I had a discussion a while back with someone who had moved from San Francisco to New Orleans and was appalled by the open racism she encountered. I posited that I could not go back (see the header of this blog) and she countered that there’s just as much racism in the Bay. Which I concede without hesitation, certainly; history and circumstance bear that out. So what is the difference? People in Alabama will tell you how racist people are in Chicago while hanging out their Confederate flags, and I don’t know if the intent is to say “they’re more racist than us” or just “everyone else is just as bad so we should be allowed to do whatever.”

But there’s a material difference. There are plenty of Confederate flags in the Central Valley of California, and plenty enough racist-adjacents in the ranks of Silly Con Valley tech-bro-dom, especially among the Thiel and Musk contingent. But I don’t think you’re going to see an avalanche of bills in California demanding an end to early voting or restricting mail-in balloting, or banning “critical race theory” (a phrase that has become as meaningless as “woke” or “politically correct”), or protecting Confederate statues and symbols from removal. And that gets back to something else I have come to realize: I could never live in any place where the sticks have got the upper hand on the city.

Think about it. Austin perpetually (and inexplicably imho) gets a pass for being in Texas. Nashville is not being tarred with Tennessee (though maybe they should, given the extent to which paste-eating Twitter conservatives are moving there as their safe space). Atlanta – the capital of Black America, by some accounts – does not get lumped into Georgia, which is otherwise Mississippi with paved roads. New Orleans…well, that’s a unique case all the way around. But it’s not even a Southern thing. Consider some place like Kansas, or North Dakota, or Idaho or Wyoming, where there is no city to speak of and no “urban” presence and hell, precious few non-whites altogether and arguably nothing to “fear”. Nevertheless, there you go, same sort of nonsense, same catering to one-cow-one-vote wingnuts and their fever dream of reality.

By contrast, consider the Pacific coast. California does not want for red state nutballs; Red California is by rights an enormous state all on its own (as Tim Draper has repeatedly attempted to manifest). Oregon is famous for its anti-spotted-owl mania and has its very roots as a state in racism. Hell, the entire Pacific Northwest was ground zero for the militia and skinhead movements of the early 90s, in case you forgot about WAR and the Metzgers and Ruby Ridge and the like. The FBI had a branch office in Coeur D’Alene for years. But nobody thinks Washington or Oregon, let alone California, is about to tip into neo-Confederacy at the state government level, and that’s because Seattle and Portland and the Bay Area and Los Angeles have so many people that the sticks can’t get over. Without an electoral college and unequal state sizes to protect them, the QOP cannot carry its unfair federal advantage into states where it can’t work up a majority of voters.

I’m not asking to end racism. I wish we could, but I’m also realistic. What I want – and what should be entirely doable – is to eliminate the agency of racists. That’s what happens when you have a functional Civil Rights Act, a functional Voting Rights Act, a state with a Democratic lock on government and an unwillingness to bend the rules on behalf of white people outraged that their ferret-haired messiah lost fair and square for a second time. At least in a place like California, we were being driven toward the blades at a less acute angle for four years. Same deal with Biden – thanks to the intransigence of West Virginia and Arizona, we cannot have hope of improvement, but we can at least have a measure of relief; the millennium might not be upon us but at least the forces of the executive branch aren’t bent on making our country over into the United States of Alabama.

The Enemy will always be with us. As long as they are helplessly mewling, the dogs barking while the caravan proceeds, they are no more than a nuisance and can be dealt with. But when a dog won’t stop barking – or humping your leg – you have to cut his balls off. Our focus should be less on the bark and more on the balls – and we shouldn’t shirk from the snip.


I hadn’t paid any attention to the Clone Wars animated series when The Mandalorian arrived on Disney+ toward the end of 2019. But when I saw the last scene, and immediately saw “Darksaber” trending on Twitter, it was time to hop on Wikipedia. And this thing has an interesting history. It was the original saber of the first (and only) Mandalorian ever to become a Jedi, and how it wound up with a shaped blade – especially a black one crackling with white energy along the edge – has not been explained to me in any way. The interesting thing about it is that it’s more a symbol than a weapon: the wielder is probably not a Force user and of necessity will not be able to use it to deflect blaster bolts or summon it to their hand, and to be honest there’s a non-zero chance they will chop off a limb trying to wield it. But it’s a mark of authority, of the person who has done what is necessary to take charge and be responsible for leadership.

I hadn’t planned on owning one. I already have two lightsabers – one built myself almost two years ago in the first week of Galaxy’ Edge at Disneyland, and one replica of Mace Windu’ saber that was a wedding gift from my lovely bride. But after escaping from a First Order star destroyer – twice – and successfully purloining four containers of coaxium fuel from under the nose of the Empire, I waved one around in Dok Ondar’ Den of Antiquities and reluctantly concluded that while intriguing, I couldn’t justify it. At which point, my wife slapped down a few hundred credits and bought it for me anyway.

I am not a Jedi, despite my best efforts since 1978. A saber that is specifically for a non-Jedi seems more my speed, not least because the blade looks vaguely cutlass-like – appropriate for Vanderbilt. A black blade is a good pair for my gold one. And I’ve spent the last three weeks at work making a bit of an ass of myself in the cause of trying to wrench myself and my team out of a fatal nosedive led by people incompetent to make the decisions they’re forcing on us. More than once I’ve wondered whether I am engaged in a resume-generating event, and decided that if they fire me I’ll thank them for making it easy on me.

We are at a nodal point. Our life has shifted under us in ways we did not expect. Our living arrangements are soon to change; we’ll probably be moving house and if we don’t, we’ll be taking on new residents. Family caretaking has come to a conclusion, painfully so, and various family dilemmas have been resolved one way or another. And as for Alabama – well, to coin a phrase, I have to give people the opportunity to be their better selves. Especially if I want to be true to the value system with which I’ve emerged from the last five years or so. My habits have changed too – while I smoked a cigar on the birth of a new relative, I didn’t have any urge to follow it up with another. Despite the consumption of a lot of Coke Zero from the 7-Eleven in 2020, I definitely prefer iced tea and warm coffee to keeping more soda in the house. I’m still drinking non-alcoholic craft beers weeks after Lent ended. And my hat choice is a cotton twill adjustable if it’s not fog weather, and it’s as likely as not representing Birmingham or San Jose rather than Vanderbilt.

Maybe this is what 50 means. You know who you are, you know what you want, and you have a simple bill of requirements for how you’re going to live your life. After all, when the doors start to close and life starts taking more than it gives you, it’s not the worst thing to know that the main thing you want out of life is wrapped up in an Adirondack chair by the backyard fire pit at sundown, with baseball on a screen or speaker somewhere and a full Yeti in one hand and your sweetie in the other chair.

This is the way. Or at least, it is now.

off the gram

I gave up Instagram for Lent. I haven’t put the app back on my phone. I haven’t posted at all since Mardi Gras, save for twice: a memorial for my mother-in-law and a birthday accolade for my wife. I’ve gone through the web client, in Firefox, in private mode, and mostly just liked and commented. I don’t take as many pictures, and the ones I do post go to the family Cocoon instance, or a Signal chat, or rarely to Flickr or Twitter. 

And the thing is…I could probably cut about half my Instagram and not miss it. There are brands. Food trucks, sports teams, things other than individuals (and frankly, a lot of people who are only in my life as Vanderbilt football-adjacent). I suppose that’s part of what has made it surprisingly easy to stay away: unlike five years ago, when Instagram was the only “safe” social network, my tightly curated personal Twitter actually feels like a less annoying space now, because it is with only a couple of exceptions composed entirely of people I have met in person (or would like to someday) and I’ve been able to stop retweets into my timeline from others. And I’m using TweetBot which means a chronological timeline and no ads.

All this does is drive home how the future of social networking is the group chat. The people talking about how Apple is on the verge of turning iMessage into a social network, well, look behind you. In effect, the group chat – whether in iMessage, Signal, WhatsApp, Slack or what have you – is the private social network we all wanted, and gives up only outside discoverability. Epic accuses Apple of leaving iMessage exclusive to Apple for lock-in? Well, duh. When your business model is selling ads, you want everybody on your product. When your business model involves selling goods and services for cash on the fucking barrelhead, you want to make those goods and services attractive enough to pay for with money.

Apple could do this. Easily. You’ve got chat already in Messages. You’ve got photo storage already. You’ve got location sharing already. You’ve got GameCenter, which is sort of a social network as it is. You’ve got Clips, which provides all the filters and backgrounds of Insta or TikTok without having your data pillaged by the Chinese. You’ve got an account system and a payment structure and the accumulated commercial potential of over a decade of apps and music and media sales. And you’ve got the only aspirational brand in all of tech that is equally associated with privacy. 

But there are two big problems. One is, well, social media. If you don’t want to be Facebook, you have to commit to a privacy-oriented solution without brands, without sponsored posts, without advertising and without platforming the kind of people that Zuckerberg relies on to drive engagement. Apple might not mind going into the Nazi-punching business, but the slapdash management of the App Store suggests they’re not prepared for content management at scale like this. The other is, well, not everybody has an iPhone. My cousins in Nashville are on Android – and part of that is because one of them came to the marriage from Not America. Apple may have 2/3 of the US market but it’s an Android world in personal mobility, and WhatsApp is the messaging solution of record for anyone whose country code isn’t +1. Any solution exclusive to Apple is going to have a hard cap in how big it can be – and maybe that’s for the best; not everyone needs to be big enough to foment insurrection in the United States and genocide in Myanmar. Still, there is a digital divide concern there.

And honestly, does everything need to be in the hands of one of the Big Tech monsters? Is it possible to have a broadly-acceptable social networking solution that isn’t Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft or Amazon-based? Foursquare was onto something, long ago, and sort of lost their way. Tumblr is still out there, having been spun off of the Verizon Oath clusterfuck and owned by WordPress with some capability for multi-media posting and an easily-mobile UI. But you have to convince everyone to use these other things. You have to make it easy to jump, and desirable to jump. And to be blunt, the only way you’re going to shake the foundations of Facebook in a speedy manner is to offer people a safe and secure alternative that comes with their phone and is built right into the OS.

Then again, if Apple launches a Facebook competitor at this moment in history, who knows what happens from a legal standpoint, Then again again, nobody likes Facebook, so it’s possible the Feds would look the other way. If Amazon could build their own tablet and App Store, if Google could build their own messaging solution parade (“Google messaging app” is the Silly Con Valley equivalent of “Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher”), if Facebook could buy Instagram and WhatsApp and then rip off every app they couldn’t buy, why shouldn’t Apple just lightly knit together the services they already offer and call it a day?

The one thing that gives me a flicker of hope for all this is that whenever Apple was showing off the new privacy controls for data sharing between apps, the sample app was something called “Pal About.” If that actually turned out to be a product…wouldn’t that be something.