With apologies to They Might Be Giants

An admission by Sweden's national Twitter account that Swedish meatballs are actually of Turkish origin caused some chatter on social media, and this was my contribution, preserved here for posterity. Or infamy. Or something.

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, oh Constantinople
Now a Swedish delight on a moonlit night

Every chef in Constantinople
Loves the meatballs here in Constantinople
And if you have fika in Constantinople
It'll really be Istanbul

Even old Stockholm was once just Gamla Stan
Why'd they change it? I can't say
People just liked it better that way!

So take me back to Constantinople
Gotta have that taste from Constantinople
With the Chinese noodles in Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks...

Thoughts on the Ford announcement

The announcement yesterday by Ford that they will cancel all but two car lines in North America, leaving only the Mustang and a specialty variation of the Focus, may seem extreme, but we are living in a time of transition in the auto industry. Additionally, this has been a long time coming; over the past couple of decades, it has become increasingly difficult to find certain types of vehicles for sale, such as 2-door sedans, utilities (like the Chevrolet El Camino), and station wagons.

For better or for worse, Americans mostly want trucks, SUVs, and crossovers. This isn't a new phenomenon. Americans have always loved big cars, and the general downsizing that took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s was mostly driven by rising fuel prices and federal fuel economy standards, not a sudden love for small cars. This hasn't changed, and relatively low fuel prices have encouraged Americans to resume their love affair with vehicles that are taller, wider, and just generally bigger. When a business decides it can no longer make money selling a type of product, it's going to stop making and selling that product. By way of example, after air conditioning became pretty much standard on luxury vehicles, demand for the four-door Lincoln Continental convertible went away, and Ford stopped making it.

In a sense, Ford will just be getting back to the state of affairs that predominated before the late 1940s. Prior to the introduction of the Ford F-100 in 1948, non-commercial trucks were basically just sedans with pickup beds where the back seats would have been. Look back to the 1920s and 1930s, and you'll see what I mean. The only difference here is that society is now going in the other direction. The Mercedes-Maybach Ultimate Luxury Concept is essentially an SUV with a trunk where the rear cargo area would normally be, and what they've ended up with, in all its bulbous, inverted-bathtub glory, is not dissimilar in size and shape to a 1954 Buick sedan.

On top of all this, you have the general graying of America. The older you get, the less likely you are to be comfortable in something long, low, and sleek. What you really want in your fifties and sixties is something where you can open the door and sit down, not something where you have to twist sideways to get behind the wheel. Crossovers and SUVs fit the bill.

And this time, Ford might just get away with it. The creeping electrification of the auto fleet means that fuel economy will no longer be the issue that it was in the 1970s; if OPEC jacks up the price to where we're paying $6.00 a gallon or more in the U.S. (unlikely given the current oil market), it matters less when you never have to go to a gas station, and having a small car to keep your fuel costs reasonable may no longer be all that important. And if you're wondering where all the electricity is going to come from, well, Tesla's got you covered. Literally.

Welcome to the new world.

Predictions

  1. Trump will fire Mueller.
  2. The Republicans in Congress, led by Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, will do nothing to stop him. McConnell is already blocking a vote on a bill that would protect Mueller.
  3. With seven months left until the midterm elections, the GOP will do everything in its power between now and then to suppress the vote in Democratic-leaning areas.
  4. The Supreme Court as currently constituted is unlikely to stop them.
  5. The Trump administration may even take some kind of legal action to interfere with the electoral process in "blue" states.

In short, those currently in power are more interested in perpetuating their own power than in the rule of law, and the people who are supposed to serve as checks and balances to each other are not interested in acting as such. As I've said before, constitutions only matter when people pay attention to them.

Seven months. Use them wisely.

The Twitter problem

I discovered today that Twitter is going to be implementing a change in its API that will kill push notifications for third-party apps, among other lovely changes.

Now, I don't want to beat a dead horse, but as others have said, Twitter's popularity was built on third-party apps. Those of us who have been there since it began will remember that there was no official Twitter app until they bought Atebits, the developer of the Tweetie app, which then became the official Twitter app. Since then, they've steadily ratcheted up the pressure on third-party apps by rate-limiting them, forcing them to stop displaying the app that was used for a post, and implementing hard user limits. For years now, they've forced all links through their own t.co shortener (which doesn't actually shorten many URLs anymore). They've screwed with the reverse-chronological display default through use of an algorithm that thinks it knows better than you do what you want to see. They've added advertising, because of course everything must be monetized1, and "In case you missed it...", and they've started showing you posts that your friends have liked, whether you want to see them or not. They've filled the timeline with so much crap that I don't want to see that I really have no choice but to use a third-party app, and of course that means that they must do their best to kill third-party apps.

Then there are the problems with Russian bots and Nazi gaslighting accounts, and while they've done a little bit to rein that in, it's not enough, it's a weak attempt at best, and it's ultimately contrary to their business model, which requires as many people as possible to be using their service. And then, of course, there's the fact that they are giving a megaphone to the current occupant of the White House, who uses it to debase his office and our political system, and who they will not ban no matter what lies he broadcasts or what slander he perpetrates. Mike Monteiro has done tremendous work in bringing this to people's attention2, but sheer volume means he's a voice crying in the wilderness.

The hell of it is that there are alternatives to Twitter, many of which are excellent, in some ways superior, and which haven't gotten nearly the attention they deserve. There's Mastodon and Micro.blog, and smaller ones such as Pnut and 10Centuries. There is even Plurk.

None of those have attracted more than a small number of users, however, because the overriding problem of social media is that you gotta go where the people are, and the people are on Twitter and Facebook. And that means that Twitter has a responsibility to society to police itself a lot better than it has done.

However, what it has a responsibility to do and what it actually will do are two different things. And that's why I may finally call it quits with the bird. It's sad, because I've been around for a long time and I know what it used to be, and what it could be again if its owners gave a damn. But they evidently don't, and it won't.

And one other thing: for the news accounts that I like (like @VCScanner), I have a system set up that pipes tweets from certain accounts into my personal, private, single-user Slack team, where I get a notification. I never even have to open Twitter. I don't even have to have a Twitter account.

Take that, @Jack.


  1. This is one of the chief reasons I use third-party apps, incidentially.
  2. And if you're on Twitter and you're not following him there, you should.

A bit of housekeeping

Now that this blog is no longer hosted on Amazon servers, I've reverted it to the root domain instead of the "blog" subdomain. What that means is that you will need to update your RSS subscription, since the feed address is different. You can find the details here.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Life

Life is a journey, and you won't find your way by following someone else's directions.

The mobile blogging blues

My friends Jason and Jeremy have both blogged recently about, well, blogging, and the barriers that seem to crop up to doing so.

It struck me that in my case, part of the reason I don't blog much is that I'm so often on a mobile device and not a computer. If it was easier to blog from my phone, I just might.

This was part of what I liked about Posterous and Posthaven, both of which specialized in posting via email. We all have email on our phones, so it removed one of the biggest barriers.

I'm not sure what the ideal solution is here, but blogging from mobile is something that all blogging platforms need to address (hint, hint).

A Darker State

a darker state.jpg

I don't do this a lot, but I have a book recommendation for you.

"A Darker State" is both a thriller and a murder mystery that just happens to take place in East Germany in 1976. Oberleutnant Karin Müller of the East German Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police) has been promoted to major in order to head up an investigative team with national authority, and is assigned to the case when the body of a teenage boy is found near the East German-Polish border. In the process of investigating, she runs up against the dreaded MfS, the Ministry for State Security, otherwise known as the Stasi, whose interest in the case is mysterious. She must tread carefully when the teenage son of a high-ranking Stasi officer is shown to be involved in unexpected ways, and when the involvement of the Stasi bleeds over into her personal life, it begins to affect her own friends and family, with potential repercussions that can only be described as dire.

The protagonist is interesting, because she is neither a party loyalist nor a dissident. The daughter of a German mother and a Soviet soldier father, who disappeared shortly after her birth, she is a product of the system and still believes in it, but she is not blind to the contradictions in the system, nor to the fact that she plays a part in some things she'd rather not think too hard about. As the series has progressed, she is starting to develop a more complete view of the world she finds herself in, and as the series progresses towards the inevitable end that the reader knows is coming with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, of which she of course has no inkling, it will be fascinating to see how she adapts as the only world she has known starts to collapse. But that's for future volumes.

I'll add one other thing--36 years ago this summer, I visited East Berlin and East Germany. The writing in this series (it's the third book of a planned five) has captured the feel of that time in the East beautifully, both in atmosphere and in details. The author has clearly done his homework. I recommend this book wholeheartedly..

Oh, and if you're in the United States, download this one in e-book form while you can. There is some doubt as to whether this should be sold in the United States yet, as the U.S. publishing rights haven't been sold yet. But somehow, both Amazon and Google will sell it to you--for now.1


  1. This could change at any time--the first two volumes, both of which I purchased from Amazon, are currently unavailable in the United States. Act quickly.

Situation Report 2018

Warning: this is both long and political in parts. --Larry


It's with a bit of a shock that I've realized I haven't blogged since last February. Yes, the year 2017 turned out to be a shitshow of titanic proportions in the wider world, but that wouldn't ordinarily have stopped me from blathering on. Clearly, there were special circumstances at work, and a review and situation report are both in order. Let's start with the positives--in my own little world, 2017 was pretty good overall. Then we'll move on to the rest of the annus horribilis that was 2017.

Work
I got a promotion midyear, which has finally put me in a position where I don't feel I have to make excuses for what I do. Work in general has been good to me; I like the people I work with, I seem to have their respect, and my work is varied and interesting. Although I'm finally earning a respectable income, I would of course like more money (who wouldn't?) and a greater feeling of job security (ditto), but that's life in the private sector in America. We're now owned by a private investment group, and if you've worked in the business world, you know what that means. Still, as long as my badge still opens the door to the office, I can't complain.

Family
Although there have been ups and downs, things are good on the family front at the moment. My marriage is solid, I see my brother and my youngest nephew frequently, and my mom continues to live independently and is in basically good health overall. My mother-in-law continues to astonish everyone by continuing to plug along at the ripe old age of 98. My oldest nephew lives in New York City, but was able to come out for Christmas, and we all enjoyed time together. My brother went through the wringer this year in both his personal and professional lives, but has come out the other side in good shape. He found a new career within a couple of months of the old one ending, before the severance ran out, which is always a good thing. And even better, it's something he's going to enjoy.1 And finally, my wife and I have both of our cars paid for, and we're fortunate to have what is by California standards a very small mortgage. No complaints here either.

Community
I'm lucky to live where I do, in a place where other people come for vacation. The weather is great, we were named one of the most livable places in America recently, and like all California beach towns, you can show up in shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt pretty much anywhere, at any time of the year, and nobody cares. Overall, it's been great.

Except for the month of December, that is. By now you will have heard of the Thomas Fire, which ended up being the largest wildfire in California history, the flames of which were visible at one point from behind my house. We went through weeks of smoke and haze, and for a time, the hottest fashion accessory in Ventura was the N95 mask. Although our house was OK in the end, we have friends who weren't so lucky, and who lost almost everything. Ventura will come back, but it's going to take a while. And in a sense, it was fitting for a year that was, for the most part, a raging dumpster fire to end with a raging wildfire.

Outlook
I recently turned 52, and nobody gets much past the half-century mark without thinking about where they've been and where they're going. It is impossible for me to ignore the fact that I undoubtedly have more road behind me than I do in front of me. That's why it's so satisfying to be able to say that I'm good with where I am, in every sense of the word. My marriage is good. I love my wife. We love our house. Our cars are paid for. When I look back, I've had some fascinating experiences, and I've made some good friends. I've lost a few as well--that's part of the journey. For me, the biggest thing is that I'm not seeking anything any more. I'm not looking for anyone to explain the world to me, or to tell me how to worship a deity. The time for fairy tales is over. I've recognized that anytime you have a hierarchy, you have people whose primary interest is in perpetuating that hierarchy and controlling the people under them. It's just human nature. I'm much more interested in making the most of the time I have left, in such a way as to honor the choices that people make and helping them to live lives that they find fulfilling and true to themselves.2 In summary, if this is my personal plateau, I'm good with that, and I'm at peace with the universe or God or The Force or whatever you want to call it.

And Now, The Rest Of The Story
If you know me, or even if you just read my blog, you know how I feel about national and world events of the last 12 months. For people like me, who believe in science, who believe in equality, who believed we were making slow but steady progress towards a more just and equitable society, the last year has been a wake-up call. I did not think that so many of my fellow countrymen were so misinformed, prejudiced, fearful, uneducated, or just plain stupid as to vote for the current occupant of the Oval Office. I was wrong.3 I did not think that 80% of evangelical Protestants would vote for a man who is, by all accounts, a serial sexual predator, who brags about "grabbing (women) by the pussy," who blatantly lies about all things at all times, and who also has a habit of not paying people who work for him. I was wrong. I did not think that the members of the Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan, who more than anyone I would expect to be skeptical of Russia, would put party above country and turn a blind eye to collusion with Russia. I was wrong. I did not think that the Republican establishment would roll over and become Trump's lap dog. I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong.

Just to be absolutely clear, I consider the current occupant of the White House to be illegitimately elected, most likely guilty of treason, almost certainly suffering from dementia, and the Republican Party to be so compromised as to be unsalvageable. It is as if we have taken a wrong turn, and ended up in an alternate timeline. Our liberties are at stake. Our place in the world is at stake. Our constitutional government is at stake. Our founders made provision for the removal of a President from office, but they did not make provision for a legislative branch that put party above country, and refused to take any action. Or that would pass bills in the middle of the night, without giving its members the time to debate and discuss them. Plainly put, our system of government has broken, and it needs to be fixed.4

So how has that affected me?

In some senses, it hasn't. I live in California, the bluest of blue states and the beating heart of the Resistance. I'm a middle-aged straight white guy. I'm not in the demographic with the most to fear. Although the current government seems determined to screw up my retirement and my health care and my very future, it isn't trying to take away my right to vote, or my right to get married (theoretical, since I'm already taken). It isn't trying to keep my relatives out of the country, or to deport the ones who are here, or to mess with my right to practice my religion (or lack of same). But if there's one thing I know, it's that one doesn't wait until one is personally threatened to oppose infringements on personal liberty. That's one reason why I stopped attending the local Orthodox church; the priest thinks Trump is just wonderful, and Fox News is political gospel, and never missed an opportunity to take potshots at Obama, and frankly, I'm done with religion that wants to be political.5

I also know that you have to do more than just scream about it on Twitter and Facebook, which brings me to someplace where I have been affected--social media.6

I've dialed back on my use of social media. It's not that I don't care, but as I just said, screaming about things on Twitter does no good. Far better to focus your energies where they can do some good, such as writing to Senators and Congressmen, or participating in demostrations, or, ultimately, voting the bastards out. And that's what I'm prepared to do.

What I'm not prepared to do is subject myself anymore to the endless, breathless crises on the Internet. The past year has beaten it out of me. I once was a news junkie; I now keep abreast of the news, because one must, but I'm not going to wallow in it. I've even given up my subscription to the Economist. I look at Twitter, but I don't post nearly as much on an average day as I once would have. I don't show up as much on my chosen alternative networks either, such as 10Centuries or Pnut or Mastodon, because at the end of the day, it's as much about breaking the habit of always having to be logged on somewhere, talking about nothing in particular, as it is a given network.7

This is not to say I don't go online; I do, but I'm trying to be more mindful of where I am. In this sense, the last year has perhaps been a blessing in disguise, because I've learned some new things. Some months ago, I decided it would be fun to get a mechanical watch to mark my promotion (possibly a kind of reverse tech geekiness--I love that it isn't connected to anything, and doesn't rely on a battery). That led me to to the wacky and wonderful world of watch collecting, and the forums that serve that community. I've been learning about watch movements, and dials, and hands, and complications, and it's just fabulous.

And politics never rears its ugly head--it's somewhere I can go to just be with other geeks and geek out about geeky stuff that the wider world doesn't care a fig about. And now I know the difference between a Vostok 2415B movement and a 2416, and why some Shturmanskie chronographs have a flat grey dial instead of a metallic silver one, and what the lug width is on a Bulova UHF Military, and why it's actually more complicated to make a watch with a central seconds hand than one where the seconds are on a subdial. It's marvelous.8 It reminds me a great deal of when I was a kid learning about cars, and threatens to become my next lifelong obsession. I'm good with that.

Summary
That's the year and the situation as I see it. I feel like I should end with some grand summation, some pithy words of wisdom, and a rousing sendoff, but I've got nothing. 2018 is likely to be a seminal moment. It will determine whether we right the ship of government in the midterm elections, or let it continue to founder. I hope that it turns out better than 2017, but I'm not confident of it. And even if it turns out to be absolutely delightful in every way, it will take us years to undo the damage that's been done already. Votes matter, and elections have consequences.

Next time--please--let's all vote correctly.


  1. That's all I'll say about it; it's his life, and it's up to him how much he wants to reveal.
  2. If you're about to tell me that you can only be true to your true self by following INSERT RELIGION HERE, don't. It's presumptuous and it's rude, and I don't have time for that any more.
  3. Before you make any assumptions, I was no fan of Hillary Clinton either. Her campaign made a lot of mistakes, and there was an arrogance I found displeasing. But compared to Trump, she was vastly more qualified, more intelligent, and more caring, and that's enough for me.
  4. This is where I mention once again that I consider the Westminster system, however imperfect, to be superior to our own.
  5. To be fair, he never did that from the pulpit, but hearing it at coffee hour is just as bad, and it brings into question his judgment, and consequently his worthiness to hold the priesthood, in my estimation. Frankly, the crucial role played by Christians of all flavors in the ascendancy of Trump brings the faith itself, as it is practiced by the majority of its adherents, into question, about which more later, but that's outside the scope of today's little essay.
  6. Ladies and gentlemen, a moment of silence for App.net, which went offline for the last time in 2017. If you're reading this, there's a better-than-average chance that we met on that much-missed platform.
  7. Although Twitter has been far too easy on the so-called "alt-right," who are really just neo-Nazis, and Jack Dorsey, who appears to have no moral compass and should be fired, can go to Hell.
  8. It can also be expensive. Did I mention I now own five watches, and have ideas about more? More on that later...

Review of *Stasi Wolf*

cover.jpg

This is a slightly revised version of a brief review I wrote on Amazon of Stasi Wolf by David Young, which is not yet available in the United States. Fortunately, I was able to secure a copy of the British edition.


This is the second novel in a series whose protagonist, Karin Müller, is an Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) in the East German Volkspolizei (People’s Police). Specifically, she's a detective assigned to the murder squad in the capital, Berlin.

Or at least she was. As the book opens, Oberleutnant Müller has been transferred to a dull backwater of Berlin, where she’s doing the kind of work that would normally be the province of uniformed officers, and her partner is still in the hospital recovering from wounds suffered in the first novel (Stasi Child). She’s visiting him when she gets the offer (if indeed an “offer” from a superior officer in a Communist nation can be called such) to go to the model city of Halle-Neustadt to investigate a kidnapping and murder.

And thus begins Stasi Wolf. Others have ably summarized the plot; as someone who visited the German Democratic Republic in its heyday, what I’d like to do is comment on how well the author captures the atmosphere of East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, from the complex and uneasy relationship between the regular police (Volkspolizei) and the Ministry of State Security, known as the Stasi, to the carefully organized group activities of the Freie Deutsche Jugend or Free German Youth (“Be ready! Always ready!”), to the stirrings of change coming from the younger generation who chafed against the ever-present demands of the Party. And he didn’t just capture the social and emotional feel of it, either—his description of the haze from the Leuna chemical complex brought back memories of the ever-present oily smoke from thousands of two-stroke Wartburgs and Trabants, of the haze from the brown lignite coal used to heat much of the East in winter, and the soot I remember blowing into non-air-conditioned railroad cars on hot summer days from the grimy locomotives of the East’s Deutsche Reichsbahn.

If you haven't read Stasi Child, don't let that dissuade you from reading this book. It stands on its own, and can be enjoyed on its own, with enough background given that you won't be feeling left in the dark.

Overall, Young has once again given us a view into a vanished world that grows increasingly distant. If you like a well-crafted detective story, you’ll like this book. If you’re a history buff, you’ll find yourself impressed with the care taken to get the details right. And if you just want something entertaining to read, you’ll find it hard to put down. As for me, I’m already looking forward to Book 3.

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