This is the way the American Century ends

Among historians, there's a school of thought that holds that the 19th Century, in its social, political, and economic aspects, didn't end until World War I. This year is the 100th anniversary of the end of that war, and that makes it doubly heartbreaking that we are now engaged in withdrawing from the world, reversing democratic and social reforms, and abdicating our global leadership position in favor of a narrow, isolationist, xenophobic, and misogynist nationalism that promotes the interests of the wealthy and the corporate, and mirrors the status quo antebellum of the early 20th Century.

Yesterday's Senate hearings made it abundantly clear that the majority party no longer has any intention of doing so much as paying lip service to the liberal consensus that has prevailed since the end of World War II. 24 hours after testimony that riveted the nation, they are acting as if it never happened. Today, they will vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, despite considerable evidence that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, and likely others, and after a highly volatile performance of his own when speaking to the Judiciary Committee that brought into question his suitability for the role of justice by the standards of the legal profession itself.

The GOP, having backed him, is not backing down. They will vote to confirm him today, despite the damage it's likely to do to the Republican Party in the long term. If that seems curious, consider the following:

  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to demolish the Voting Rights Act.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to weaken the separation of church and state.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to overturn Obamacare.
  • He will be the necessary fifth vote to stop reconsideration of Citizens United.
  • He is likely to rule that Trump can pardon himself.
  • He would overturn the Justice Department regulation governing special counsels like Mueller.
  • He is one of them--wealthy, white, male, prep school, Ivy League.

Opinion polls show that a majority of Americans now oppose Kavanaugh's appointment. The Senate Republican majority will ram it through anyway on a party-line vote, because they don't care what a majority of Americans thinks--a majority of the Senate now represents only 18% of the populace, and this cannot be changed short of a constitutional amendment, which is unlikely to pass muster with a 5-4 conservative majority on the Court--which Kavanaugh will give them. We are no longer a democracy, we are an oligarchy, and we will now have two illegitimate Supreme Court justices (including Gorsuch, whose seat was stolen) to go along with the illegitimate President.

Read that list of bullet points, and consider the road we're now on. It doesn't lead to enlightenment, or human rights, or women's rights, or freedom. It leads directly back to the 19th Century.

The century that truly ended in 1914.

With a world war.

Unpopular opinion

242 years ago, the American colonies misdirected their anger at George III, who was mostly a figurehead, when it should have been aimed at the prime minister, Lord North, whose poor decision-making in dealing with the colonists was epic, worsening the situation at every turn.

We then proceeded to create a system of government under the Articles of Confederation that was so unworkable that we replaced it with the current one a few years later. Ironically, what we ended up with was a system that combined the offices of head of state with the head of government, which resulted in a Presidency that has more actual political power than George III ever had.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! 🇺🇸🇬🇧

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.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. ...
  4. 27