Democrats being dependent on finding an acceptable Southern white male in the 90s to replacing a black man with (hopefully) a woman in 2016.

And the longer he talked – the more he got into telling the story and the more things he shared, and God help whoever was running the prompter because Bill Clinton’s personal life motto is FUCK YO TELEPROMPTER LAWYA – he lit up. He got younger before our eyes. He was the happy warrior once again, and he lit up the house and they loved him for it.

It won’t be the same in 2020, win or lose – Hillary will be the incumbent (God willing) and Barack Obama will be the beloved superstar coming back to light the fire. But if this was the last great Bill Clinton convention stemwinder, it was an appropriate reflection of the man himself. Not always quite right, not always entirely appropriate, not remotely on time – but when the jump shots start falling, it’s like watching magic happen.

We might don’t make it

“You know, it occurs to me we might not get away with this one.”

-Edward R. Murrow to Fred Friendly, Good Night And Good Luck

The late Molly Ivins said of Pat Buchanan’s 1992 culture-war cri de cour, “It probably sounded better in the original German.” Tonight, Donald Trump will give largely the same speech, albeit stripped of almost all religious content. And then evangelicals who ostensibly stand in opposition to the way he lives his life and how he does business and his previously avowed positions on things like abortion and gay marriage (because that’s what evangelical Christianity means now in this country) will run out and back him to the hilt, as will big-money Republicans and their ilk, because that’s the guy on their team. Serious misgivings, outright concerns, all submarined – because the highest catechism of their faith for a quarter century is Hillary is worse. No matter what, Hillary is worse.

Here’s the thing: George W. Bush, John McCain and Mitt Romney were objectionable less because of their own beliefs or who they are – to me anyway – than as enablers for a GOP Congress. A thoroughly Southernized body capable of doing great harm to the life of this country with no Democrat in the White House to check them. Donald Trump, though, is a man who among other things has already given a tacit green light to Russia to make mischief in the Baltics. Never mind his agitating for a border wall he can’t build or make Mexico pay for, or a religious pogrom that doesn’t pass the slightest Constitutional scrutiny – Donald Trump would not only enable the creation of the United States of Alabama, he’d push for it. All in on building a new America in the shape of every racist Facebook meme and email forward you ever got sent by that one relative. 

Against this, Hillary Clinton enters the lists as someone the media reviles, someone the country is constantly encouraged to hate and distrust, someone whose own supporters concede may be the Nixon of the Democrats. Uncharismatic, too calculating by half, fairly or not trailing a mild cloud of unproven scandal at all times…but in the end, as the playwright put in song, she’s all we have. A 74-year-old Jewish atheist socialist wasn’t ever going to be able to close the deal, and an O’Malley or Webb weren’t going to either. The Democrats have had their finger in the dike for so long that cultivating the seed corn wasn’t a priority, and so here we are. It’s HRC or bust. 

Because bust is it. You think Brexit was a disaster? Remember how shit-shaped things went under George W. Bush? And he was governor of Texas for six years, and surrounded by the cronies of his father the former President. How much worse will it be with a dilettante from New York real estate whose experience is all in shorting contractors, declaring bankruptcy and slapping his name on anything that can make a buck? And if he tries to do a quarter of what he says he will, we’re looking at a legitimate constitutional crisis within the first year. We are beyond the looking glass already; with a President Trump there’s no telling how much worse it could get.  And yet, people will revert to sexist tropes, say they don’t want to wake up to that voice on the news, say that Hillary is the embodiment of what they call “my first wife” – and pull the lever anyway for a man who isn’t fit to drive the garbage truck, never mind hold the nuclear button. I don’t know what’s worse: doing it because you’re too fucking stupid to know better, or knowing better and doing it anyway because I got mine, fuck you.

And the worst bit is: this might not be enough. Even if HRC wins this one, no party has won a fourth straight election since the Second World War. Which means that there may be a glide path for the GOP in 2020 for Ted Cruz or whoever else wants to take up the banner for what Laurie Penny brilliantly called “weaponized insincerity applied to structured ignorance”. And I don’t know what happens then. But sufficient is the day unto the evil thereof, as the Proverbs tell us. They also tell us “Let him drink…and remember his misery no more.” Which frankly may be the only way I survive the next three and a half months. 

Norm, part 2

It’s not just politics, honestly. It’s everything. To a certain extent, the things people decry as “political correctness” were known in my youth as “manners.” I hear the HR departments use “GRAPES” now – guns, religion, abortion, politics, economics, sex – but they’re just catching up to life in the 1970s in Alabama. Things like sex, money, religion were not topics of polite conversation. No matter what we might say in private or think to ourselves, slagging off someone because of how they talk or where they’re from or what they believe is just not nice. Pointing out and making a big deal of that one kid in the class who’s a Jehovah’s Witness and doesn’t do the pledge of allegiance would be rude and you could get sent to stand in the corner for it. I find it staggering that small-town Alabama in 1979 had a better grip on that than we do now.

But that’s only part of it. God knows I have gone on at length about the incredibly shitty behavior of people who ride their bikes on train platforms from Palo Alto and Mountain View, but the more I think about it, it’s not that these cyclists in Palo Alto are assholes, it’s just a byproduct of the fact that everyone is an asshole. Because we’ve normalized the absence of empathy, we’ve made it so that you don’t have to acknowledge that other people exist. And there’s a complete and utter mis-appropriation of things that were used to try to make some progress. Yes, there were people who broke the rules and sat in the front of the bus. But guess what – Rosa Parks knew damn well what she was doing, and got arrested, and went to jail. Civil disobedience works because you accept the consequences of breaking the rules and in the process show up how bad the rule is. Yet somehow we got from that to “well this rule is dumb so I will break it and should suffer no consequences for doing it,” as if being made to dismount your motorized one-wheel electric doucheboard is the equivalent of being made to use the colored water fountain.

There are things we have to do to get along as a society of large numbers of people. Let other folks off the elevator, or the bus, or the light rail before you get into it. Don’t talk at the top of your lungs, on speaker, in a crowded commute train. Occasionally look up and be aware of your surroundings going from place to place. Know whether someone was there before you at the Baskin-Robbins counter. And then there are things we do to try to make this a more pleasant life – say thank-you to the bus driver when you disembark. Tip on every drink so the bartender doesn’t get caught short at the shift change. Hold the door if someone is right behind you, not because of some archaic idea about “must hold the door for the lady” but because it’s the polite thing to do for whoever happens to be drafting you.

But the wrong sort of folks – elitists, bigots, racist pricks – used manners and etiquette as a club to go after certain people. And when society misused norms and manners, our solution was not to correct the misuse – it was to just ditch the norms and manners instead. Personally, this is another one I lay at the feet of the Baby Boomers, for whom “fuck your rules, man!” was apparently meant to be some sort of revolutionary philosophy. But the Me Generation’s radical individualism instead got us things like Reaganomics and the end of noblesse oblige and the contemporary doctrine of everyone from the GOP to Silly Con Valley to the pensioners of the entire western world: I got mine, fuck you. 

I wonder how much longer I’ll be able to use Caltrain to commute. I don’t think it’s going to be very long.

The Mail at State

So now a Republican-appointed FBI director says that whatever happened with Hillary Clinton’s email, it doesn’t rise to the level of prosecutable offense. Naturally people are melting down, because this has been the essential Clinton problem since 1993: the GOP, still unable to come to terms with the fact they lost that election, believe that any means are legitimate to undo its results. The result is tantamount to being tailed by a state trooper 12 hours straight, and upon finding a pretext for pulling you over, being served with a death warrant.

To anyone who knows jack shit about government IT, this is not surprising in the least. Government IT is a debacle, largely because we must never waste a penny of taxpayer money and we must spare no expense to make sure we never waste a penny of taxpayer money. No for-profit business would ever endure the level of sloth, redundancy and triple-checking that goes into IT at the federal level, where in 2007 I was issued a laptop that Apple discontinued in 2003 and a discussion was mooted about making sure everyone was up to OS X 10.3 just as Apple released 10.5.

Everyone in high-ranking government work pursues some kind of workaround, because relying on government IT to get things done is asking for trouble. I abandoned that POS G4 TiBook within a week and was using a personal MacBook for most of the next two years (okay, it was a long-term loan from my old Apple buddies, but it wasn’t NASA’s for sure). I had my own install of Apple Remote Desktop because using the one copy installed on an XServe in one basement was excruciating. Setting up an imaging solution of the sort I’d used before was a non-starter because there was a six-page setup checklist for new Macs which included enabling the root account (in defiance of pretty much every security standard in the private sector) and setting up an Administrator account with no administrator privileges.

So on that basis, it makes perfect sense that Hills had her own setup. Was it against the rules? Almost certainly. Was it against the law? Possibly. Was it in any way out of the ordinary for similarly-positioned government employees? Not at all, given that all her predecessors in the Internet era either did the same thing themselves or merely eschewed the use of email altogether.

But this is the problem: we have chased that car so many times with the Clintons. Every single nothingburger adds up to the same thing: there’s no there there, but it feeds the conservative instinct that there MUST be an impeachment pony somewhere under that 500 foot pile of horseshit, while simultaneously fueling the instinct of the Clinton-defenders that any suggestion of wrongdoing is yet another travel office-Whitewater-god knows what snipe hunt rather than a possible sign of malfeasance. That’s almost certainly how we got to this point; in fact I am prepared to bet that paranoid control of her own email system in the face of doubters and persons of malicious intent was almost certainly why HRC got a private setup in the first place.

And yet, because it’s Hillary Clinton, we are going to go another fifteen rounds on this while shrugging off the fact that Donald Trump is literally retweeting anti-Semitic memes someone found on Reddit or some such.

Maybe Britain will be cheap enough to escape to.