Biden jumps in

At long last, Joe Biden has declared his candidacy for the Presidency. On paper, he would seem to be a logical candidate. And yet…

And yet, my gut tells me that he’s on a fool’s errand. Biden will appeal to a certain segment of the electorate, certainly; he will appeal to the segment that is largely older, and remembers a time when we had a broad consensus in this country about what was right and wrong, and our divisions were mainly on issues of policy. Those days, sadly, are gone forever.

We now find ourselves in a reality where right and left no longer talk to each other. We are in a reality where a significant minority of the population is fine with building walls, imprisoning children, suppressing the votes of people they don’t like, and look up admiringly to a brass-plated wannabe strongman. These people didn’t get there on their own. They had help from a network dedicated to propaganda. They had help from an economic system that took their homes, and left the people who sold them the bad loans in the first place largely alone and free to carry on. They had help from cynical, power-seeking politicians who pandered to racial prejudice and told lies about a legally elected President, who placed party above country, and who told them that they would make everything wonderful again, and that their problems were not the fault of the massive corporations that rule their lives, but of the poor brown people who were coming here to find a better way of life, using the classic reactionary tactic of setting worker against worker.

With all of that, you can’t expect a 76-year-old, white, male, business-friendly neoliberal to present much of a compelling case to the people who voted for Trump. You also can’t expect him to be an attractive option to the base of the Democratic Party, which has shifted leftward to embrace far more progressive positions than Biden is comfortable with, such as Medicare For All and the Green New Deal. He’s yesterday’s man, and although yesterday’s world has its attractions, it’s not coming back.

Blog wish list

Since my blog provider had to do an emergency upgrade to the beta version (v5) of their software, there are numerous things that are still in the process of being restored or recreated. Overall I'm pretty happy with the upgrade, but it's definitely still in beta. This is just a handy list for me (and Jason, if he reads this) to keep track of what I'm hoping for.

  1. Archive/Contents page - This is done.
  2. Restore the "About" and other custom pages from v4.
  3. Ability to delete blog posts. - This is done as of 2019-04-19
  4. Preview function for blog posts.
  5. "Save as draft" functionality.
  6. Ability to click on post title and be taken to that post's page, with correct URL showing. - This is done as of 2019-05-06
  7. WYSIWYG editor for blog posts. Yes, Markdown is nice, but I always get something wrong.
  8. Post a link on Twitter when a new blog post is published. Right now I have IFTTT set up to do that, but it's a bit of a kludge and it would be nice to have something more reliable.

And down the road:
Additional themes. I'm happy enough with the default, but choice is always good. Consider this of secondary importance.

To be continued…

Five things I saw before they changed forever

  1. The Berlin Wall before it fell
  2. Yugoslavia before it split apart
  3. The Spruce Goose before it was cut apart and shipped to the PNW
  4. The world before the Internet
  5. Notre Dame avant l'incendie.

"Notre-Dame de Paris en proie aux flammes"

Such were the words of French President Emmanuel Macron today. Part of the shared cultural heritage of all mankind has been destroyed. If this does not make you weep, I do not know what to say to you.


A bit of disruption

If things look a bit different around here, and you find something not working, it's because my hosting provider experienced a technical issue this week that necessitated a sudden and unexpectedly early move to a new version of the platform. It's not quite fully baked yet, but he's working on it. In the meantime, please bear with us while we sort things out.

Updating the blog

As of today, this blog is secured with SSL--see the lock icon up there in the URL bar? After eight-plus years of running my domain's DNS through ZoneEdit, I've moved to Cloudflare, which gives me SSL capability (the main reason I moved it, frankly).

Anyway, for anyone who wants to send me a message through my contact page, your message is now secure end-to-end. Glory be.

The last Indian pudding

I went out to dinner last night with my family. As a delayed birthday celebration, my mom, my brother, and my wife joined me at a local chain steakhouse to celebrate the conclusion of my latest trip around the sun. The prime rib was delicious, the bread tasty, the baked potato delightful. It was an enjoyable evening.

While we were dining, another restaurant on the other side of the country was serving its final order of prime rib. Durgin-Park, a Boston institution since 1827, founded when John Quincy Adams was president, closed for the last time. A dozen or so years ago, its longtime family owners sold out to a New York-based corporation, and apparently it was no longer considered to be profitable enough for the new owners to keep in business (and yes, when a place has been around for 192 years, a mere 12 still qualifies them as the new guys).

If you're not a New Englander, you probably haven't heard of Durgin-Park. They were renowned for their prime rib, their baked Indian pudding--a traditional New England dessert made with cornmeal and molasses, and something they may have been the last to prepare and serve in the traditional way--their communal seating, and their often surly waitstaff. I may be a Californian, but my mother's side of the family are all New Englanders, and she was a Bostonian herself for two years after high school. It was considered mandatory that when you went to Boston, you dined at Durgin-Park. There was simply no question about it.

Unfortunately, not enough people felt that way in the end. I've seen some Bostonians dismiss it as having been a tourist trap, and there was an aspect of that, but it was something more. It was a connection to a time long past, when workers and politicians and the occasional Beacon Hill blueblood ate together at long tables, perched on benches, eating traditional New England cooking, and were treated all alike by waitresses who brooked no nonsense from anybody. Yes, it was a bit of a put-on, but we were all in on the joke together.

Because of its location, across from historic Faneuil Hall on the Boston waterfront, I have no doubt that the space it occupied for so long will once again become the site of a restaurant, but it won't be the same. My guess is that it will probably feature healthier options, with locally grown produce (although good luck with that in Boston in February), and possibly be run by a celebrity chef. It will no doubt be embraced by foodies and accompanied by articles talking about a fresh new start for a historic location. It will be more in tune with the tastes of the modern world (fusion cuisine, anyone?)

But it won't serve Yankee pot roast and Indian pudding. It won't be as egalitarian. It will not be Durgin-Park, for better or for worse. Something was lost yesterday, and it isn't coming back. I grew up in a place where historic means fifty years old, where things are constantly being reinvented. As a native Angeleno, I can't imagine Philippe's or The Original Pantry closing; this is so much more of a loss than either of those would be.

It appears I have eaten my last Indian pudding, and it makes me sad.

Watches, computers, and their fans


If you know me, you’ve probably figured out by now that I’ve gotten into collecting watches. It’s a reasonably harmless pastime, cheaper than collecting vintage Ferraris, and gives me something to do on the Internet besides reading about Cheeto Benito and watching my blood pressure skyrocket. I like it.

Of course, anyplace you go on the Internet is going to eventually have its share of drama, and recently there was a bit of it that erupted on one of the watch forums I frequent. Nothing too bad, however, and to get everyone back on track, one user decided to post a poll just for fun to see which Japanese watch manufacturer people preferred—Seiko, Citizen, Orient, or Casio.1

Each of them is a bit different. Seiko is the 800-pound gorilla of the business, with possibly the widest variety of products and a hardcore fanbase. Orient is a smaller watchmaker that’s part of the Seiko Epson empire, and they specialize in automatic (i.e., self-winding) watches. Citizen, which also owns Bulova, has carved out a niche with their Eco-Drive movements that are powered by light, as well as Bulova’s high-frequency quartz models with a sweeping second hand. Casio is most known for digitals, including the G-Shock line, which might as well be the official watch of U.S. combat troops.

The poll is in progress, and Seiko is ahead by miles, to nobody’s surprise. But there’s something interesting going on.

The conversation in the thread is full of people discussing the pros and cons of the various watchmakers. Many good points are being made all around, opinions are being stated, and it’s generally a very civilized discussion. People, it’s nice.

If you're so inclined, you can check it out here for yourself:

Now, just for grins, compare this to what happens in many places online when someone dares to bring up Microsoft, Google, or Apple in the wrong company. Most of the time, it devolves into a religious war, complete with insults implying that if you use the other company’s stuff, there must be something wrong with you. And all of that eventually gets old--very old--if you’re on the wrong side. Like the old saying--it was funny the first thousand times, but…

And that, right there, is why I spend a lot more of my online time these days in the places watch geeks (or as they often call themselves, WIS for watch idiot savants) frequent. They’re just as passionate, but much less likely to break out the insults, or to be tone-deaf. The tech crowd could learn a lot from them.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I own Seikos, Citizens, and an Orient, but I’m mostly a Citizen guy, as the photo above will attest.

  1. Yes, you read that right--to stop some arguing, someone posted a poll asking for people's opinions. Watch folks are a different breed.

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!