Self distraction plinka

As I was going through my phone thoughts yesterday, I thought about the phones I really enjoyed and wish I could have kept. Those tiny GSM phones at the turn of the century, the SonyEricsson K700 (which I never got), the Nokia 6230 (same), my little Z520 flip, the L2 candy bar, the Moto X–

Hold up.

The numbers are starting to firm up on the iPhone 12’s smaller 5.4 incarnation. The iPhone Pro is going from 5.8” and 6.5” to 6.1” and 6.7”, and the 6.1” iPhone is supposedly being joined by a current-processor 5.4” phone. It basically has the feature set of the mainstream iPhone, albeit squashed into a smaller handset – and if you look at the iOS 14 beta and extrapolate, you end up with a phone that is actually smaller than the iPhone 6/7/8. In fact, it fits between the sizes of the two iPhone SE models.

Just like the original Moto X.

The original Moto X, which had smaller bezels than an iPhone, an AMOLED display, a bigger internal battery, always-on voice activation and commands – I said the main thing it was missing was iOS, and even then, there were features Apple has yet to catch up with. Or rather, had yet to catch up with. The ability to mix apps and widgets and not have every app on the home page and to have a list and search view for apps is very nearly the last piece of the puzzle. (The very last is the ability to customize the trigger phrase. I could tell the Moto X “Listen up, Friday” and get a reaction. Until I can rename my phone Cyrano, they’re still behind where the original Moto X was five years ago.)

But here’s the 5.4” iPhone 12, roughly the same size as that Moto X, with an OLED display and smaller bezels and (one assumes) a bigger internal battery* and always-on voice activation AND iOS with all the improvements 14 has to offer. I know what I said before about TouchID in a time of masks, but that was when I thought we’d ever be able to leave the house again, and I can get by at (checks list) the farmer’s market and the drive-thru. The bigger concern is whether a physically narrower display is going to work with my trifling vision (glasses get raised to look at the phone these days more than I’m comfortable admitting) and whether not-ready-for-prime-time features like 5G and some sort of under-screen fingerprint reader will be shoehorned into a package without a lot of space for it.

The good news is, I don’t *have* to do it. I’m still very happy with the new SE, I’ve gotten used to the size, I enjoy having it as *my* phone and the only feasible thing that would make it better would be a couple of permanently-hopping group chats and the elimination of all the work apps (even if it meant changing numbers). And I wouldn’t say no to being able to take it abroad and engage the eSIM on a lovely trip to Ireland or the Swiss Alps. At this point, if it’s a choice between upgrading to the 12 and obtaining the latest Apple Watch, the watch is the winner.

But it’s interesting to know that six years on, what I want is finally possible.

sic transit phone

Next spring, T-Mobile is pulling the plug on its 2G and 3G networks, according to reports. Spectrum will be exclusively for LTE and 5G coverage. About a year after that, to all accounts, AT&T will do the same (and in fact sent out notifications to customers that slow-played the fact that the deadline was two years away and instead urged people to upgrade now). The future appears to be VoLTE across the board for voice and everything will just be data. Eight years after first going to LTE, I won’t be able to use anything else.

I bought the Nokia 3310 3G in November 2017. It was meant to be something to open up after my travels that autumn, something to look forward to as a gimmick distraction after I got back from Ireland and the DC reunion. It was something that could hold my old SIM and let me keep using one of my spare numbers. And then, I got the iPhone X from work out of nowhere, and the 3310 wasn’t nearly as distracting. It was cool, and it was interesting, and it was nostalgic. What it wasn’t was particularly useful.

I mean, at this point in history, actually placing voice calls is usually an emergency. What would you need a feature phone for? In my case, it’s probably audio playback (and even then, there’s podcasts, there’s the quiet time or pub night playlists, there’s SomaFA streaming, there’s RTE Na Gaeltachta…) and text messaging, which would need to include Signal as well. And depending on where I am, maybe access to Lyft so I can get home. And at that point you aren’t a feature phone any more. The solution at that point is just to take the iPhone, use Downtime to shut off anything that isn’t a critical function, and call it a night, which is more or less what I’ve been doing ever since Downtime became a thing. iOS 13? Was it 12? Whatever.

The other thing is…if you really get right down to it, the modern equivalent of the lightweight shutdown device is the Apple Watch with LTE. Leave the phone at home and just take the watch, which will handle calls and texts and audio, even streaming, while forcing you to bring a book and abjure social media distraction. Not a perfect solution, certainly, especially when your work plan or your prepaid service won’t support secondary eSIM devices or when you want to use the phone itself for Kindle books and Wikipedia lookups and maybe notes to yourself.

I’ve had a lot of devices I miss. That first DewBeep pager. The first DC cellphones, when I was trying to make myself need one (at no small expense to myself). The Siemens dual TDMA/GSM, which felt like another world, or the ever-slimmer Nokia candy bars like the 3590 and 3120. I still have my SonyEricsson Z520 flip and my e-ink MOTOFONE F3 in the keepsake box. But the day when you can usefully have a second device is pretty much done at this point. Better to donate that Nokia while someone can still get some mileage out of it.

I’ve had a mobile phone for 25 years now. It’s time to concede that the “phone” part of that is pretty much superfluous to requirement and accept that we all live by a touchscreen nowadays.

so what’s next

Actual storm troopers, sounds like. First Portland, and now apparently Chicago and maybe Albuquerque (what the hell)? The new hot fire for the summer is to collect Feds from the most politicized and undisciplined agencies – CBP, ICE, Bureau of Prisons – put them in camo uniforms without identification, and let them basically wild out on protestors without probable cause, due process or even basic riot control principles. The compromised foreign asset in the White House now has his own private paramilitary with which to give erections to Fox News demographics dying to see someone beating up hippies like the old days. And presumably to whip up a narrative of the world in chaos, I alone can fix it, support the troops, support your local police, cops are troops are white people.

Portland is the final proof that today’s Republican Party are basically the Nazis without the work ethic. DACA lives, not because it is fair and just, but because the GOP was too lazy to follow the proper procedures and the Supreme Court balked at that. A man you can bait with a tweet and thinks he can make policy with a tweet is the exact reason why Twitter should be thoroughly anal-probed and Jack Dorsey should be eating meatloaf in Gitmo for his incompetence, next to Werner Von Zuckerberg whose job is not worrying where the posts come down. It’s kind of fitting that the only thing holding us back from the abyss is people who don’t want to do the work, because so much of what drove us to the edge of the abyss was people not wanting to do the work.

This is why, pace Josh Marshall, the most important thing is an audit. We may not be able to bring criminal prosecution against everyone who had a hand in making this nightmare, but if we ever get the chance again, we absolutely have to air them out. Hearings. Investigations. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Whatever. Sunlight on everything, exposure and disclosure, tell the whole story about everything that was done. And then hope the American public is still capable of shame, or outrage, or anything at all. And more to the point, hope that people who identified as Republican twenty-five years ago will look at what has become of their party, admit things went too far, and forever give up on pulling the lever for the worst bottom-feeding grifters and racists just because they have an R after their name and because Hillary was a scare-figure for decades.

Long three and a half months ahead. And even if we win, long couple of months after that, and who knows what happens after. Nothing is guaranteed, there is no back to normal, and while it would be a mitzvah and a mercy to see the back of the Tr*mp crime family, it won’t undo everything that happened. We’ll be repairing that for the rest of my life, if (inshallah) we are ever given the opportunity. I take nothing for granted at this point, least of all July polling.

But it’s past time to put American governance back in the hands of adults. Whiny, lazy and crooked is no way to run a country.

four months on

There’s baseball on my TV.

It’s exhibition ball, last night and tonight, and the real stuff doesn’t happen until Thursday. But Yaz hit a home run to lead off the game, Tony Kemp got the start last night for the A’s, Antoan Richardson is coaching first and making way for the first woman to coach in the bigs, and the Vandy Boys value system – love your country, support your teammates, and never forget there are other people in the world than yourself – are on display for the Bay and the nation.

I didn’t realize how much I needed this until Yaz hit that dinger. I was walking out of the same liquor store today that I visited in March to make sure I had my essentials laid in at the outset of shelter in place, and when I walked out of there into a cool gray March afternoon I don’t know what I expected. But it probably wasn’t that we’d be here in July, in the same situation, with no inkling of when or how this might be over. We wasted the lockdown, mostly off the back of stupid national leadership and selfish locals, and now matters are worse. The only consolation is that while the raw numbers are bad in California, the percentages locally are better than in the South, and we still have room to absorb the damage. For now.

As I was coming home today with my Stiegl Radler and Mexican Cokes, I thought about eighteen years ago, and what it was like to live in post-9/11 DC while people who weren’t within 500 miles that day whined about how the Constitution is not a suicide pact and we were all doomed if we didn’t stop and frisk brown people or allow the feds to do anything to anybody. And now those same people are outraged that they might be asked to wear a mask into Wal-Mart. Though they’re still all for the cops brutalizing brown people.

Having baseball back feels like a throwback to March. We’re leaning into the weirdness and the novelty, commiserating about the differences and the struggled and just learning to live with the fact that this is not normal service, and normal service as we knew it may not be restored, and if it is it won’t be for a long time. There’s a PSA about wearing your mask at every commercial break and the players are giving high elbow bumps in the dugout. As welcome as it is to have the national pastime back, it’s also a clear and present reminder that we’re a long way from business as usual.

And so we embark on the experiment. Sixty games. Every win or loss effectively count triple this year. Get swept in the opening series and you might never have time to recover. Lose five in a row and you might as well pack it in. Ten wins will definitely get you a Cy Young this year, and somebody hitting an asterisk-laden .400 is not out of the question. It’s going to be an abbreviated sprint to the finish with everything at stake, and the smallest error could have huge consequences, so don’t screw it up.

Are we still talking about baseball?

No Future Redux

“Hope for the future has basically been reduced to the dream of retirement – somehow, somewhere, someday – and the desire to just survive to the end of the week. Three hours, a pint or two, a book to read. A full half hour to cuddle in the morning before having to drag out of bed and go to work. The occasional pleasure of stopping in for a Guinness on the way home, or going out to an actual pub for an evening, or driving over the hill to see the closest of our friends who all moved away. Small things. Simple things. Things that can be replicated when needed, that don’t require elaborate planning and don’t come with the crushing disappointment of cancellation because you don’t know if or when you’ll get another chance.”

-Dec 31, 2019


As we enter “Year Of Hell, Part 2” it’s hard not to look back on this and wince. The bar was so freakin’ low. I conceded the misery of work and the existential terror of this election season and set the sights as low and simple as they could go, and then everything past the front door got taken away. No stopping in for a pint, no going down the pub, no driving over the hill to see friends. No minor league baseball on streaming audio. No cheeky beach visits. No Marvel movie matinees. No long-awaited vacation trips with friends. Even the morning meander around the farmer’s market once a week has turned into a hit and run mission, and a leisurely cold brew at the local coffee spot or a bagel breakfast sandwich and a Coke for lunch or a casual downtown alfresco dinner feels too fraught with peril to actually undertake.

And you see the incompetence and the malfeasance – virtue punished and vice rewarded and the utter shamelessness of stupidity and calumny and you wonder what happens next. A 10% lead in the polls feels as safe right now as walking through Hell in gasoline panties, and if it doesn’t hold up, we basically lose the country. And if it does hold up, there’s an immediate pivot to scorched earth as the GOP once again buries their crime and assumes the world began anew on January 20 as the sole fault of the new President, who is to be resisted at all costs.

You can already see the groundwork. Pardons and commutations. The Supreme Court rules that the President is not above the law and is subject to Congressional subpoena and investigation – and then, as Josh Marshall pointed out, sets the delay fuse on the ruling to go off for the next guy. Congressional Republicans time the aid package to run out just in time for the election, so they can suddenly revert to deficit hawks again out of nowhere. Roger Stone gets the first get out of jail free card of presumably many to come, assuming Agent Orange doesn’t somehow preemptively pardon himself – or try to, anyway, with the kind of jurisprudential understanding you’d expect from a senile bag of guts who does nothing but watch Fox News all day.

They’ll assume that losing power is punishment enough, and then devote themselves to regaining it. They won’t go quietly, they won’t sit it out for a couple of years, they’ll fight tooth and nail to sabotage recovery and blame the failings on the new guy. Just like in 2009. They will assume forgiveness for their sins – and that’s the real problem, isn’t it? You can only ask forgiveness. It is not automatically granted to you. And it shouldn’t be, for this. No forgiveness for anyone who doesn’t beg for it. No forgiveness for anyone who doesn’t repent and remediate. Show that you understand why you were wrong and show how you’re working to make it right, and then we’ll talk.

After November 3, we’ll know exactly how many people should be written out of the American political process for good. The New York Times and its catamite allies made such a show of “listening” to the Tr*mpists…and all they’ve shown is how right we were not to listen to them. Now, and ever again, amen.

the first third reimagined

By the time I turned 16, I’d been outside the South exactly twice -once at age 12 to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a future problem solving competition, and once at age ten months to San Diego and Disneyland (arguably wasted on someone who had just learned to walk). There were occasional convention trips to Florida or Atlanta or South Carolina, and relatives in East Tennessee, and occasionally even Opryland or Six Flags, but most of my life was centered in Birmingham.

When the Birmingham Barons were brought back in 1981 as a farm team of the Detroit Tigers, they adopted the old-English-style B on the hat to match the D of the parent club. Even after the affiliation switched to the White Sox in 1986, they kept that B, and have ever since. Made famous by Michael Jordan, it’s the trademark of the most successful professional sports team in Birmingham in my lifetime, the only one to play uninterrupted from childhood to whatever this is now. But in the last couple of years, they have a new hat. It goes with a specialty jersey that says “Magic City” instead of Birmingham or Barons, and it has a plain block B. By default it’s a white B on a black cap with a red bill, and that’s not an accident – it’s a deliberate homage to the three-B logo of the Birmingham Black Barons, 1948 champions of the Negro American League and as close as the city ever had to a major league franchise.

It’s reflective of days gone by, a callback to a time when a fifteen year old Willie Mays patrolled the outfield in Rickwood or when the likes of Mule Suttles and Piper Davis and Harry “Beans” Salmon and Satchel Paige plied their trade. Or a time when the Barons of the Southern Association were broadcast by four different radio stations and were so profitable that their management magnanimously sent a $5000 check to the Boston Red Sox. And yet, it’s a logo that is natively of the present moment. Of Railroad Park and Randall Woodfin and food halls in loft apartment buildings, of electric bike share and local brewing and “Excuse The Birmingham In Me.” Of a bright blue spot in a red state, the fourth most African American city in America, a town and a vibe and a people unapologetic about reaching for modernity despite the influence of their county and their suburbs and surroundings.

I’ve gone on a bit of a hat-buying binge during lockdown, mostly in the name of supporting minor league baseball. I bought new his-and-hers San Jose hats for our family, mine a Churros logo and hers with California poppy-ish flowers. But I also bought three Barons hats, one classic BBB lid and a couple with this new 21st century retro B. Not because I’ve lived there full time since 1994, because I haven’t, but because for the first third of my life, I wanted to live in the kind of place that Birmingham is now. There’s something going on there, something that hasn’t yet been ruined or commodified or reduced to self-caricature, and in spite of everything, I still want to identify with it and feel a connection to it despite five years since so much as crossing the state line there.

And so here it sits, sandstone cotton dad hat with red brim and red B, the daily wear from a world where I bike home from the grocery store and pick up a growler at Good People before sitting on my balcony overlooking Regions Field and listen to Curt Bloom streaming roughly one batter behind the noises coming up from the ballpark, in a Birmingham I can know and love and call my own.

Wouldn’t that have been something.

the latter third

It occurred to me today driving south on I-280 that I have effectively lived a third of my life in California. It was sixteen years ago this week that we were on our fortnight drive from DC to here, and I’m 48 now, that’s close enough. The exact one-third mark is probably somewhere in autumn, but since NorCal doesn’t have “autumn” and the weather now is more or less what it was then, I’m marking it now. Because driving along the scenic route, golden hillsides and scattering of trees, East Bay hills rising in the distance, blue sky for once dappled with a dash of wispy cloud instead of glaring sun, it looks so much like I remember those earliest days being.

So much is different from those days, and I’m sure I’ll remember a lot of it again next spring when Brood X hatches in DC, but it’s amazing to think how different the world looks now. I mean, I had a smartphone when I arrived, but it was a P800 that was barely usable (and which I sold to a guy in Daly City for a couple hundred bucks as quick as I could manage). I would only keep driving my Saturn for a little over two years. “Social media” was a niche and limited thing mostly for millennials, and limited to the computer; the notion that any adult would naturally have a cellphone was still pretty new. Streaming was barely a thing, especially for video; the main desire of my move was to get DirecTV with the TiVo tuner. Hell, half the public places that had Wi-Fi charged to access it, and I was still smoking cigars shipped from DC. My principle cell phone number, which never changed in DC from January 1998 until the day I left, has turned over five or six times depending on who was paying for it and what I could afford myself.

What’s remarkable in retrospect is how much has been stable. Same home phone number since we got here. Same address for almost fifteen years. Same place of employment for almost twelve. For a decade now, we arguably make one big trip a year and don’t otherwise leave the state. And for the last seven years or so, a steady sense of dread as the world slowly deteriorates around us. Some of it is political decay and malfeasance. Some of it is the Wall Streeting of Silly Con Valley, as VC money tech-washes taxi companies and home rentals while ratcheting up the asshole factor and driving real local people underground – or away. I used to say that this was where the future comes from, but that seems more like a threat than a promise these days. And now, thanks to the pandemic, it’s tougher than ever to enjoy the Northern California that lies beneath the superficial gloss of the Valley. 

I want to go over the hill and ride down the PCH. I want to go have a pint in my favorite pub. I want to ride the light rail down through San Jose and take the MUNI Metro all the way out to the Riptide. I want to watch the San Jose Churros playing in their WPA-era park and sit behind the Ultras at the San Jose Earthquakes as planes land behind the scoreboard. I want to take the Coast Starlight to Santa Barbara and go up to the top of the courthouse. I want to catch the Pacific Surfliner from there and go to Disneyland and ride Rise of the Resistance at Galaxy’s Edge before cocktails at Trader Sam. I want to go to the beach with my goddaughter and I want to drink Rum Runners on the patio at the Beacon looking out at Lake Tahoe. And after almost four months of trying to diligently shelter in place, wash hands and wear masks, I’m no closer to any of that than I was on St Patrick’s Day.

It’s infuriating. At the beginning, it felt like a chance to practice living my best life: working 100% remote and wearing only my cozy American Giant gear and alternating between a quiet cozy pint at home and a quiet cup of coffee in the morning. Then the sun came out and the temps went up and the world went haywire and too much of this country stopped trying and just decided that the pandemic was over because they were tired of it. And now the death toll rises and the prospect for things getting better gets dimmer every day. Without the ability to travel or see friends, the buying of stuff – mostly hats, of which more later – has flared up again as the only way of achieving novelty or diversion. Which is not really sustainable – how much stuff do I need, where do I put it, and what do I do with the old stuff? – but we’ll sort that out later.