“There’s not really anything I want for my birthday this year. Nothing I can buy with money, anyway. I have had everything I wanted in my life, even if I don’t have all of it anymore, or want all of it anymore, and even if I would like some more of what I already had (there’s probably a new Timbuk2 messenger coming sooner rather than later, and will probably get a bunch of custom work done to boot). For today and tonight, though, I’m content with another cup of coffee, dinner with friends, and turning in early to snuggle with my sweetie. Tomorrow will take care of itself. You play the days like you play the games: one at a time.”

-28 Feb 2011

It’s taken seven years, but I have finally gotten back where I was, I think. The world as a whole is worse than it was in 2011, by leaps and bounds. Friends have moved away – some over the hill, some to the other side of the world – and loved ones are in far poorer health than before. I’m on the wrong end of my 40s now, and the social media outlets that used to serve me in place of a local gang of my own have turned into the worst sort of toxic cesspool.

And yet…

“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.”

-28 Feb 2016


I did liposuction the nose. A month off hard liquor turned into two years of eschewing cocktails in favor of craft beer, the lower-alcohol the better. I haven’t purchased a single Coke Zero in 2018. And not only did I spend a week in London, but I finally spent a fortnight in Ireland. And my job has evolved into something that’s paying me more money for less work, something I can do remotely and take training and go on conferences and have a title and salary commensurate with what I actually do instead of being the human equivalent of an overloaded-Indian-subcontinent-train, paid and titled like a tier-2 help desk operator.

I did age into where I wanted to be. I have old outerwear I’ve had for a couple of decades. I have twenty years in the IT business. I have a resume with a certain amount of “Most Interesting Man In The World” to it, between Vanderbilt and Apple and National Geographic. I’ve been cuddling the same girl for seventeen years and change. I have a comfortable car that gets over 40 mpg and lets me cruise around this beautiful state that I get to live in, even when the local counties get annoying as hell.

I guess I’m good, really. There aren’t things I want – anything that piques my interest for under $20 I’m probably just going to buy, whether it’s a pen or a Nerf gun or a bomber of milk stout – and if you gave me actual wishes for my birthday, I’d probably spend them all on family health and regime change (unless I could sneak an iPhone X-Minus in there at the end, of which etc). I mean, there are absolutely things I wish had gone differently in the past, but wishing for a better past is pretty much the textbook definition of insanity and I’ve finally gotten better at avoiding it. Just to have pleasant weather, snuggled sleep-ins, road trips, baseball, pints, the chance to wear comfortable footwear without socks…

That would be enough, wouldn’t it?

Flashback, part 92 of n

I don’t remember exactly when I first got the glasses. I want to say it was around third grade or so. Brown plastic frames with a double bridge, plastic lenses with a reddish-brown slight gradient tint – just the thing for maximum 80s nerdery. Largely unchanged for years, replaced for about six months with contacts until the pinkeye problems became too big to contain (oh, the problems of non-disposable lenses and heated cleaning)…

But after about five or six years, the insurance changed, and suddenly I could get a new pair of glasses every year. Spring of ninth grade, it was a less-rimmed but still hugely thick pair with a gray tint instead of that nasty red-brown (but still no high-index lenses and SO ridiculously thick). Tenth grade, it was a black plastic pair that I wore for a couple of years – because in eleventh grade, I got prescription sunglasses for the first time. Standard aviators, which might have almost looked cool on anyone else at all. And then, summer before college, finally some semi-trendy round-ish glasses with high-index lenses to keep them from being coke-bottle thick.

I replace them the next year with another pair almost just like them – and then discovered disposable contacts and the prospect of not wearing glasses all the time AND having the option to have cool sunglasses. And that did for it. I went a decade without a new pair of glasses, because my insurance was used every time on replenishing the disposable contacts. By 2001, the prescription was so far out of whack that I needed something for those days when I just couldn’t blink the crud out of the contacts one more time.

Honestly, the main reason I went looking again was because of my new girlfriend, who wore glasses sometimes and had these amazing magnetic clip-on shades that went over them. Brilliantly simple, made you wonder why nobody had thought of that before, and I wound up buying a similar pair in 2002. Tiny things, and once again, the last glasses I would buy for a decade (although six years in, I did have the lenses updated with the kind that get darker in UV exposure). The contacts were still primary, but I at least had some alternative.

Six years ago, I replaced them with a frankly too-expensive pair of frames that were doing their best to be stylish. Self-darkening, too, which I soon realized was less than optimal when driving. Within a year I was mostly off transit, and on days I took the car, I found myself squinting just a bit too much to be comfortable. But then, they weren’t really meant for everyday wear.

Which leads us to now. I spent my entire VSP benefit and some flex-spending aside on two pair of Warby Parker glasses, one sunglasses and one regular, in a neo-retro style that frankly suggests nothing so much as “short-sleeve dress shirt, skinny tie, and you’re launching a Gemini mission at six but serving a warrant on some Mississippi Klansmen at nine.” Which I only undertook because my cousin does all right switching between two pair of glasses and I can always leave the polarized prescription shades in the car for just such instances.

I’ve come full circle, to be honest. I don’t want the hassle and inconvenience of carrying extra contacts and replacing them every week or two. It’s the same line of thinking that has me on a regular rotation of footwear that doesn’t need to be laced up (or, in the summer, require socks). To wake up and put on a pair of glasses is a lot lighter lift than to wake up, take out the contacts case, rinse off each lens, blink it into the eye, and then remember to take them out at night so you don’t sleep in them and make things worse in the morning. And much easier to deal with for camping. Even if you’re just driving up to a cabin with running water and electricity.

I guess it’s possible that I’ve just aged into wanting simplicity without artifice. The glasses aren’t exactly hipster – they might read that way on a millennial, but on someone in their mid-40s it just reads as…I’m not sure what. Hopefully something like that infamous afternoon when I was told that I looked like I didn’t have to prove anything.

I was wearing my glasses that day.


“Ultimately, that’s why we’ll bear through the horrific NBC schmaltz, set up the shady streams, DVR overnight action, and even just suck it up and actually watch what we’re handed.  Because once you dig down and drill through the weepy interviews and the Ryan Secrest horseshit and the pious blatherings of Pinkeye Costas, and get through the politics and the geopolitical nightmares and the unsettling corruption and legal horror, it’s still that magical winter village that only appears every four years.  Dreams of racing down a bobsled run at breakneck speed, or cresting a rail on a snowboard and being seventy feet off the ground, flying, or just the whole spectacle of speed and snow…more even than the summer games, the Winter Olympics have that magical dreamlike quality that no amount of autocratic dictatorship or network malfeasance can bury.”

-7 Feb 2014

As always, there’s a sort of taking stock of where you’ve been in the last four years. Winter of 2014 wasn’t great, certainly, and the shady cloud around a Winter Olympics in a Russian beach resort is more on the nose than ever before, the way things worked out. But it was a little different this year – NBC put more sportscasters in the mix, and ultimately jettisoned their recycled-morning-host and dodgy-cultural-expert in time to just let Tara and Johnny call the closing ceremonies (which, if they aren’t calling the opening in Tokyo in two years we riot). A lot of the Americans that NBC really wanted to push on us turned out to be flops (like, for instance, the entire contingent of solo figure skaters) but a lot of Americans turned up all right (like the redemption tour of John Shuster, or the youth-will-be-served antics of Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, or just the American women’s hockey team getting the job done the menfolk couldn’t). And it’s just fun to see things like snow, or things you wish you could do like bobsled or snowboard cross. (Seriously, if I could successfully do any Olympic sport – not compete, just do successfully without killing myself, snow cross is number one with a bullet and nothing is a close second. That looks amazing.)

Likewise for me, since 2014. Yes, the world is a worse place, but if you cut the toxicity out and send the cheaters away rather than let them into your playground, you can still piece together a good time. Be happy for the rest of the world instead of assuming that the only happiness comes from getting gold yourself. Take the wins where you can find them. And be cognizant of the fact that you, personally, are in a better spot than four years ago, and try not to let the wider world negate that.

Of which.

Billy Graham

The Baptist Pope, dead at 99. 

Everyone gets safe passage across the river, but I will say that for evangelicals to see their highest figure eulogized by Donald Trump is pretty much what the evangelical movement in America deserves in 2018.

Seen it coming

My stress is induced by those who don’t follow the rules. Dirty dealing Confederates. Obnoxious users. Shitty drivers. All rooted in the fear that in the end, playing by the rules gets you nothing. Reason and logic get trumped by fear and force. virtue is unrewarded, and those who do wrong get away without consequence. In the end, my stress and depression is rooted in the fear that I too will die having done right for nothing.

Consider the “libertarian” – the redneck apotheosis, the essense of “no one can tell me what to do” – the complete rejection of any sort of collective responsibility. Pure animal law of the jungle. I got mine, fuck you. And thanks to a soft media, we have a situation where the little man goes along with the big mule – not even because he thinks he might be a big mule himself someday, not because he has any hope of being on top at any point, but he will vote against his own self-interest because he has somehow internalized that he wants to be like the big mules, so he will vote with them and support them and defend them, even at the cost of his own good…

The whole concept of “media bias” only arose with television, when it was possible for the news to show you things you didn’t want to see. Actually being challenged with images of their worldview was too much for the South to take, and coupled with Nixonian paranoia it became possible to cast as “biased” anyone who broadcast anything that infringed on what you already believed. The massive runaway success of Fox has come from their talent for telling the Confederates what they already think they know – which also bears out why they tend to be so misinformed…

And because we validate dumb, we get dumb in charge. And now people are making political decisions based on what they think they know – which is the farthest thing from the truth. Stupid should hurt – but their stupid is going to hurt us…

-21 June 2011


At the risk of self-aggrandizement…fucking nailed it.

I think the most amazing thing, looking back at this, is how after two and a half years working there it didn’t even occur to me to put Palo Alto cyclists on the list of those who can’t follow the rules. More proof that it really wasn’t an issue until late 2012 or so. Would that the political issues were of similar vintage, but then, we’ve been on a steady slide to this point for twenty-five years. The GOP could have stood up to Trump, but they didn’t, because “vulgar ignorance” is too big a chunk of the base to risk alienating. But honestly, where else were the necks going to go? What would have been lost to the GOP by telling Trump to go screw, by rolling out Jeb Bush or John Kasich or somebody who would have given business 100% of what they wanted, and holy rollers 80% of what they wanted, and probably not activated the Democrats to “resistance” or the North Koreans to the point of ballistic missile false alarm issues?

Maybe the election, sure. Maybe not. It’s pretty abundantly clear that as long as Hillary was convicted of being Hillary, the press was going to grease the skids for anyone else, and Kasich probably could have pulled the same trick just as slick and possibly even won a popular vote majority into the bargain. You have to think that every white nationalist vote you forego puts another grave Very Serious Centrist suburbanite back on the table. It’s not like Hillary’s coattails were ever going to flip either house of Congress.

And now, as Ed make clear, matters are worse. You can put Democrats in control of Congress for maybe four years before the New York Times does its patented mournful po-mouth routine and validates the rednecks right back into power. You can elect a Democratic President and Congress watch as the Washington press corps demands to know why they won’t capitulate to the teabags in the name of bipartisanship, especially after the Democrats wouldn’t just capitulate to a GOP majority government in the name of bipartisanship. Meanwhile, the damage to the guardrails continues apace and the institutions continue to suffer and our ability to stand against the likes of Russia and China in the wider world deteriorates and the defense of liberal democracy is left to whatever Germany can muster while the UK and US collapse into their own sphincters. Maybe we end up with a multipolar world. Maybe we end up with the United States of Alabama, hoping that Tencent and Alibaba and Baidu will open up facilities here instead of Vietnam or Nigeria or Poland. 

But between climate change, political instability, routine mass killings, Russians working our elections like they had one hand up the puppet’s ass, the increasing likelihood of renewed inflation that wipes out my retirement savings and just the general health burden that comes of living on the edge of a knife all the time – and I’m white – I’m not sanguine about the prospect of those golden years that were supposed to be hanging out there in the future for the previous generation. When they write the legacy of Generation X, it’ll read “first to fall to the Great Screwing.”

You don’t fucking care

Stop pretending you do. If you didn’t care when a bunch of elementary school kids were shot down two weeks before Christmas, you don’t care now and you’re not going to care. Miss me with your thoughts and prayers and go back to watching the necks suck off their guns.

I mean, we aren’t gonna do anything. We couldn’t do it after Sandy Hook when the Democrats still had the Senate and the White House, what makes you think a party bought and paid for by the NRA will lift a finger to reduce gun deaths?

There’s a lot to it. There isn’t a simple fix. Banning assault rifles wouldn’t have stopped Fort Hood or Virginia Tech or Killeen. Banning handguns wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook or Las Vegas or today. There are all sorts of angles and complications and nothings going to sort everything out quickly, not least because there are literally hundreds of millions of guns in the wild and they don’t expire or go bad or self-destruct. And the official position of the GOP, as explained by feckless human scrotum Marco Rubio, is that since you can’t stop every attack you shouldn’t lift a finger to stop any of them.

Funny thing…there used to be a lot more drunk driving deaths. It used to be the stuff of Dean Martin or Foster Brooks routines. Hell, George W. Bush got popped for it in the 70s, at a time when the officer was most likely to say “now you get home carefully.” And then we changed our mind, because people were dying and we realized it could be prevented. And we jacked up the penalties – not just for killing somebody, but for doing it at all, for putting yourself or someone else at risk. We changed the law around who can buy alcohol, we changed the contents of driver’s ed, we predicated federal money on tougher laws. We didn’t outlaw booze. We didn’t outlaw cars. But we did bring down the death rate from DUI by a substantial amount.

You can start somewhere. You have to. Maybe start by slapping a hard limit on magazine size; ten rounds for everything and no grandfathering. You’re gonna hand in the old ones, because we’ll criminalize possession. Then charge whoever provided the gun used in a crime as a full accessory as if they pulled the trigger themselves. Parent who gave it as a gift? Accessory. Grampa who didn’t lock his arsenal up? Accessory. Neighbor who sold it off the books? Accessory. The NRA loves to say “people kill people” so let’s get all the people involved in the process. Failure to manufacture your long gun without a bullet button or a fixed magazine? You’re liable for any wrongful death caused by more than five or ten rounds fired. And speaking of rounds, never mind background checks for guns, background check and waiting period for bullets. Maybe you can club someone to death with your M4gery, but you’re gonna have a hard time getting into double digits.

But most of all, it’s time to stop allowing gun policy in this country to be dictated by the rich inner fantasy life of people who want to need guns, whose Red Dawn masturbation dreams demand ever more guns in circulation and ever more ability to have them to hand at all times. The worship of firearms cannot and should not be the cornerstone of a modern society. It isn’t, anywhere else in the Western world. At all. And yet, six of the ten deadliest mass shootings in American history have happened in the past five years, at a time when firearms ownership has become its own form of identity politics. 

And here you see the toxicity of the GOP: you daren’t offend gun worshippers, because that’s the base. Blame video games. Blame toys. Blame “mental illness” (but not if it means cracking down on abusive behavior or toxic masculinity). Blame the victims for not rushing the shooter, or their teachers for not coming to class strapped like a Matrix movie. Blame anything but the holy precious guns.

When next the Democrats get the opportunity, half-measures won’t do. Strike hard and strike sure, and stop waiting for God to stop the bullets. 

Bits and bytes

It’s going on three months with the iPhone X now, and I had a realization over the weekend. Namely, I’m too stuck into the features of the iPhone X to comfortably give it up for the SE. I like having the AMOLED screen and no bezels, and I like having the top of the line camera. It’s still just a little too big to be a little too big, and the display of the SE doesn’t feel too small for anything but Kindle reading, but it’s like my old NGS boss said all those years ago: at the end of the day, you don’t want two phones, you want one phone. I suppose I should just be grateful that my employer hasn’t gone down the road that most of the rest of this Valley has: not only do they not provide a phone, they don’t even compensate you for the business use of your personal phone. So I may as well milk this while I can.

Thing is, too, now that the Kindle app has been updated, there’s more text on the screen of the iPhone X than there is on my actual Kindle Paperwhite. Which is still the preferred device for shutdown night and plane travel and the like, but especially when I can use white text on a black AMOLED display, there’s no great drop-off in functionality using the iPhone X as reading material instead. Which is great for those early morning bus commutes (and how grateful am I that I can commute to and from work, however slowly, without resorting to Caltrain now?) or anytime I’m left with time to kill and no desire to bleed my battery out refreshing RSS and the Twitter accounts I should really kill.

Of course, the flip side to the Kindle and its app is that you’re pot-committed to Amazon. Which is the way of things. Platform lock-in is the entirety of the Silly Con Valley business model these days. By way of making up the difference, I’m trying to do my best to get away from Amazon for buying atoms. Bits, I can reluctantly live with, just because I don’t want to keep accumulating things in the house – but actual physical stuff? One, I don’t need that much more of it, and two, I’d rather obtain it by patronizing an actual brick and mortar business. I came to it too late to be a proper New Year’s resolution, but maybe that’s the goal for after my birthday.

Because the problem is, Amazon has sort of become Google for stuff. Because the web and search engines aren’t particularly good at actually digging through shitposts and scam sites and the detritus of an unregulated environment, it’s just easier to go with The Everything Store. It’s not only Amazon, either; if you try to buy a new cap from the SEC Store or the San Francisco Giants store either one, you’ll just find as the backbone for both of them. And ironically, if you actually want that New Era 5950 Low Profile cap, you’ll find more options there than you will on New Era’s own shopping site.  The easiest thing in the world is to just open Amazon, search for whatever thing you want, and check the box to filter for “Prime eligible”.

And yet…two day shipping for any old thing? Is it really better to spend the fuel and the cardboard to send one pack of razor blades than to just walk into CVS? Especially when, more and more, it seems like Amazon’s employment model is “Wal-Mart, but less generous”? Is it possible to add Amazon into the list of avoidables? I can mostly get through life without Google…except I need that burner number in Google Voice, and everyone uses YouTube to distribute video. I could divest myself of Amazon…except the Kindle basically has the e-book market by the nuts. I’m shut of Facebook…except for Instagram as my main social media outlet and WhatsApp for international cross-platform communication since everyone else uses it. (Seriously, look at the likes of Path or Peach or or Diaspora or if you want to see the prospects for wooing people into a second social media outlet.) And to be shut of these other things, I have to go all in…with Apple. Who at least deals in cash on the barrelhead for goods and services and doesn’t make their money whoring out your personal data…for now.

So for the time being, I’m gonna sit on the SE just in case a trip abroad appears out of nowhere in 2018 or something goes seriously pear-shaped at work, but I suspect it’s not going to see a lot of use other than to make sure it stays updated. But if a newer, better SE drops, it might be hard to resist. And if an X-Minus drops…that’s happening. Somehow.


So let’s say Clinton sunk like Gary Hart in ’92 after the Gennifer Flowers thing (woman can you not even spell your name right, what the fuck) and the Democrats rolled out Paul Tsongas or Jerry Brown or some such again. The big question is, does Ross Perot feel the need to jump in again, and I’m guessing he probably does, because a Texan with money will always think he knows best about everything.

Thing is, I firmly believe and will to my dying day that the Perot voter is at heart a Trump voter, wanting someone who is not a politician and who knows about running a business so obviously he knows about government (which is like saying your car mechanic can fix a Porsche so obviously he knows how to do your open heart surgery, duh). I strongly suspect that at least 2/3 of Perot’s support would have gone to Bush in the end had he dropped out. And he did at one point, presumably because he thought the Democrats represented enough change, but then jumped back in, and I can’t even remember all the nonsense. But the thing is, Ross Perot is batshit loon ball head trauma crazy and he got 19% of the vote in 1992 and still got 9% in 1996, in case you ever wonder how Trump happened.


I think Bush beats Tsongas or Brown straight up, thus leading to another four years of “omg why do the Democrats keep running all these Yankees out there to get their asses kicked,” but I don’t think Bush shifts the Congress at all. In a three-way fight with Perot and Bush and $YANKEE_DEM, I think Perot might have had a plausible claim to be the only real change candidate since $YANKEE_DEM is just another Mondale or Dukakis, but I don’t think it’s enough to tip the balance back to the Democrats.

Really, the only success for a Democrat running for the White House, not an incumbent, has come in times of trauma. 1976, 1992, 2008. You have to go back to 1960 to see a non-incumbent Democrat get elected in what is a reasonably prosperous economy. Maybe $YANKEE_DEM can pull it off, but I severely doubt it. Don’t forget, the Democrats of today got here because of Clinton winning, the impact of the DLC, and eight years of pushing back against Bush and the Iraq war, and twenty years of pushing back against a Confederate GOP. At this point in history, the Republicans are using South as prescribed on the package, not taking a couple extra to get high. A big chunk of the South in Congress is still reliably Democratic, mostly with plenty of mileage and veteran experience.

Which brings up the question: does the GOP still take the Congress in 1994? I think not. Sixth-year gains are almost impossible to make, and while there would certainly be casualties from the House Post Office scandal and the like, you also don’t have the “we are running against Clinton” effect to nationalize the races. Consider also that the right-wing radio of the time was as likely to take shots at Bush for his lack of efficacy; you didn’t have the unified monolithic Mighty Wurlitzer of conservative media that would be forged by the time Fox News broke on the scene in 1996 or so. So maybe you end up with a wash: the GOP gets stronger, maybe tips the balance in one house, but unified control doesn’t happen, especially not in the Senate. If the House does flip for the first time since 1954, you suddenly have Newt Gingrich as the firebrand making things tougher for Bush, and the 1996 Democrat can run against him just the way Clinton and Gore did in reality.

And then…what? You need a Democrat in the White House in order to unify the GOP post-Cold War, because especially as they increase their dosage of South, they need a devil. Clinton was easy, because he came with moral baggage and a second-wave feminist wife, thus teeing up an easy mark for the Talibaptists. Maybe in 1996, your Democrat is…Al Gore. Solid, studious, beyond reproach. Military service, divinity school, impeccable pedigree, Southern accent, and a wife most famous for crusading against dirty lyrics in rock music. Probably going up against the likes of Dan Quayle or Bob Dole, either of whom he could beat in a walk after sixteen years of GOP control of the White House and, let’s face it, an economy that’s probably as stultified as it was in 1992 given that you won’t get the kind of tax package Clinton made happen in 1993 to calm the markets re: inflation and deficit control.

And there’s no Fox News yet. There’s no Mighty Wurlitzer to push the “sighing lying Al Gore” meme. Hell, the whole “invented the Internet” thing couldn’t get legs in 1996 because most voters were just getting around to figuring out what the Internet was. There would be shots, there would be obstacles, but in the grand scheme of things, solid stolid Al beats “P-O-T-A-T-O-E” Quayle.

So in 1996, Al Gore fills in that last line on his resume and becomes President. Probably appoints Hillary to be Secretary of HHS, in all likelihood. Maybe the Congress completes the Southern flip anyway by 1998, but it’s not bloody likely there’s something to impeach him with. Probably gets re-elected in 2000 off the back of the Internet boom, probably doesn’t toss away the daily brief on August 6, 2001 with the “all right, you’ve covered your ass” dismissal, probably don’t get the same caliber of attack on September 11 as a result, and as a result, don’t get an endless war in Asia. But more importantly, the Republicans are deprived of Clinton, of impeachment, of an eternal September 12, of the panicked patriotic rallying behind a President who wasn’t all that different from Trump in anything but style.

The contemporary GOP was built on the tripod of Clinton hating, flipping Congress and 9/11. Take one of those away and everything changes. Take all three away and who knows? Gore is likely to generate about as many scandals as Obama, and it’s a hell of a lot harder to build nightly outrage on the prospect of his being a secret Muslim born in Kenya. Fox News viewers may have a lot tougher time building the rage for someone who looks and sounds like they do if they don’t have an obvious peg to hang the evil on.

I mean, yes, you can say there’s always something. John Kerry got cut to ribbons over his Vietnam service and his response to it. But that was after the machine had a decade to hone itself. I have no doubt that had he stayed in the Senate and never been VP or run for President before, an Al Gore race in 2004 would have looked equally bloody. And thus we get to the point of this whole counterfactual: it’s not enough to win at the polls so long as the machine is in place, because the Mighty Wurlitzer is the party now. The GOP is a wholly owned and operated subsidiary of the Newscorp Hate Machine. Winning the race will only go so far until you can break the machine, and given the median age of the Fox viewing audience, it’s only a matter of time before it fractures. The question is, can we hold the world together until then…

flashback, part 91 of n

I think I can pin it down to my birthday in 1994, the morning after I got the call to let me know Vanderbilt was offering me their most prestigious graduate fellowship for grad school. My then-girlfriend joined me in ditching class and driving up to Nashville, where I promptly ram-raided the bookstore for all manner of hats and t-shirts and car stickers and assorted swag. And then we decamped to the Sucker District, where I had my first visit to the Old Spaghetti Factory and my very first encounter with the Italian Cream Soda. Club soda, raspberry Torani, splash of whipped cream on top. And for whatever reason, I was immediately captivated.

And the good thing was, in the early 90s, the emergence of second-wave coffee sellers in the South meant that an Italian soda was as close as Barnie’s Coffee and Tea, or any number of other spots. It was probably less sugary than Dr Pepper, which was my principal carbonated vice from 1986 til then, but it also had something else going for it – mostly based on timing. It was spring, and I was young, and the prospect of Vanderbilt was like a country record played backward. I was going to get a fresh start, I was going to get to leave Alabama, I was going to finally get to do what I’d always wanted to do: study politics to the exclusion of general-education requirements and ancillary electives, with a bunch of people equally devoted to the topic and focused on the classroom instead of fraternity rush and sorority meetings. And along the way, I’d get to take in actual SEC athletics and swipe my ID in Coke machines to pay for drinks and learn a new set of TV and radio stations.

It was a new start, and of all my new starts, it was the only one where I was happy to push the past down the black hole behind me never to be seen again. And a delightful new beverage was the perfect synecdoche for making myself over into a new person. And if only I’d had the presence of mind and lack of responsibility to cut one more tie along the way, things might have turned out very very different indeed. Or maybe not. Irrespective of my poor relationship choices, I was going to grad school to launder the choices I made in undergrad, which is the last reason to go to grad school. So there’s no lead pipe cinch I would have made it out alive anyway even without a bad girlfriend anchoring me down.

But it was spring, and my car was less than a year old, and the dashed dreams of four years earlier had been successfully unearthed and brought back to life. And I could relax on some notional veranda of the mind with my raspberry Italian soda and gaze across the horizon of a glorious future unfolding. And to be honest, that might have been the last time in my life where spring meant something other than “pollen and heat are coming.”