catch the wave

I have written before about the mall. For the last few years, though, I haven’t really availed myself. Every mall around here has either closed its doors for good or else been transformed into some sort of open-air high-end lifestyle center catering to tech wealth and Chinese tourism. Hell, most of them – Mayfield, the Old Mill, Sunnyvale Town Center – bit the dust well before my time, and only Vallco survived for years as a ghost of itself. Valley Fair has gone way upscale chasing the business of Santana Row or Stanford Shopping Center, and even Hillsdale has started to posh it up a little.

So you can imagine my bemusement when I was alerted to a new musical genre called “mallwave”. Itself a subset of a niche genre called “vaporwave,” which is built around taking late-80s/early-90s-style ambient music and applying all manner of VCR distortion and Windows 95 sound processing, mallwave actively adds the visual aesthetic of…well, just search YouTube for “Neon Palm Mall” and you’ll get the general drift. 

It’s weird, extremely weird, to see your past getting chopped and screwed and recontextualized as some sort of nostalgia trip. (Not really surprising, though: the high-waisted jeans, puka-shell necklace, scrunchie and enviro-conscience of the “VSCO girl” is pretty much a direct lift from 1990, just like the Neo-hippie aesthetic of my late high school era was itself twenty years old.) But in a way, I think it makes sense that mallwave landed when it did and where it did. Generation Z is the first generation to grow up entirely on the other side of the nodal point. After 1994, our present model of politics plus civilian access to the Internet plus the advent of affordable mobile phone service meant that life in the United States was drastically and permanently transformed.

And that transformation wasn’t always for the good. It’s possible the kids are nostalgic for the world they see in Friends (still wildly and inexplicably the most popular thing on Netflix) – a world without iPhones, a world unmediated by Snapchat and TikTok, a simpler and saner world where your meet your friends in person at the food court and shop for clothing in an array of stores instead of through Instagram ads, when a wayward remark (or even just existing) wasn’t enough to bring a thousand assholes into your conversation out of nowhere. It seems like a simpler time, a time when a lot of things weren’t better than now but when shame was still enough of a thing to make people try to hide their bigotry or at least not present it as a virtue.

No mall (around here, anyway) has a tobacconist or a music store anymore, and if they have a bookstore it’s likely to be some Amazon pop-up thing. The last piece of clothing I bought at a traditional mall for myself was probably a random button-up shirt six years ago. Socks, T-shirts, work shirts, jeans, flannel, plastic sandals – all online. Every song, album or movie I’ve purchased in the last decade or more: online. Every gadget imaginable: online. It’s been that way forever, but as the Amazon bomb completes its destruction of malls and starts leveling big-box stores (there is no longer a Sears or a K-Mart in the entire state of Alabama), it’s worth contemplating what life used to be like and if we didn’t lose something in the transition.

see and raise

Well, here we go. At long last, the House has launched an impeachment inquiry. Details to follow.

Many people were bagging on Nancy Pelosi for months for not launching an impeachment inquiry, and hopefully those people appreciate how foolish they look now. Maybe something could have been done off the back of the Mueller inquiry, but after Barr soft-pedaled the results and Mueller insisted on staying above the fray to a fault, there wasn’t enough there to get public traction. And since impeachment is a political process, public traction is the necessary ingredient if this is to go anywhere.

I trust Nancy. Implicitly. The streets of Washington are filled with ghosts of the careers of people who underestimated Nancy Patricia D’Alesandro Pelosi. She was never going to shove her chips into the middle until she had a winning hand, because she knew damn well that you only get one shot at this kind of thing. The Senate was never going to turn over before the election, and there would never be 67 votes for conviction in this Senate, but at this point you don’t need 67 votes. You just need 51, enough to get a majority of the Senate to say that yes, the orange decompensator at 1600 Penn is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, and let the ballot box handle the rest, both in the White House and in the Senate.

This is a bet – and basically she’s betting the country – that it’s enough to follow the forms and processes that have been laid down for years and decades and that the system can be made to work. Haltingtly, uneasily, never fast enough or fair enough, but made to work. It’s a direct challenge to the McConnell Republican ethos, that everything and anything goes and there is no law but victory. If she wins, maybe she’s right. If she loses, well, at that point we’ve lost anyway. Again, the point is not to impeach and convict, it’s to grease the skids for removal in November 2020 at the ballot box.

Part of the risk in all this, of course, is rule of law. Which only works, in the end, because of guns. You can blather on all you like about our Constitutional system and the norms and practices of democracy, but in the end, the decisions of Congress can be ignored (as this Administration has done with everything, whether subpoena or black-letter law or traditional conduct). And then you have to appeal to the courts, which may or may not rule on a nonpartisan basis (cf. Bush v Gore, 2000). And then when the courts decide and it’s gone all the way to the top…who was it that said “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it”? And how do you enforce it? You have to send around Feds, who have warrants. Which can be, again, ignored. Did you ever see a piece of paper stop someone who didn’t want to be stopped? Remember how Earl walked right through that restraining order? At some point, all law boils down to the squeeze of a trigger.

Which, frankly, is what a lot of them want. The GOP spent years in nutpicking and painting the most extreme leftists they could find as the mainstream of the Democrats. The rank and file of the Republican Party pointed at some random Berkeley city councilman crowing for a war crimes trial for Bush while lining up behind the idea that businesses should be allowed to refuse birth control as part of employees’ insurance, and a supine press in thrall to the Golden Mean fallacy more or less let them. Trying to facilitate increased access to private health insurance – lining the pockets of the private health system because public insurance was beyond the pale – was tantamount to some sort of Muslim socialist invasion, while literally shoving asylum seekers into camps and taking their children was “so what”.

We have one party that has reduced its practitioners to zombies. Reason is out the window. Logic is ignored. Facts are malleable. Truth is opinion. At the end of the day, if a zombie is really a zombie, your choice is to either run, get your brain eaten, or take its head off. Nancy’s going to sharpen the machete. It’s up to us to swing it. We have less than fourteen months and only one chance to get it right.

this !-ing place

I need some distraction from the troubles in my life at the moment, so I’m going to complain about where I live. Not just Northern California, which is a magical place, not just Silly Con Valley, which is not, but the specific belt of 101 between CA-84 and CA-85, which seems to be the particular Hellmouth from which all our troubles come.

At one end there’s Facebook. At the other end there’s Google. In between there’s Stanford. And clustering around the far side of Moffett Field, there’s Google AND Facebook AND Amazon. And every square inch in between is getting filled with Teslas, artisan bakeries, and apartment buildings that are turfing people out so they can try to sublet a 3BR for $10,000 a month on AirBnB. All in a nine mile stretch with an ostensible population of maybe 200,000.

See, that’s the problem. The finance industry was always a magnet for horrible assholes, certainly, but they were being pulled into New York City – a place with a huge population at high density and with the infrastructure and transit to support it. You drop ten thousand big swinging dicks into the isle of Manhattan, nobody will notice, because they’ll be overwhelmed by everybody else. Drop ten thousand big swinging dicks into Mountain View and you’ve grown the population by almost 15% in a place with no subways, no apartment buildings over 4 stories tall and an existing population that wasn’t prepared for housing costs to double inside of a decade when wage growth has been stagnant all century.

Because the idea that nerds would somehow make tech a better place than other industries was always aspirational rather than descriptive. The tech sector was created by human beings, and human beings are assholes. Anyone who could see the Apple vs Commodore flame wars on a BBS in Birmingham in 1986 could have told you that there is no particular moral virtue in being a nerd, and fifteen years in Santa Clara County has proven me correct in this assessment. All the people who thought Alex P Keaton was awesome and ran off to Wharton in 1986 had kids who all ran off to Stanford so they could drop out after a year and get on the VC sugar tit so they could be like Uber or Snapchat or WeWork or (fill in current trendy “unicorn” that bleeds money like a gutshot pig here).

And it’s making things worse. There are towns all along the Peninsula that will be screwed if the Big One hits us during other than business hours Monday through Friday, because most of their first responders live two counties away since a cop or a firefighter can’t afford to live in Los Altos or Cupertino. The people who make a city possible – the cashiers, the janitors, the taqueria operators and pharmacy technicians and bus drivers and bank tellers, you know, all the jobs that existed when we were in kindergarten – can’t afford to live in the city any more, and are progressively being othered out of the world of Silly Con Valley now that you can be anonymously serviced by Uber and Doordash and the likes of the gig economy. And people didn’t care as long as it was “unskilled labor,” but they also underestimate how many of them are nothing but bit-janitors in the end. The point being not that they deserve better, but that the janitors deserve better.

The good news is that with things like AB5, the state of California is punching back for the people against the nerds and the algorithms. The bad news is that it may already be too late for this place to be dragged out of the Hellmouth. Silly Con Valley is where your future comes from, and you may not be glad it does.

news from Cupertino

Well, you can’t buy last year’s high end phones anymore. That’s the quiet news out of Apple Park, as the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max (sounds like a gas station male enhancement supplement) will be joined on the shelf by only the XR and the 8 going forward. This suggests to me…but I’m getting ahead of myself.


1) Apple Watch: always-on display but still has “all day 18 hour battery life.” That reminds me, I haven’t charged my Fitbit Charge 3 in a week, need to top it up. Not a word about sleep tracking either. Pass. I still think the Apple Watch with LTE could be a very interesting device – especially paired with the AirPods and able to be the shutdown-night phone – but I don’t need two things to charge every night. The always-on display is reminiscent of how Jony Ive always used advances in processing power and size to make the phone thinner instead of longer-lived. Of which more momentarily.

2) New cheap iPad, 10.2” for $329. Interesting. This is clearly the entry-level bulk-order hand-them-out-to-the-class device, but even so…when have you ever been able to buy an Apple laptop for $329? iPad OS and Swift mean you’re getting close to the last piece of the Dynabook puzzle, in which you don’t have a computer until you can program that computer and write software FOR the computer ON the computer. If I had to get serious about Swift in a big way, $329 wouldn’t be the worst entry-level option. And it’s always nice to see Joz again.

3) Apple Arcade: $5 a month is probably right for this kind of thing but I’d have to see the game options first. I have come to realize that after a childhood spent pumping tokens into every machine at Big Al’s or Silver Star, and a college life spent pumping quarters into Cyberball or 1st and 10 or NBA Jam, I am simply not a gamer (bar the likes of Kentucky Route Zero). Even casual gaming is not my thing; my idea of a time-filler is hitting refresh on Slack and Twitter, God help me. Pass.

4) Apple TV+: this is basically the equivalent of launching Netflix or HBO GO with only the prestige series, with no long-tail backlog of hundreds of older movies and shows. I don’t think they could have brought this in for more than $5 and had the kind of uptake they want, but a year free with every new Apple screen you buy may help hook people. I don’t know…maybe? The only show that looks compelling is For All Mankind, but if they want to take me up on my pitch for a Mad Men-style look at the dawn of Silicon Valley called “Wagon Wheel” after the legendary watering hole in Mountain View near Fairchild…

5) iPhone 11: This is plainly the new default iPhone, as was the XR before it. They are really trying to position it as such, too. There is a clear line of demarcation between the “everybody” phone (8, XR, 11) and the “special” phones (X, XS and now Pro). And the highest-end phones now only last a year. The X, XS and XS Max all got turfed out after twelve months, and you can’t buy the Plus sizes any longer (although 6.1” without a bezel seems to split the difference in most cases). Still too big for me. Pass.

6) iPhone 11 Pro: Hold. Up. The big news here is not three cameras, or the full plunge into computation photography to catch up with Google (and arguably surpass them if this is all done on the phone without needing cloud processing), or the increased focus on dropability – the battery life is four hours longer than the XS. It’s been a while since Apple gave out absolute battery times and not relative to older models, so I’m gonna need to algebra this up, but four hours made me sit bolt upright on the sofa. That’s not nothing. Especially if you’re not gaming or taking a ton of pictures, but just doing the kind of text downloading that takes best advantage of the throttled processing. I guess this is why they think the always-on watch is doable now: they’ve perfected a processor that has running-away-from-the-cops speed but, like Milton Berle, can also pull out just enough to win. 

Pass, for now, but it puts me in mind of two things: the notional 5.4” iPhone 12 Pro, so-called, would not have an appreciably shorter (and possibly longer) battery life compared to the iPhone X work has saddled me with. Indeed, the A13’s battery-sipping ways might make it possible to make a smaller device with a smaller battery without compromising mean time between charges. And that in turn makes me think of the “new SE”, so-called, which would have that A13 in the body of an iPhone 8 (with, presumably, no superannuated 3DTouch taking up thickness where a battery could fit). That device, with its 4.7″LCD display taking less power than a 6.1” Liquid Retina LCD or a big AMOLED and a bigger battery than the iPhone 8 being gently consumed by the A13, might just be my next phone, especially with TouchID instead of FaceID. I don’t need Animoji that badly, and lest we forget, the 8 had all the chipset features of the X including NFC reader mode, waterproofing, the better front camera…the New-SE could very well be my next phone.

notes on fashion

Circumstances brought my wardrobe to my attention this week – a little bit of social media and enough overcast in the morning to make the flannel shirt viable – and I began thinking about the semiotics of my wardrobe over the last decade or so. I had a pretty distinct look in DC by the end of my time there: black shirt, black shirt, Hawaiian shirt, black Hawaiian shirt. Khakis in hot weather, jeans in cold, Docs all the time and the leather jacket from September to March inclusive. In California, I was dressed for dock-walloping at Apple half the time (even if I did try to look a little nicer on keynote and beer bash days) and once I landed where I am now, there really wasn’t anything distinctive – it was the same wardrobe as grad school, albeit with adult shoes instead of the Nikes.

It started to change as I hit 40. I could sense it changing for sure, but where things really took a turn was when I went to Uniqlo in NYC (at a time when there were only three Uniqlo stores in the United States) and left with a couple of $30 cotton blazers, one off-white and one darkish-blue. They were transformative. I realized that the mere act of putting on the sport coat made me feel different, made me act different. The same holds up with the seersucker blazers (yes plural), or the new linen one I picked up this summer, or the Harris Tweed: as soon as it slides on I feel differently about myself and I project differently. I can’t explain exactly how or why, but I can be slouched in a black T-shirt and jeans and as soon as I put that linen blazer over it I’m ready for the first-class lounge at Heathrow.

Which I don’t name-check accidentally. I’ve never worn my Alden boots out of the country, but my wife’s dead-perfect birthday gift from over five years ago is the sort of thing that suggests things to me – that these same boots would be as well perched on a rock in the Scottish Highlands as on the rail of the bar in a pub in Galway or on the cobblestone streets of the West End theater district in London. These boots make me think I should be wearing them abroad, down European back alleys and alongside Japanese canals and propped on the footrest in international business class on a Dreamliner.

In the various notebooks (virtual and physical alike) I kept lists of things that were visions, inspirations, mood boards if you will, and looking back through them one of the common threads is wardrobe: most looking for workwear, things made in America, things of the sort I could wear and use for decades if I wanted to. In the last seven years, I’ve mostly accumulated them. Shirts from American Giant, especially the work shirt that I’ll wear every day from November to March if allowed. Jeans by LC King. The Filson x Levi’s trucker jacket, which I desperately need to re-wax. The peacoat. The Aldens. My Vanderbilt hat from Ebbets Field Flannels and the Kangol my dad used to wear. When I talk about having hit the finish line on stuff, I think that’s a huge part of it. I have the tools to be dressed the way I want to dress, and achieve the mood and feeling that comes from that. I can’t explain how different I feel in that work shirt (or now the flannel) – it just feels right.

The problem is, I rarely have more than four months to wear the things that just feel right. Even the summer blazers are a big ask when commuting in an area that gets hotter than it ever used to, more frequently and for longer. It’s entirely possible that the last piece of the puzzle is to lace up the boots and head for someplace gray, urban and below 60 degrees. Which is the trick. I can watch minor league baseball, I can watch MLS and the Premier League, I can drink 3.5% ABV pub bitter, I can walk through the Sunset and ride down the PCH at dusk, and I can do all of this in my most comfortable wardrobe – but it’s not going to be a substitute for Galway, or York, or Bath, or London. Not yet anyway.

Might be time to do something about that.

through the looking glass and off the map

And so Parliament, by a majority of 27, takes the tiller from Boris Johnson with the intention of ruling out a no-deal Brexit. For perspective, the last PM to lost his very first vote was Pitt the Younger. Now all manner of chicanery is afoot. There’s talk of Boris refusing to seek royal assent for the bill. There’s talk of calling an election for October 14 and then pushing the date out once Parliament is dissolved to double down on the prorogue and ensure that Brexit happens on the 31st. And most of all, there’s a growing realization that unwritten rules aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

At this point, the game is to secure the extension and push the date out long enough that an election can be held. From there, we functionally have our second referendum: yes or no on a no-deal Brexit. If yes, vote Tory or Brexit or UKIP; if no, vote for the Rebel Alliance, whether Labour or LibDem or SNP or what have you. The risk is that with the vote chopped so many ways, there’s no telling who might finish first past the post with a chance to form a government.

Theresa May’s problem was that she was committed to doing this within her government alone, and Jeremy Corbin was happy to let her. Now that the Tory party is withdrawing the whip from as many as 21 of its members, it remains to be seen where the non-Labour anti-no-deal forces will line up. LibDem? Possibly, although many of their rank and file are already grousing about uncritical acceptance of Tories whose other issue positions are anathema. An altogether new center-right party a la Change UK? Maybe. But would that party line up behind Corbin as PM? And if not, would Corbin line up behind some other MP for the sake of derailing no-deal?

One thing’s for sure: the people whose first field was Comparative are every bit as regretful as Americanists that they wasted years on a diploma at this point. What we have now is a six way cage match in an arena that’s burning down. British politics finally and firmly has no god but Loki.

try and remember

My fiscal year always starts in September. Ever since 1976, when I first went off to playschool – arguably even before that, since my father was an educator. Even after washing out of grad school, I started every new full time job but one right around this time – and that one is the one I’m laid off from; the new job to which I was outsourced begins in two weeks.

I also had football. It was my favorite sport from the beginnings of my sports fandom until about four or five years ago, once it became obvious that Vanderbilt’s sudden burst of adequacy was a fluke. This is not a dig against Derek Mason, who has proven as viable a coach as was Gerry DiNardo or Bobby Johnson in his latter seasons – he seems to be a 5-win-plus coach, rather than a 2-win-plus coach like Watson Brown or Rod Dowhower. Rather, it’s part of the growing realization that it is not structurally possible for Vanderbilt football as currently constituted to ever be a reliably .500-plus team.

That’s a big part of why college football is out of the picture for me. It doesn’t spark joy. And the reason it doesn’t spark joy is because college football is the real world: then that has gets, them that hasn’t suffers, and the values people tell you to live by aren’t the ones practiced by them that keeps gettin’. By rights, I’m entitled to claim the Crimson Tide – I was a loyal fan through Ray Perkins and Bill Curry, through the first losing season in decades and dropping every Auburn game in high school and a miserable streak against Tennessee in the 90s and the Mike Shula era. But I have an SEC team from a school I attended, and for the last decade, supporting Alabama has been like rooting for the house, never mind the general character of Alabama fandom in the Saban era. No thank you.

The other problem is there’s no belonging associated with college football anymore. My ambivalence about the Dores notwithstanding, it’s not like I have any in-person interactions around football, because I’m a couple thousand miles away. I have Cal by marriage, but that doesn’t present an appreciably better caliber of ball these days – and points up the extent to which it’s so much easier to just turn on the TV than actually schlep up to a game when you’re not going with or meeting folks.

And really, what was the college thing for me but a problem of belonging? Undergrad never offered any way of belonging to the school at a whole – the fraternities and sororities were the organizing structure for everything else, and there was nothing, not even national championship caliber basketball, that compelled the students together. College football – which undergrad didn’t have at all – became an attempt at crafting a surrogate sense of belonging to remediate a hole in the past that I’d just as soon cover over and go around than try to fill in and repair any more.

Which actually goes for a lot of things. Of which more later. For now, I’m just trying to make the best of a new start – if not exactly a fresh one.

Thirteen years

I’ve been keeping this blog for more than a quarter of my life. Which is a hell of a lot to think about. Sometime next year, I will have spent one-third of my life in California. Half a lifetime ago will be 1996 – after high school, after college. Already, I’ve blown off my 25th college reunion, because why would I stop trying to forget where I went to undergrad now? Next year will be thirty years since high school.

It’s a lot of time. And it’s a lot to wrap your head around. Looking back, though, this blog seems to have focused on the same damn things reliably:

* Cellphones should be omni-capable, yet fit in one hand

* The Confederacy won the 21st century and keeps winning

* I wish I lived somewhere with more fog and fewer techies

* The college thing in general – and Vanderbilt sports in particular – will always be a burden

And yet, I seem to be moving toward the ultimate goal. Football is a back-burner thing now; only the autumn ride-around keeps me engaged with the Skins (and with Sonny retired, this could well be the last go-round for that, who knows). When I left DC, my daily carry included a cell phone, a pager, an iPod and sometimes a Blackberry or PDA along with a pipe, a tobacco pouch, a lighter and a Leatherman. Every bit of that has now been replaced with an iPhone and a bottle-opening screwdriver shard on my keyring.

And the wardrobe has evolved. There were horses for courses, naturally, and the resort shirts and khaki of DC summers have way to cargo shorts and steel toed boots in a secret Apple warehouse, and things have evolved over time. But now, in NorCal in the heat of the ever-longer climate change summers, I find that it’s gotten amazingly simple. Black T-shirt from American Giant. Jeans from LC King. As often as not, those damned black plastic Birkenstocks, of a brand and style that I would have sworn would never be in my wardrobe even five years ago. Basically, unless I have to take transit to work or have something special to go to, that’s the wardrobe every day from…March to October? And after that, the AG work shirt or flannel on top of the T-shirt, and the sandals for as long as I can get away with it. Nothing to lace, nothing to tie, no socks needed.

A lot of the stuff I’ve accumulated in the last seven or eight years has a whiff of the cargo cult about it – that if I only prepare myself for a life walking the Cotswold Way, or cheering on the local GAA team, or watching the waves wash the pebbles on a Scottish coastline, then I’ll somehow be there doing it. Practically speaking, a 55+ trailer park on the coast near fog is a hell of a lot more likely, but hey – that same uniform with the work shirt would probably do for me for about eleven months a year (might need socks and boots in January).

It’s entirely possible that I’m on the upward swing out of the U-curve of depression that characterizes one’s 40s. I was hit hard by the encryption debacle when that happened in 2013, and work was a blight on my life until around 2016. Then politics took over as the thing that kept me from getting right, and I don’t doubt that the next fourteen months are going to be difficult to deal with, but maybe I have a slightly better toolkit than in years past. The things I want in life at this point are simple and quiet and in theory, easily obtainable – except for the ones that are wholly out of my power with no choices but how to cope.

Year 14 is begun. Onward.